Encouraging and Empowering Girls

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on July 13, 2012 10:04 am

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.  

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.�

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) 

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. 

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

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. 

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?


  • 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


  • 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)

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.

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.

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

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Leave a Reply

Deborah Pickering says:

Hi Dr. Brown,
It’s sad isn’t it, that for all the womens’ movements and fights for equality that in reality, equality has been given lip service? Society has learned to talk the talk, but very few actually walk the walk.

There has been positive changes since I was a child, many decades ago. However, I still feel that real equality for women in society has a long way to go. These topics are often similar, in my way of thinking, to ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ What I mean is, we want to teach our children to love themselves, have healthy self esteem, and to “reach for the stars” as you say, without limiting their dreams based on gender.

The majority of people caring for and teaching the children are women, would you agree? How many of those women have the qualities within themselves so that they may pass on their self-worth to the children in their care? I don’t know the answer but I believe that not many possess truly healthy esteem.

To be fair to those I speak of, it is a mind set passed down from one generation to the next and has been passed down for centuries. So, I totally agree with what you are suggesting and I do believe it can be done. As for the chicken and the egg thing though, where would it be most practical to start teaching this self love? The children for sure, but who will teach them on a wide scale? That’s what I often wonder, I guess because I want immediate results rather than seeing the positive results one, or two, or three generations down the road.

Thanks, Deb P.

Dear Deb P.

Good morning, I am sincerely appreciative of your review and recent comments. It is apparent that equality hasn’t reached it’s perfect pitch in society, and sadly, that there remains some “lip service” in many circles, but fortunately we have made many strides towards improving equality throughout humanity.

My prayers are that humanity continues to strive towards having pure equality, and not merely a lip service mentality. It’s not only important for one gender, race, creed, or religion, but for all of humanity.

May you have a blessed day.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Asa Don Brown

Tracy says:

Thank you Dr Brown for your encouraging words. I find it very intriguing that today’s society views a strong women so different than a strong man. It is ironic to think of the women who were involved in settling North America. These women often were side by side with their husbands in ranching, farming, etc. Has it been the move to the Urban centres and the advancement of technology that has shifted the views of women.

I have two daughters and teaching them to be strong and independent is a challenging task. A strong and independent child is also a child that will speak her mind and stand up for what she believes. This can create a challenging relationship when disciplining an independent child. As the parent you need to be sure of the reasoning behind the discipline and need to be able to relay that to your child. You can not effectively use “because I said so” or ” because I am the Mom/Dad”.

High self esteem is essential for a strong, independent child. It is the a strong self image and self love that helps protect strong children from eating disorders and self image issues. I truly agree with the idea that parents and teachers need to help develop a positive self image. Encouragement and support for everything your child attempts needs to be consistently available and freely given. We need to remember that for development of health self esteem a child needs to be encouraged for both successes and failures. Learning that failures are only stepping stones to success teaches our children to strive for success and achieve it.

I love the concept of daily relaying to your daughters that they are smart, beautiful and loved. What a better way to develop a healthy self esteem and independent ladies.

Thank you again for your encouraging words and support for parents and teachers.


Dear Tracy,

I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. It can be a challenge to teach children “… to be strong and independent,” but remember, you are trying and offering your best unto your children. You further mention that “a strong and independent child is also a child that will speak her mind and stand up for what she believes.” I concur, children who are taught to be independent will frequently standup up for their believes, but fortunately, this same independence will have them standing up for others as well and the “important” issues. It can prove a dual-edged sword for parents, but remember, its this sort of independence that will have your child develop a personality that will not allow others to run all over them.

I wholeheartedly agree that “… a strong self image and self love that helps protect strong children from eating disorders and self image issues.” Furthermore, such a strong self-esteem, self-worth, and value will protect children from being injected by others harm or potential self-harm.

Tracy, I am certainly appreciative of your time and feedback.

May you have a truly blessed day.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Asa Don Brown

A beautiful post. You touched on so many important issues. About encouraging children to try, and helping them through failure-i agree wholeheartedly-I have seen the outcome: A grown child who is very confident, not afraid to try, and has a life that fits her, as a result.
When she was very little, once I took her to the doctor for a minor illness. She was dressed when he examined her and he mistook her for a boy; I was astonished at how differently she was treated from any other time, ever! So that speaks to what you wrote about both genders needing to be free to live a balanced life.
As for me, I still experience weird things, like being disliked at times if I am not obsequious but straightforward and assertive. Or, the most common example is being out in stores, doing errands etc. and seeing how men are catered to by clerks, post office servers, etc. and how women are ignored. We have new awareness but the subtle prejudices continue on. Thanks for highlighting a topic that doesn’t get enough attention these days.

Dear Paula Young, LMFT,

I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. It is difficulty for our old ways and thought patterns to be overcome. Nevertheless, it is important that we strive to see ourselves beyond our old thought patterns, seeing ourselves as capable and able members of society.

I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Asa Don Brown