By Michele DeLuca
I have a dear friend who told me once how proud it made him when his little girls jumped obediently at his every command.
I told him that was no way to raise little girls.
Friday is International Women’s Day and it got me to thinking about that conversation and my beliefs about the way we raise girls on this planet.
That day, I explained to my friend that I grew up in a generation of young women who were told they must obey. It didn’t matter who — their parents, their elders, their teachers, their bosses and just about everyone else who issued a command.
It was a dangerous time to be a little girl.
I told him that obedient girls are prey to those with ill intentions.
I don’t have daughters. I have two sons and they bring me tremendous joy. I’m not an expert on raising daughters, but I am an expert on being a daughter. And I like to think that, if I had daughters, I would have raised them much the same way I raised my boys, teaching them first and foremost about their super powers — and about using those powers for good.
We all have super powers — traits and skills that bring excellence into our lives when we use them. One of my hard-won super powers is a strong belief in myself, cobbled over the course of a lifetime shadowed by many mistakes but lit with enough small triumphs to allow me to trust my own judgement.
My mother indulged me in many ways, but she could not teach me about power.
Before I was in kindergarten, she let me sit for hours with my picture books. As a pre-teen, after dinner, she let me close the doors to the living room and dining room so I could play albums and dance joyfully around without an audience. She let me stay behind in Milwaukee to finish high school with my friends when my family moved back to Buffalo, though she likely could have used my help with the move. She took me on a trip to Europe for my college graduation, despite money always being especially tight back then.
My mother taught me about fierce love, but she didn’t teach me about my power because she didn’t understand her own.
She was raised in poor family where brothers were allowed to beat up sisters and she was pulled from school at 16 to pick tomatoes in the fields. She carried a lot of anger over her life circumstances and when I was growing up, she displayed her power through fits of anger and sometimes wild rage.
I guess that was her super power, but it was frightening and it always seemed to create more problems than it fixed.
I was the one who had to clean my brothers’ rooms while they went outside and played, much like she did when she was small. I don’t blame her. She needed a hand and it was easier to choose me than to teach us all how to take care of ourselves. She knew nothing about teaching a little girl calm, centered power.
I believe that all little girls need to know they are strong and capable. They either have to learn about themselves from the adults around them or they have to figure it out on their own.
Some little girls grow into women without ever being able to do that. Even today, some girls wait for boys to give them a reason for being. And some women wait for men to do that, as well.
Thankfully, in this day and age in America, there are many programs that teach little girls about their super powers. Girls are being encouraged to learn about science, math and technology and they are just as likely to be found in taekwondo classes as little boys.
There are far more role models today of women who are confident of their place, whether it’s in the home, or in business or government. That is true of much of the world, except in the most impoverished countries where women are still fighting for their rights to marry who they chose and to receive an education.
Those are the women I think about when I hear the words “International Women’s Day.”
I’ve always had the belief that if more women around the world knew of their own power, they would raise more empowered children who understood their own value and were less fearful in their ability to navigate the world.
They would be more open to global friendships and partnerships and the world would be a safe and better place.
I trust that day will come, but the going is slow. And yet, the more I see of efforts to show all children their super powers, the more encouraged I am about the state of the planet.
As for my friend with the obedient daughters, I don’t know if he took my words to heart, but his girls grew up to be strong and independent young women, so I’m guessing he did.