Encouraging and Empowering Girls

Empowering females sounds as though we are dismissing or ignoring males, but the truth is, both  genders desperately need to be equally empowered.  Therefore, while the intent of this article is to address female concerns and issues, the heart of the article should be applied to all of the human race.  

STEREOTYPES AND MISPERCEPTIONS
For far too long, the female gender has been plagued with stereotypes, typecasting, as well as, subtle and blatant discrimination.   There has been a long history of discrimination reigning down from religious orders, politics halls, and employment opportunities.  While blatant discrimination has become against the law in many countries; it is the subtle form of discrimination that we often overlook.   The discrimination in the female gender begins at a very young age.  “You shouldn’t buy Jill a Hot Wheel, rather buy her a Barbie Doll or a Littlest Pet Shop.” “Now Amy, let your brother carry in the groceries, for he’s a boy.”  “Amanda, let’s go shopping while the boys work on the vehicles.” “Tommy, you should let your sister wash the dishes, while you mow the lawn.” Now of course, not all of the above statements apply to all children, however, there remains a general outlook on specific roles that boys and girls should partake.�

ACADEMIC ~ STEREOTYPES AND MISPERCEPTIONS
The stereotypes are cast well beyond the confines of a child’s home and their childhood.  Unfortunately, girls face stereotypes that go way beyond their childhood.  In the academic world, they are often overshadowed by their male counterpart as being less of an athlete; better at homemaking or childrearing; incapable of leading men or fellow boy classmates; incapable of understanding complex mathematical or scientific conundrums.   “Although there is a general perception that men do better than women in math and science, researchers have found that the differences between women’s and men’s math- and science-related abilities and choices are much more subtle and complex than a simple ‘men are better than women in math and science.’ In fact, experts disagree among themselves on the degree to which women and men differ in their math- and science-related abilities.” (Halpern, et. al, 2007, p. 3) 

STRONG WOMEN
As a society, our impressions of strong women conflict with our impressions of strong men.  Strong women are frequently stereotyped as being difficult, problematic and fierce competitors.  Whereas, a strong male is revered, admired, and worthy of approach. Strong men are considered to be groundbreakers, entrepreneurs, and movers and shakers.   Strong women, are often given egregious names, labels, and reprehensibly stereotyped. 

AN UNCONDITIONAL SPIRIT
All children should be taught to unconditionally accept, approve, admire, appreciate, forgive, trust, and ultimately, love their own person.  

ENCOURAGEMENT – REACHING FOR THE STARS
All children should be taught to reach for the stars and well beyond.  A child, even the most academically challenged child, should be encouraged to “Be All That They Can Be.” They should be encouraged to dream big.  A child’s dreams should never be discounted, rather uplifted to the stars. 

Who would have ever thought a person with a major chronic medical condition, bound to a wheelchair, and incapable of verbally communicating would one day have an opportunity to float weightless in zero gravity? In fact, the world famous physicist had such an opportunity in 2007, on a modified Boeing 727.  It is important to recognize a child’s dreams, desires, and hopeful ambitions.  For after all, even if a child fails, at least he or she tried to reach for the stars. For what is wrong with failure or the possibility of success? We place too much emphasis on the norm of society, rather than allowing children to dream and dream big. 

APPEARANCE IS ONLY SKIN DEEP
According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, “It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men.” (DMH, 2012, Online) Sadly, there is a high probability that men are not self-reporting, but given that, it is ratio of women that is disheartening.  According to the DMH, one in 200 women suffer from Anorexia.  What accounts for this vast number of women suffering from such a chronic disorder?

ADOLESCENTS

  • Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25
  • 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight
  • 80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight

RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIES

  • Rates of minorities with eating disorders are similar to those of white women
  • 74% of American Indian girls reported dieting and purging with diet pills
  • Essence magazine, in 1994, reported that 53.5% of their respondents, African-American females were at risk of an eating disorder
  • Eating disorders are one of the most common psychological problems facing young women in Japan. (DMH, 2012, Online)

According to Sandra Susan Friedman’s book, When Girls Feel Fat, Helping Girls Through Adolescence;  “As girls go through puberty in a culture that values them predominately according to how they look, their bodies get bigger and rounder while society tells them that they must be thin. Girls also experience changes in their lives as they reinvent themselves in order to fit into the adult world.” (Friedman, 2000)

COUNTERING THE NEGATIVITY
All children should be taught that the real depth of the human character is the core of the person.  We are more than our physical appearances, our abilities, our achievements, or our talents.   We are more than pedigrees or our friendships.  We are greater than our failures, mistakes, difficulties, losses, or challenges.   We deserve the right to be our very best.  We should be encouraged to live a life of total and absolute acceptance.

REMIND YOUR CHILDREN OF THEIR GOODNESS
Parents should remind their children frequently of their goodness, their abilities, their positivity,

As a parent, I have tried to remind my children on a daily basis of their worth, value, acceptability, capabilities, and my love for them.  Moreover, I encourage them to repeat this message, taking ownership of the message as their own foundation of love, hope, tranquility, peace, and internal belief in self. I beseech you as a parent, teacher, guardian, or community leader to uplift every child you encounter.  

Author:   Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C.

REFERENCES
Department of Mental Health (2012) Eating disorder statistics. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from           http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm

Friedman, S. S. (2000) When girls feel fat, Helping girls through adolescence. Toronto, ON:          HarperCollins

Halpern, D. F., Aronson, J., Reimer, N., Simpkins, S., Star, J. R., & Wentzel, K. (2007)     Encouraging girls in math and science. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education    and National Center for Education Research

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