Yesterday, October 11th, our daughter turned 5 on the very same day that people around the globe recognized Day of the Girl and National Coming Out Day. Day of the Girl’s website has a very strong message: “Empowerment of and investment in girls are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights.” It’s truly mind-blowing that at this point in history, young girls across the globe are still being denied an education because of their gender; 1 in 4 college women in the US experience sexual assault on campus; women in the workplace are still being paid significantly less than their male counterparts and denied leadership opportunities that they’ve rightfully earned; and some people are trying to downplay a presidential candidate bragging about kissing and groping women’s genitals without their consent (aka sexual assault) as ‘locker-room talk.’ It makes me furious—and scared—that this is the state of the country and world in which I am raising my daughter. There is clearly so much work that still needs to be done for the betterment of girls and women.
Living in a two-dad family, our daughter is the only female in our household. My husband and I do all we can to protect her, but also equip her with the skills and knowledge that will allow her to take care of herself. We do everything we can to teach her that she is strong, has immense value and endless opportunities as a girl (and one-day woman). We try to raise her with as little gender-bias as possible—always telling her she can play with whatever toys she wants, do whatever sports she wants, be whatever she wants to be when she grows up, and love whoever she wants to love. With that said, I know there are so many societal messages she takes in everyday, coming from television, billboards, her peers, etc., that have an influence on her as well. From a very early age, our daughter became obsessed with all things pink, purple, and princess…she even took a major interest in shoes (high heels in particular) by the time she was two years old. It does make me wonder: how much of her interests are innate, and how much are they influenced by the world around her? And how much might society’s sexist, misogynistic, and heteronormative influences be pulling her away from who she wants to be and towards what society thinks she should be?
Working in the field of Diversity & Inclusion, my work focuses on creating environments where all identities are respected and where there is true equity, so that everyone can achieve their fullest potential without facing unnecessary barriers. As a father, I hope to consistently send those same messages to both of my children. I don’t want them to ever be held back based on the fact that they are adopted, have two-dads, are of Mexican heritage, or when it comes to my daughter, because of the fact that she’s female. I want to do my best to help my children understand that just because society might tell them certain things are ‘normal,’ that is not always the case, and ‘normal’ should not always be held to the highest value.
I’d love to hear from parents out there: What do you do to teach your children that they should never allow the world to hold them back, based on their identities or for any reason?