How to raise strong girls in the age of #MeToo

Kinderling News & Features

It seems that almost every day we hear new stories from the #MeToo movement, or the devastating impacts of cyber bullying. These make women feel angry enough, but also makes us parents feel helpless raising girls. It’s easy to shift blame to social media, to the patriarchy, to norms that have gone unchallenged for decades; run like a girl, cry like a girl, don’t be a baby.

Society often says that to be a girl is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to be weak. What if we start to undermine the negativity surrounding vulnerability to find that true power lies in embracing it, to run toward and learn from ‘failures’ and talk about the importance of personal boundaries? This is what Chyloe Kurdas believes.

Chyloe was instrumental in getting the AFL Women’s to the spotlight and she now runs leadership camps through Own Journey Travel for girls and young women. Most importantly, she believes that the way we talk to our girls can change the world.

Redefine a ‘strong girl’

Strength, as Chyloe sees it, comes from rethinking the way we perceive our girls; as vulnerable and breakable – qualities we often see as the opposite of strength. Vulnerability is something that society teaches us to fear, translates to weakness, and it instantly disempowers girls.

Listen to Chyloe on Kinderling Conversation:

Instead, we should see vulnerability as a part of strength, Chyloe says. “I think a strong empowered little girl is someone who recognises that you are going to be vulnerable in life that’s not something to be feared. That's where the opportunities are for me to be able to learn who I am and more about the world around me.”

Discuss personal boundaries

Women often take on the traditional carer role, putting themselves last to ensure the comfort of everyone else, no matter the personal cost. It’s that very preconception of woman as carer, that can be used against a person (intentionally or not). As a result of wanting to make everyone else happy, sometimes women’s voices aren’t raised when something feels wrong.

“When someone is making a move that might cross our boundaries, to be able to say ‘no’ to someone, and to reject that person and say ‘No that’s not okay for me’ you actually have to put yourself first... Women and girls are socialized to put others first, to look after people around them. I think that’s the real challenge in this whole equation is to empower our women and girls enough to be able exercise our boundaries.” Chyloe adds.

Let girls fail

We’re not yet at the point where a fierce attitude and steadfast self-confidence alone can protect girls. And it would be naïve to assume that we can protect our children from everything. In fact, Chyloe believes that if we fixate on protecting them from danger, our children are missing out on developing resilience.  These moments where our daughters are challenged, and failure is an option, use that opportunity to develop their personal ‘coping toolkit.’

“You’ve got to let your kids fall over… There’s opportunity in everything if you do the work and have discussions around making good decisions,” she begins. “By… feeling comfortable in vulnerability [it becomes] empowering and exciting in some ways. When they do hit those forks in the road and they do fall over, trust that you’ve packed enough little resources into their toolkit as they’ve grown up that they’ll be able to navigate their way through it.”

While stepping in when our girls stumble is natural, Chyloe emphasises that within reason, we have to also let our girls figure out how they can make their way back from a disappointment.

“Every time you do something for someone else you’re taking away an opportunity for them to… learn how to do it for themselves,” she says. “Long term, that’s more damaging and more disempowering. You’ve just got to trust those process and I think it’s great when you call yourself on it when you fell that anxiety or you realise you're doing it for them that maybe you’re doing them a disservice.”

Practice saying ‘No’

‘No’ is a word kids love and it can be frustrating. Instead of rolling our eyes or pulling out our hair when they explain they don’t want to eat their peas, or get dressed in the morning, ask them what they’re actually saying no to.

“Rewarding and acknowledging when girls do say no is really powerful” Chyloe says. “We just don't get enough practice at saying no. We have to be good girls often. There's a lot of pressure for us to be the good little girl, the perfect girl, the perfect wife, get good marks at school. Whereas boys have a bit more freedom to be a bit ratty. Even saying to your daughters it’s okay to say no, and just practice that, in the little daily things that you do across your time with your children.”