Girl Power & Empty Promises: Going Beyond Lip Service to Empower Your Girl
Girls can do anything! Girls rule! The future is female! From T-shirts to water bottles to baseball caps, pro-girl slogans are everywhere these days—but as someone who cares about girls, you should know these catchy phrases aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
Take the example of a company that won applause with a girl power–themed commercial in the United States. Just months later, that same company released an ad in a country where women aren’t considered equal. This time, the slogan actually insulted women.
And as for those T-shirts emblazoned with the word “feminist” or proclaiming that “girls are unstoppable?” Often the factories that make them have women and sometimes even children working in unsafe conditions and earning far below fair pay.
Girls need more than strong words to be empowered.
“A lot of corporations and organizations that want to be seen as championing girls and women simply aren’t,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “It’s incredibly telling when someone says they support the development of young girls, but then you find women are virtually excluded from top leadership at that same organization. There’s still a whole lot of work to be done when it comes to giving women and girls equal footing in society. Organizations can say they’re pro-girl all day long, but unless they’re truly investing in girls and helping them get the specific skills and experiences they’ll need in the future, they’re not walking the walk.”
Similar to these empty promises are the people painting a picture of girls and boys, men and women as already being equal in today’s society—as though we’re in a post-gender world where girls no longer need extra or differently focused attention and enrichment. How wonderful it would be if that were true—but it’s not.
Although girls and young women are completing high school, college, and even graduate school in greater numbers than ever before—even earning more degrees than their male counterparts in many areas, the day-to-day reality for today’s girls is a lot more complicated than that. For instance, while girls are working harder and achieving more academically, they’re also struggling more with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even suicidal feelings. Statistically, they get called on less in class than boys, and one out of every ten girls is catcalled by her 11th birthday.
Oh, and once they do grow up and make it out of school? All those hard-earned diplomas aren’t adding up to more equal workspaces or better career opportunities. The pay gap is still very real, and the number of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies is negligible. The people who represent our country’s cities and states at the highest levels are overwhelmingly male. The majority of speaking roles in TV shows and movies are male. We have never, in our nation’s history, had a female president.
Naturally, giving your girl a shirt that says “Girls Run the World” is a lot easier than sitting down with her and actually talking about the inequalities that women and girls—including those of different backgrounds—struggle with. And who doesn’t want to think of their daughter as having equal opportunities to the boys and men in her life? But having these conversations with her, and letting her know you’re committed to helping shape a better world for her (and all of us!), will at least give her the comfort of knowing you’ve got her back.
So what can you do?
- If she’s got to have that glittery “Girl Power” shirt, look for ones that support organizations that give back to women and girls. They exist!
- Ensure your daughter has a group of supportive girls in her life who can both help her through life’s trials and celebrate her victories with her.
- Give her a girl-only space where she can feel safe trying new things and flexing her leadership muscle.
- Provide kids—girls and boys!—with a wealth of female role models. If we want to change things, boys need to see women in positions of power, too.
- Speak out against sexist behavior, and discuss it with your kids when they witness it in real life or on TV.
- Ladies? Model female leadership in your career, community, or both. Guys? Respect and lift up female leaders in both your professional and personal life.
Getting to a place where girls truly do run the world isn’t going to happen overnight, and no magic spell or cute slogan on a tote bag is going to get us there. What will? Going beyond the talk to walk the walk, side-by-side with and for girls.