Dear Daughter: I Want You To Be Safe, Yet Empowered And Free At The Same Time

Teaching a daughter to be safe yet free, we often walk a thin line, balancing between empowerment and practical safety for our kids.

We talk about so much with our daughters on their dreams and aspirations, on how things need to be and help them work on their studies, their skills to negotiate through life…and yet, when it comes to keeping them safe, many doors slam shut. Sometimes, we find ourselves doing what was done to us years ago, in order ‘to keep you safe’.

Sure, this world is far from ideal – lots needs to change and a better world is what we’re fighting for everyday, what we want our daughters to make for themselves in their own ways. In the meantime, we also need to be teaching our daughters to be safe, unraped, unmolested, sexually or otherwise.

The conundrum of freedom being one side of the coin, in a country where women aren’t even treated as people, is very much something we wrestle with. When the other side of the coin is a huge pit of unpleasant possibilities, what do we do? Give up on ambition and focus on staying safe alone? Heck, no!

Start inside our homes

The easiest (and most essential) is to start inside our homes. Or the hardest, depending on our homes.

We need to observe ourselves first and change as needed – I am my daughter’s best role model. Where do I bend and where do I stand firm? Compromise is essential for us to just get our work done. The art is to compromise in the areas where there is least effect on us. But sometimes those ‘small’ things are just reflections of larger beliefs and value systems.

As a woman, do I speak up at offensive jokes? Do I at least not do a polite laugh? My sending out the message that I deserve my space and will take it has most impact on my daughter.

What about relationships with the opposite/same gender? Is it okay to be mean and all girl bullying?

How about having sentiments that get offended at others’ choices?

How do I as her parent interact with both genders – do I support women as a matter of policy or tear them down on the slightest of pretexts?

Am I comfortable expressing my opinion with men or do I censor my words and deeds? Am I the same person, someone I can live with and respect, regardless who I am with?

Relationships with friends, any future romantic relationships: the foundation for everything starts from home. Children are likely to either accept with modifications or reject out of hand these days. This is what we want too – for them to have their own minds and to use it! I want my daughter to see boys as human, not some alien gender.

It was very important to me to put her in a co-educational school, having myself gone through both co-ed and single sex schools. When you see boys as no different in all ways that matter, it becomes more than romance and sex. Platonic friendships become possible in our daughters’ minds and that is almost all of the battle!

I can’t set down rules for every possibility. I shouldn’t – I want my daughter to think for herself while keeping herself safe (even if it is hardly her fault for when others choose to commit crimes that impinge on her fundamental rights!) I can however share my values, what has worked and what hasn’t, my successes and my failures in an attempt to help her navigate the many humps that didn’t even exist when I was growing up. This is the inconvenience of parenting – it is always do-as-I-do territory.

Teach her two little (but huge) words

These two words are ‘choice’ and ‘why’. Educating on their choices is critical while teaching a daughter to be safe:

  • that they have a right to choose;
  • that they have opportunities to exercise these rights and can choose to not pick one of two choices too.
  • That when they are given a set of ‘choices’ that they didn’t set for themselves, ‘choice’ could very well be another way to manipulate a person.

See why these are pretty huge words to talk about?

This leads into the second word ‘why’ – much easier said than done! Often practices haven’t been questioned enough. Sometimes the answers haven’t kept pace with the modern world. Sometimes patriarchy comes wrapped up as a gift under the pretext of protection. I want my daughter to ask ‘why’, especially when it is the least convenient thing to do.

Why does someone have to sit away when they have their period? To rest? Then why not on the sofa, watching TV? Why not on their bed, a haven for rest versus on uncomfortable bedding? Hygiene? Why isn’t hygiene something we follow more regularly than on three days on the month? “In the olden days….” Bingo!

We don’t live in those days any more. We have better ways of resting and being clean – it is clearly certain attitudes that govern this whole ‘purity’ concept. If the son who is highly desirable can be embraced, the period blood that allows for systems to function enough for these pregnancies to happen can also be embraced! Every time I tell the grocery store guy that I can carry my sanitary napkins without a special paper cover, my daughter is listening and learning.

Why’ can get us into trouble too – who will they try it on first but us?! We need to have rational reasons with space for them to exercise their right of choice or the ability to question ourselves over any irrational reasons.

On clothes

This is (another) ticking time bomb to me. It shouldn’t matter what I wear…no one should touch me. Reality check – it DOESN’T matter what I wear, many touch me!

Funny how hard it hits to think of my daughter in that position! Policing myself isn’t the need of the hour though, being comfortable with myself is.

This is what I tell my daughter and I walk a very thin line here between empowering her to make her choices and keeping herself safe. I tell her to be comfortable in what she is wearing. When I am comfortable, I behave naturally. It is then not about what I am wearing, I show that I think that clothes are irrelevant to my abilities.

Recently, I got to attend a model UN competition. The code was business attire. The specification was left open – if the country you represented had a national dress, the candidate could wear it…the choice was left to the participants.

I saw girls in the shortest of short clothes, pencil heels. Now, I have worked abroad and would never have worn this to any professional space, but it isn’t about me. What I observed was that when the focus was on just staying upright in those unaccustomed heels, a confident posture was out of the window. When it was a toss up between whether they could comfortably lounge in their clothes and contribute, or sit a certain way because they were constricted, the content took a hit.

There were girls in short clothes who were comfortable and they did really well. There were girls in pants who just couldn’t be bothered about their clothes and it worked very well for them too. Clearly, it wasn’t about the length of their skirt but all about their attitude and how they were feeling. Confidence shows and is the best garment. If you are going to sit in shorts and keep pulling it down, it is more of a personal socialization issue to fix than a tailor’s tape!

Be practical

I should be able to walk naked at midnight and get home safe. Ideally.

We live in a very flawed world. So do I say I won’t go out and stay late? Nope. I will however make sure to have a safe way to get home…it might require a friend dropping me off or a parent called, a taxi ordered and another’s phone number given to track my getting back home.

I will ask my child to let someone know if she suspects she is being stalked or in any way inconvenienced in the real or virtual worlds. It could be nothing or it could be a real threat. Plus if she feels unsafe, that feeling is valid, just because she feels it. I would tell her to help herself and ask for help – no one can do it all alone or should be required to!

Trust your gut

Those times when you just knew that something wasn’t right, when you went ahead despite your instincts…I would ask my daughter to give in to her instincts. At the worst case, you look weird (and hey, since when should ‘log kya kaheinge’ govern us?) and best case, you are safe.

Give credit where credit is due but…

Stop putting people on a pedestal for not doing what they’re not supposed to do or doing what they signed up for! My husband isn’t ‘babysitting’ our kids, he’s parenting them as the partner in the commitment we jointly made when we decided to have kids in our lives.

Learn to counter with humour first

“Oh, he cooks? So lucky!” The ‘what do YOU do then?’ is the needle disguised in the banana. And I am the elephant in the story! Yes, it relaxes him, it is something he loves. It is also something I enjoy – his cooking. Any issues?

Humour helps as the first line of defense, social situation defused!

We are there for you no matter what

If my daughter hears nothing of all this, the one take away I hammer in is what my parents made sure I heard – that whatever happens, we are there for you, you will always have a home with us, that we have your back no matter what.

When we live in a society where many blatantly obstruct a woman’s rights on a constant basis, textbook feminism has to fuel a more practical version. She started karate classes last week. No need for pepper spray yet, besides I am not sure she won’t hit herself with it. Aiming issues!

When teaching a daughter to be safe yet free, I would tell my daughter: trust but verify. Don’t ever stop dreaming, expect to stay safe and ensure it to the level possible, reach high and make it count.

Image source: shutterstock

Sangitha Krishnamurthi is a special educator, blogger and mother of three. Her interests include living

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8 Comments


  1. Wonderful and well thought out article Sangitha !

  2. This is a lucid and well thought out post. I like that it is positive, empowering, balanced and practical. We often hear such long drawn out arguments which are just not practical or balanced and even seem ridiculously naïve or out of sync with reality, to me. I would have loved to “add-on”(because that’s my favourite pastime!) but quite honestly, you have quite brilliantly covered all the issues that I too get revved up about, worry about or ruminate about- being a woman, wife and mother to a daughter. So… all I have left to add-on is -Thank you ! for sharing all this wonderful wisdom.

  3. Shilpee prasad

    I liked those points to teach our girls. Thank you for bringing it straight forward.

    • Thanks, Shilpee! Glad to see this level of support for this article – it is very heartening. Maybe change is slow but it is happening in the right direction!

  4. “Reality check – it does’t matter what I wear, many touch me!” was the best part of the article.

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