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4 Things Parents Should NEVER Say If They Want To Raise Empowered, Confident Daughters

Posted: October 1, 2020

Remember that words have the power to wound, irreparably. What parents say matters, so be careful what you say if you want to raise confident daughters.

Growing up in Indian households comes with its own issues. Growing up as a girl in Indian households is another matter altogether. Even today, there are some statements that have become so hideously commonplace in Indian families, that our elders either do not, or cannot understand the enormous impact these statements have on the psyche of young girls and children in general.

Here are 4 examples of seemingly innocuous statements that are thrown at girls in Indian households, without thought and understanding, which need to be banned immediately.

“Behave like a girl. Don’t talk back!”

Behave like a girl. Don’t talk back! (Ladkiyon jaise raho. Ulta jawab mat do / zabaan mat ladao)

What does this even mean – to behave like a girl? How do we define what ‘behaving like a girl’ entails? Is it to be submissive? Comformative? Meek? Feminine? This reeks of the same stereotype that is used for the other gender – ‘Be a Man.’

Children who are constantly berated for talking back, or speaking their opinions out loud, or brainwashed into thinking that it is ‘unbecoming’ to argue (in case of women), or cry (in case of men); these children grow up to develop an inferiority complex so strong, that they cannot even raise their voices in opposition to wrong things. These children bear the weight of this nonsensical societal expectations of what a girl is, or what a man is, for the rest of their lives.

In the case of women, this conditional suppression of their ability to speak up for themselves and stand for their own well being is one of the primary reasons behind their consistent subjugation. Not knowing any better, young girls adopt meekness, considering it to be a virtue, even at the cost of their lives.

Is it inherent and internalized prejudice that leads us to assume girls as being somehow weaker or inferior than boys, even if they are not? Or to assume that expressing emotion, or crying, are somehow specifically feminine traits? If yes, this needs to stop now.

Children do not have to bear the burden of their parents’ ideologies and prejudices. Let them discover what ‘behaving like a girl’ or ‘being a man’, means for themselves.

“Daughters are someone else’s property, their real home is their husband’s”

Daughters are someone else’s property. The home of their birth parents is not their home after all, their REAL homes are the ones they will have after marriage. (Betiyan toh paraya dhan hoti hain. Jab tak ho yahan theek hai, fer toh apne ghar jana hai.)

I cannot believe parents still say this to their daughters. Why? It’s like adopting a child and then reminding that child every single day that they are adopted; that they do not belong.

I envy the girls who did not have to hear this thrown at them in their childhood. Even in jest, this is a statement that cuts to the bones of daughters. If you are a woman, reading this here, imagine for a second how it makes you feel. Does it remind you how much it hurt to hear your own parents say this to you when you were young? Why would any parent allow their own children to suffer from the same fate?

Daughters are not things to be owned or possessed; they are individuals, human beings in their own right. Please stop. Never let children feel that they do not belong at their home, with their parents. Their REAL homes are wherever they choose to call their homes.

Learn to cook. How will you feed your husband?

Learn to cook. How will you feed your husband? In-laws will say your mother has not taught you anything. We are bearing all your tantrums, your in-laws will not suffer them. (Khana banana seekh lo. Pati ko kya khilaoge? Sasuraal wale kahenge maa ne kuch sikhaya nahi. Hum jhel rahe hain tumhare nakhre, sasural me koi nahi jhelega.)

Learning to cook for oneself is a skill that everyone must acquire. Women are not born with the guidebook to be a MasterChefs.

Having the capability to cook and feed oneself is not a gender specific trait, it is survival. Husbands do not need to be fed by their wives; nor do the in-laws. Threatening your daughters with the supposed repercussions they will face at the hands of their in-laws, is a poor way to handle their tantrums; it is just a way to delegate responsibility for your children to someone else. This not only sows the seed of doubt and fear in the hearts of young girls, regarding the whole institution of marriage, but also paints a poor picture of what they should be expecting from their future relatives. A peace based on fear, is no peace.

Cooking and cleaning are not the only maternal legacies that matter. There are a horde of more significant traits that mothers can pass on to their daughters, like courage, determination, self-love and empathy. If you cannot cook and clean for yourself, you need some basic survival skills training asap; not a wife or daughter-in-law. Education is important, irrespective of gender and house-work is important, irrespective of gender.

Don’t wear such clothes. Good girls don’t talk to boys or stay out at night

Don’t wear such clothes. You look like a slut, a prostitute. Why are you wearing make-up? For whom? Good girls don’t talk to boys or stay out at night. They come home early. (Kaise kapde pehne hain? Vaishya lag rahi ho. Kiske liye kar rahe ho ye makeup? Achi ladkiyan ladkon se baatein nahi karti, raat ko bahar nahi ghumti. Jaldi ghar wapis aati hain.) 

Although I admit that this is one of the many ways in which Indian parents warn their daughters of the atrocious crimes being committed against women, and I admit that it is extremely important to prepare our daughters to face a world where the dangers of assault are extremely real; I do not agree that this is how this subject should be approached.

Believe it or not, daughters are going to come across pop culture sometime or other. They are going to be exposed to what is cool and what is not, they are going to be influenced by the generalised beauty standards of the world. There is nothing parents can do to stop that.

What can be done, is to never aggressively deny or demean their choices of attire or make up. Let daughters wear whatever they want to, let them experiment with make-up however they want to.

Remember that words have the power to wound, irreparably. What parents say matters. Never compare or judge daughters as ‘sluts’ or ‘prostitutes’; remember that children invariably end up doing exactly what is forbidden. It is always better to convey positive criticism and use words like – this dress does not suit you, or it does not flatter you like this other one – Be very careful of the words used, when speaking to your children.

Parents must be open to uncomfortable conversations; no subject should be off-the-table. If children have questions, answer them in the best way possible; if you do not know, tell them that you do not know and attempt to find the best approach together. There is a veritable goldmine of information out there, FIGURE IT OUT. Because, children will find out about these things, one way or another, in today’s world of information overload, it is impossible to protect children from the ‘bad stuff’. The best way to prepare them for the world is to stay one step ahead of other sources; be approachable, discuss, educate. Create awareness of the potential dangers, so daughters can be willing partners in taking measures to protect themselves.

Why this is important?

Even in today’s so called progressive society, there is an inordinate amount of pressure being exerted on girls for marriage. We are raising daughters (girls in general) to aspire for marriage, and at the same time, we are not raising our sons to aspire for it.

The value that women derive from the institution of marriage is far more than that of their male counterparts. This is the reason why there is a far greater number of women who choose to compromise and stay in abusive and toxic marriages, as compared to men. There is a vast difference in the values which we are instilling in our daughters and in our sons. The weight of expectation that we put on our daughters and women is blatantly unrealistic and unfair; and will eventually break them.

We have to bring in change, and we have to bring it now. We need to know that if we want to raise strong, independent, self-respecting women, we must treat them as such; and at the same time, raise our sons to be strong, independent, self-respecting men. We must be willing to put in the effort and we must be wary of the words we use. The fate of the world lies in the hands of our children; and our children are our responsibilities.

Image source: a still from the film Secret Superstar

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