Should you raise girls differently than boys?
Today, in 2016, as a mother of four children, I’m going to say, yes, you should raise girls differently than boys. You should not have to. But to deal with this world, today, you should raise girls differently than boys.
It’s not ideal. It’s unfortunate. But it’s true.
I have three sons, and I have one daughter. I am going to teach all of my children, to the best of my ability, to be strong. To be thinkers. To stand up for what’s right. To be kind and loving, generous and forgiving. To use their minds. To remember to enjoy life, and not just keep working towards some ultimate goal and forget about living in the present.
But I’m going to raise my daughter a little differently than my sons.
I want them all to be good people — strong people — and to be as prepared for the world (as it stands and as it may be) as they can be.
And that means different things right now.
In 2016, there are still stereotypes to be dealt with. The media and pop culture still influence my children in ways I may not always anticipate or choose. There are still plenty of people in our lives trying to toughen up my sons and soften my daughter. They want the boys not to cry. They want my daughter to wear pink frills.
Some of that is okay. There are times when we just can’t cry, even if we want to — all of us, girls and boys. There are times and places for pink frills, if you so choose them — girls or boys.
I want my daughter to be tough and strong. She wears Star Wars shirts and her brothers’ outgrown soft little race car boxer briefs. She wears dresses, too, when she wants to, and she revels in a skirt with pockets (just like me). But I’m also teaching her that it’s okay for her to yell if she needs to and fight when she feels she needs to. There are still pressures for her to be quiet and kind, always. Demure. But sometimes it’s okay for her to be loud, to be assuming, or to stridently out-yell her brothers in a game. And I’m teaching my sons that it’s okay to be out-yelled by a girl, to listen to her directions sometimes even though she’s younger and a girl, and that there’s nothing wrong with losing to girls.
This all sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn’t — not even today, in 2016, with all the advances and in a fairly enlightened society here in Silicon Valley.
The truth is that the world is still hard on girls. For all the talks I have with fellow women in the workplace and in leadership roles about how women can and should be strong and assertive, the reality remains that there’s still a price to it. And because I want my daughter to have choices and be equipped for success, even if it’s not always great, I am also teaching her how to temper things.
I have to teach her first to stand up for herself and be assertive and clear. But I will also teach her alternative approaches for dealing with people who just can’t or won’t deal with a woman like that. Not because I think it’s right, but because sometimes, in 2016, if you’re a woman, you still have to be able to conform, or you might find yourself performance-managed out, passed over for promotions, or marked as being difficult to work with. And all just because you forgot to say “I feel like…” or “I’m not sure, but I was thinking that…” when you just mean “I know this to be true.”
For every time my sons can just state their thoughts and opinions, I know that there’s a chance that their sister won’t be able to do the same. And so I have to teach her to be able to state things but also how to coach it into a softer message, just in case. Someday, she may just need to get her point across any way she can, and she may not have the social equity to just say it like a man would.
I teach my sons that it’s okay for a girl to say things like they do, to be blunt and clear, to argue with them, and to tell them they’re wrong. I teach them that it’s okay to admit to being wrong, to apologize, and to be humble. I teach her all of those things too — but I am careful. I know how easily she’s going to learn those lessons on her own from the world.
Where my sons need a heavier touch from me — because media and society will accept things from them that they won’t from a girl — my daughter needs a lighter touch. She has to know how to do it in case she needs to, but she needs me not to break her of the habits of being outspoken. Society will try to do that, so I have to make sure I don’t. They’re going to hammer her for not smiling (think Hillary Clinton’s “angry” face), while they’ll tell my sons that smiling too much makes them look weak.
I have to raise my daughter to fear for her body and her personal space in a way that I don’t have to with my sons. Yes, there are risks and dangers for them, and we have talked about that and will continue to as they get older. But it’s not the same as what my daughter will deal with. (When was the first time you were groped or sexually assaulted as a woman?) There are things surrounding situational awareness that she will need to know that my sons never will, not at the same level. (But yes, I’ll teach them anyway, so they can help watch out for other at-risk people, and so they know how to not be part of the problem.)
The world we live in today is different if you’re living as a woman versus as a man. I don’t like it. I will do everything in my power to change it and influence this next generation through my children so that it changes. But the world is slow to change. And in order to get to a point where everyone is safe and equal, it means reinforcing some things in my daughter that I will try to tone down in my sons, and vice versa.
It means countering social media, media, and culture around us in different ways. It means not letting my daughter always get cast as a princess and not always letting my sons be the white knights. It means teaching my daughter that it’s okay and right for her to save people. It means teaching my sons that it’s okay and right sometimes for them to be saved by others and by women.
Sometimes, I have to emphasize two different points in each story in order to get my kids to a place where they are all in the middle ground of the two stereotypes.
I don’t know if I’m right. No parent really does. All I know is that as great as it sounds to raise them exactly the same, I don’t know if that will work, because the world around us is not following this pattern.
It’s not enough for me just to do what should theoretically be right — I have to also actively counterbalance the outside influences. I’m just doing the best I can in a scary world for all my children, which is all any parent can do, really.
And in this world, as I see it, that means sometimes raising my girl differently than my boys.
This post originally appeared on Quora.