Why isn't bravery expected of women all the time?
I can definitely speak from experience when it comes to this. Growing up in a Latin culture, you are put into boxes and categories, you are told what is “correct” for girls and for boys. Although this happened around me, in general, I was lucky. I grew up with 3 sisters (no brothers), so there was an even playing field. None of us were treated differently and without much technology or internet at that time, we would play outside, climb trees, jumping from the roof of the house holding an umbrella above our heads pretending to be Mary Poppins (another #StrongIndependentFemale I might add…come on let’s get that hashtag trending!)
We used to make popcorn in a firepit and find creepy crawlies all around us. Every day I had to check my shoes for scorpions before putting them on, and after a rainy day, I would remove the leeches from my legs that had crawled up from the long grass we played in. And I was a happy child.
I was very independent and always believed I could do everything and anything. But I was in for a shock when puberty came. Suddenly, I wasn’t the “girly” girl that society wanted me to be, and when I started being criticized because I was very good friends with boys, suddenly I was a tomboy and non-compliant!
When I started my professional working life, things hadn’t really changed either; it was seen as “wrong” to demand salary increases or to speak up when things weren’t right. I had never ‘learned’ that my role was to be quiet in a corner, worrying about beauty and gossip. It was and still is, my right to an opinion, my aspirations, and to express them fairly in a safe non-threatening environment. But my culture didn’t see it that way.
So, because of my experiences through childhood fast forward into parenting, it couldn’t be any other way for my 2 girls and boy. I am going to make the best efforts that my kids are seen and heard, fairly, and to make sure they do not fear it.
In the New York Times article by former firefighter and author; Caroline Paul, she discusses a study from The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. It stated that;
“studies showed; parents cautioned their daughters about the dangers of the fire pole significantly more than they did their sons and were much more likely to assist them. But both moms and dads directed their sons to face their fears, with instruction on how to complete the task on their own.”
And I still see it every day around me, at birthday parties or play dates, the way we treat girls, in general, is different than boys. For my eldest daughter, Iola’s 4th birthday party, one of her male nursery friends, bought her a tutu, fairy wand and crown as a gift and said to his mum “Iola really, really needs a fairy outfit”. Obviously, he didn’t mean anything mean by it, but I can see where he was coming from. Iola is not your standard “lady” girl, she loves wearing superhero clothes, playing with ‘proper’ old school Lego, plays with dolls as much as she plays with race tracks and I allow all sorts of risky play, even when I panic behind gritted teeth and a forced smile most of the time. Her dad and I are there showing her where to put her feet and hands to make sure she can be safe whilst taking risks. And we always remind her that “Falling is part of the game” and that you cannot be good/great at anything without failing and practice.
“We [society] are showing our girls to be fearful and boys to be gutsy” says Paul in her Ted Talk, and we do this, despite the fact that girls and boys are very alike physically (before puberty), sometimes girls are even stronger and more mature. But we act as if girls are delicate and need to be saved. This is what we show our kids and is what we are passing on to them.
We are leading by example and when we caution our girls and make them be afraid of the world, then that is what they are learning…. It’s also very important to mention, that FEAR like any other emotion, is a normal feeling to have in kids and adults alike. But what we should foster, is for it not to be the default emotion and allow your actions to be guided by it whenever outside your comfort zone. Flight or fight is unconscious but fear is conscious and so we can overcome the urge to ‘take flight’ from a risk or hazard if we learn and practise how to past the risk and focus on the reward of achievement. The FEAR management mechanism is the result of brain engaging thoughts and muscles to act. This requires training and coaching. That to me is parenting for bravery.
Kids need to practice bravery by risky play. Risky play is great for kids, all kids;
“because it teaches hazard assessment, it teaches delayed gratification, it teaches resilience, it teaches confidence. In other words, when kids get outside and practice bravery, they learn valuable life lessons.”
(Caroline Paul, TED talk/2016).
There is another sort of bravery that we like to encourage in Iola (and Effi when she is ready), and that is one of Mental bravery. It is commonly known that in the jobseekers market, women are only prepared to apply for a job when she is more than 90% compatible with the role description and requirements. In theory, there should be, mostly, the same amount of opportunities for women to apply for a job as a man. However, most women making a judgement about themselves are still on a pursuit for some notion of perfection, or greater than 90% compatible. But being comfortable to fail or be rejected because of non-compatibility seems far more prevalent in males than females in the job hunt. This seems to be because the perception is that females won’t have as many opportunities and therefore have to apply for roles that, in the mind of the applicant, have the highest likelihood of success...???
But I believe this comes from childhood limiting belief structures and the comparison effect. Girls are not supported so consistently as boys when it comes to failure and learning. Often studies have proven that whilst open-minded conscientious parents provide as much of a rich and engaging environment for learning, even positioning a toddler in a playroom, parents (mums AND dads) will subconsciously position their child nearer to collections of toys specific to the gender convention.
An experiment conducted by the BBC program Horizon a few years ago with Dr Michael Mosely and Dr Alice Roberts involved dressing babies in gender-specific clothing, opposite to their actual gender; so boys in girls clothes and vice versa. What happened was that parents who were babysitting other people’s children would actually exhibit encouragement for perseverance to a ‘boy’ baby to complete a jigsaw, unaided, or to re-build over and over a tower of blocks NOT because it was deemed a more masculine toy, but because the boy deserved to be building something and seeing it completed. Whereas the ‘girl’ babies were given much less chance to fail before being removed from playing with the enrichment toy and them being given a passive ‘girl’ based toy to entertain themselves with. This, remember, whilst actually being the opposite gender to how they were being presented by their clothing.
When extrapolated, the documentary observations could suggest that because, during toddler and early learning development, through to key stage learning and pre-puberty, girls would have much less opportunity to fail and feel like they had only one, maybe two, opportunities to succeed at something before that chance to succeed was taken away and a more menial activity was introduced, this would actually transpose into womanhood and that not even being able to recognise an opportunity to succeed was even there. This would reflect in the evidence that has been gathered through much research across the globe in terms of gender parity in employment statistics.
This has been highlighted quite prominently over the last few years by groups encouraging girls to stay in STEM subjects at school, persevere into research and science fields. Financial sector representation has also had a stronger presence, but computing and programming/coding specifically also.
The mental bravery to carry out an activity, at least half in the knowledge that some of that activity is known to be incorrect as to the desired outcome but to do it anyway, is within all humans. Kids and adults alike. For girls though its mostly been trained out of us, or at least disengaged us. Well, coding mostly requires that, many times a day. And one lady who we have found a brilliant role model and thought leader in this is Reshma Saujani.
Reshma is a New York Times best-selling author of ‘Brave, not perfect’, founder of Girls Who Code and in our opinion another #StrongIndependentFemale #SIF. Reshma has set herself a goal of getting 1 Million women into computer science by 2020. She bases this mission on the fact that for humankind to be truly innovative “we cannot leave half the population behind”.
So, she has taken to socialising girls to take risks and programme – two skills they need to move society forward. She tells any woman and girl she can “…be comfortable with imperfection”. Bravery to fail and then actually recognise the multiple opportunities to try something again shouldn’t be gender specific. The failure is a journey, an experience, an imprint of how not to do something.
The first ever programmer was a woman, and is the namesake of our little character in our coder girl print, coming next season! Ada Lovelace developed programmes on Charles Babbage’s analytical machine back in the 1800s. You can bet your life that there were tens of thousands of ‘failures’ before the right programme was written. It was a journey to success, not a list of failed programmes. As Thomas Edison put it when ‘inventing’ the incandescent lightbulb; “I didn’t fail 1,000 times, the light bulb was an invention of a 1,000 steps.”
Nina Moran, a founding member of The Skate Kitchen, is a skateboarder, an activist and an actress from Brooklyn, NYC. She has been actively breaking the stereotypes of what a girl should or shouldn’t do. Quitting her first job in a Skate shop after finding out she was being paid less than her male counterparts for the exact same job (she was the only girl there). In her TEDx Teen talk she talks about when a girl starts skateboarding:
“You feel as if everybody expects you to be bad at skateboarding already, just because you are a girl…. When a boy first starts skateboarding nobody cares that he sucks, he just started!. When a girl starts skateboarding, she doesn’t even get a chance to try before getting judged by everybody, THIS is what makes it so intimidating to enter the skate park in the first place” (Nina Moran, TEDxTeen)
Using social media as a platform and posting her skateboarding videos, she created a movement that now has over 99K Instagram followers and counting. She also talks about how when you are a girl, certain things will be said to you from a very early age, such as:
“You can’t like that colour, because ‘this’ colour is for boys and ‘this’ colour is for girls”
“You can’t do that, you are not tough enough for that”
“Why do you do that, that is not ‘lady-like’”
This type of influence is what perpetuates misguided stereotypes of what a girl should do, and as she said it herself:
“Girls are going to continue to do, ‘what they are not supposed to do’”. (Nina Moran, TEDxTeen)
Did you know – Edison’s great rival of the day, the actual Tesla, first name Nikola, was encouraged and home-schooled by his mother (an inventor) about the potential of electricity and its different currents and how to harness them.
I would like to leave you with something again from our ‘Oracle’ that is Caroline Paul. She really hit home to us about how we can think about all the learning moments that come up for our kids but also for us as parents. Yes, we learn all the time how to parent. Not necessarily for better or worse, (that’s subjective most of the time anyway) but because there is no textbook or guidelines, there is no right or wrong, it's just doing what works, and for us, Caroline Paul really set it out well in the following quote:
“…when your girl is, let's say, on her bike on the top of the steep hill that she insists she's too scared to go down, guide her to access her bravery. Ultimately, maybe that hill really is too steep, but she'll come to that conclusion through courage, not fear. Because this is not about the steep hill in front of her. This is about the life ahead of her and that she has the tools to handle and assess all the dangers that we cannot protect her from, all the challenges that we won't be there to guide her through, everything that our girls here and around the world face in their future. “
And this is why our collections are not only about STEM subjects, we have prints with a skater girl, superhero girl and many more to come. We believe our formula for empowering girls through clothing does WORK!!!
& BE it.
We showgirls through our fabric patterns and slogan that a girl that takes risks, that skateboards, that is her own superhero and that can jump from a parachute or fight dragons, is as girly as any other, and that there are clothing options for her and that her likes and passions are being reflected in what she wears.
“The time is now to stand up, to stand out. Where sameness is safeness, with something as simple as what we wear, we can draw every eye to ourselves to say that there are differences in this world, and there always will be. Get used to it. And this we can say without a single word. Fashion can give us a language for dissent. It can give us courage. Fashion can let us literally wear our courage on our sleeves. So wear it. Wear it like armour. Wear it because it matters. And wear it because you matter.” (Kaustav Dey TED@Tommy Hilfiger 2016)