Although your daughter likely goes to school with boys, and might play Saturday morning sports and share the local playground with them, the realities of her day-to-day life are anything but the same as those of her male peers. In fact, studies show that in coed learning environments, boys receive more praise than girls when they call out in class, making girls less likely to raise their hands. Furthermore, boys are allowed to problem solve on their own during class time, which fosters independence, whereas teachers tend to step in and “help” girls, leading girls to question their own abilities.
And outside of school? More than one in ten U.S. girls report being catcalled before their 11th birthday—and a whopping 85 percent report gender-based street harassment before they turned 17. Not only does this make girls see their worth in terms of their appearance but it also makes them more self-conscious and cautious overall when out in public. Add to that the fact that the worlds of tech, advertising, major league sports, politics, finance, and so many other fields are still considered “boys’ clubs”—sending not-so-subtle signals to girls about which industries or activities are for girls and which aren’t—and the world starts looking a whole lot less equal for your daughter.
The fact is, 99 percent of your daughter’s life is experienced alongside boys, where she either has to fight for attention or dodge the unwanted kind. Not only can that get exhausting but it can also lead your daughter to keep her head down and stop seeking attention completely. And when this is her day-to-day norm, it’s easy for her believe dynamics like this are normal or acceptable. Scary, isn’t it?
So, what can you do to raise a smart, confident daughter who’s equipped to succeed in this world? Make sure she’s getting some high-quality time surrounded by girls and girls only.
Now, we know this concept raises some questions. Isn’t putting girls in an all-girl environment basically like telling them they can’t compete with boys or do the same things boys can? In short, no. Girls are already mixed in with boys in so many areas, but because of society’s stereotypes about girls and the ways girls are treated—either consciously or subconsciously—by the people in their lives, girls are less likely to take risks or engage in competition in environments where boys are present. They’re also more likely to shy away from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities and sports for fear of being seen as less than feminine, or because they’ve been conditioned to believe that boys will simply be better at those things.
All-girl environments—be they all-female sports teams, regular slumber parties, or even her Girl Scout troop meetings—work as a type of oasis in her world. When there are no boys to be compared to (or to compare herself to!), she can discover her passions, stretch her limits, and shine her absolute brightest without the social pressures of being seen as too girly, too masculine, or really too anything. Essentially, she’s allowed to be herself and learn her own strengths on her own terms. She can build the bravery, confidence, and resilience that come with taking risks, struggling, failing, and trying again. She can learn to innovate and problem solve without anyone assuming she can’t do it on her own. And she can carry these experiences and skills with her into the wider world, where they’ll bolster her and help her rise to new limits despite any barriers in her way.
And as for the theory that girls in all-girl environments just end up getting catty and tearing one another down? Quite simply, it’s wrong. Here’s the thing: the harmful stereotype of girls and women being backstabbing “mean girls” has existed for hundreds of years. But girls are more likely to be ultra-competitive with one another in environments where there’s only one or two spaces for them to take the lead. In all-girl environments? Every leadership opportunity in every area will be given to a girl, so girls learn to champion one another and collaborate rather than feel threatened. The friendships she’ll forge through these groups will form the basis of a powerful network of women who can support one another as they grow.
And these benefits—a greater sense of confidence, a higher comfort level with taking risks, the ability to claim every space as a space where girls and women belong, and the support and encouragement of a strong female network—truly will help your daughter throughout her life. Studies show that girls who take part in certain all-girl activities go on to have more successful careers, experience higher levels of education, and be happier in life in general.
What can you do to give your daughter the benefits of the girls’ club? Set up playdates with female schoolmates early and often. Point out examples in real life and in the media where girls have joined together to support and lift one another up. Get her involved in an all-female activity like Girl Scouts, an all-female dance or sports team, or a STEM class filled with girls. Invite the neighborhood girls or perhaps her female cousins over for regular slumber parties or weekend day trips, exploring your local area and the adventures it has to offer. Not only will she have fun and make memories to last a lifetime but she’ll also grow stronger, more capable, and more confident than you ever dreamed.
Tackle the topic of offensive, objectifying language and behavior with kids.