Sunday, December 27, 2015

Empowering Girls to Become Strong Women

As a teacher, and, more specifically, as an instructor for an extracurricular activity that draws in primarily young girls, I find myself wondering more and more about what we’re teaching these budding women. What kind of role models we are setting for the young women in our lives?

"My girls," as I call them, are very important to me. No, I am not a mother.  However, I often feel like one to them. They come to me with problems, or just because they need a hug. They seek advice, they seek reassurance, and they seek validation on any number of things from me. In return, I do my best to teach them responsibility - for themselves, their actions, and how they are perceived by their peers. I teach girls skills that often require much coordination - and sometimes I teach coordination, too. I teach girls respect - for themselves, for their peers, for the world around them. I get immense satisfaction out of seeing my girls succeed. I get even more satisfaction out of seeing the dots finally connect, out of seeing things click in their minds. And I really enjoy watching them grow and flourish into young women. 

Lately, however, there has been a lot of drama within my current group of girls. With any group of girls, drama is bound to happen. I know this as an inalienable truth. However, I tend to think in a straightforward, blunt, realistic way. I don’t have time for drama. I don’t have the patience for it. I have spent a good portion of the last several years building my program on the foundation of respect - leave your problems at the door and come ready to work together. I don’t ask my girls to be best friends - I don’t even ask them to like each other - but I do require that they respect each other and work with each other while they are present. Outside of my program's sanctuary, there is little I can do about any of their social interaction. Inside, however, they will abide by my rules or be gone.

Lately, I have received emails, text messages, and have had in-person chats with my girls' mamas.  They demand to know why their daughter was slighted in an audition. Or why their daughter’s dilemma is being ignored. When I respond that I had no part in the audition, I am accused of not being more present, but, of course, if I had been part of the judging process, I would have been accused of playing favorites. When I reply that I haven’t seen any drama (because kids don't do that stuff in front of their teachers - duh), I am taken to task for not being more aware. In these conversations, I receive the same message, overtly or implied, that I need to see my girls from a different point of view. I receive an invisible pat on the head with the statement, “I know you’re not a mother, and, thus, this will be difficult for you, but you need to see what I am seeing.”

More bluntly: Fix my daughter's problem for her because she clearly is not at fault. 

As a result, some of my girls look to me with blatant disdain. Some border on outright disrespect.  Sometimes, I have a girl come tell me, “My mom said she emailed you. Did you get it?”

What is happening that we are teaching our children that mommy and daddy will fight their battles for them? Or that the rules only apply to everyone else, but not to them? Why are we not teaching our girls to stand up for themselves and work to solve their own problems?

Here’s my request, fellow Janes: If you have a young girl or young woman in your life, one who is still being molded into the woman she wants to become, please, please, please empower her. Show her what a strong woman looks like. A woman who determines what she wants and works hard to get it. A woman who respects herself enough to take no shit from anyone - man or woman. A woman who is respectful of those around her, even when she may not like them. A woman who fights her own battles, who stands up for what she believes in, and will maintain her stance in the face of deep criticism. A woman who can take that criticism and use it as fuel - to make herself into a better person, or to show everyone what she can do.

I hope to be a mom someday. I hope I can teach my own daughter all of these things. I hope I can show her that, sometimes, I am wrong - because I’m human, and humans are flawed and they make mistakes. I hope I can show her that I can acknowledge my mistakes, and I can use them to make me a better person, or a better performer, or a better writer, or a better teacher. I hope that I can teach her to see herself as strong, smart, beautiful, talented - and that other women posses all of those traits as well. And that should be celebrated.

I hope as a teacher, I am demonstrating this to my precious, precious girls. I hope that I can teach them to see themselves as strong, smart, beautiful, talented young women - and that they see those things in each other.  There is no need to tear down other girls to make oneself feel better.  

Be strong, Janes. For you are all strong, smart, beautiful, talented women. And while some of us may take longer than others to see and believe this in ourselves, I hope one day you may know this to be true and model that badassery for the young women in your lives.

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