We live in a culture where it’s socially acceptable to start gendering children when they’re still in fetus form a la “gender reveal” parties, and we know that small gendered interactions add up to a lifetime of internalized notions about self and the world (most of which suck). Whether it’s that “boys don’t cry,” or “girls are pretty, not smart,” or a myriad of other awful gender stereotypes conveyed over a lifetime, the way we interact with kids is incredibly important (and often unconscious). Here’s a quick guide to changing your interaction with young girls in your life for the better:
Don’t just compliment the physical
If I’m honest about the interactions I have with little girls in my life, then I’m staring straight down the barrel of compliments on outfits, nails, and hair. And I’m a gender studies degree wielding feminist! Follow in the steps of Lisa Bloom, and ask the next girl you meet, “What are you reading?”
One question can take your interaction down a completely different path. Imagine a world where just 50% of the questions little girls hear are about their minds instead of their bodies. It’s a beautiful change, isn’t it?
Don’t body-shame yourself
Kids are sponges. If you don’t believe me, drop an F-bomb in front of the next three-year-old you meet and see how long it takes for them to regurgitate it. They absorb everything, and that includes your self-hatred. Talking poorly about your physical appearance teaches little girls that certain bodies are more valuable than others, and that hating yourself is normal. It isn’t.
Practice self-love, because girls as young as six are saying they worry about being fat.
Don’t talk smack on other women in your life
Are you having major issues with Angela in the office? That’s fine, but don’t let Sally hear you, because she’s growing up in a world where a common refrain amongst women is, “Ugh, I just don’t get along with other women. Alllllll of my friends are guys.” Talk passionately and affectionately about your sheroes, and show her what it’s like to live a life surrounded by your lady-loves.
Don’t force affection
Modeling consent in everyday life is the best way you can teach kids (and adults) that their choices about affection deserve respect. Ask if you can give them hugs, and if they say no, say okay. Don’t bribe children for affection–what kind of message is that sending? We know that 1 in 3 women experience sexual violence. Teach little ones that their personal space should always be respected.
No compulsory heterosexuality
Not all ladies like men involved in their sex and that’s okay. Even if the child you’re talking to isn’t old enough to have sex, don’t make any assumptions. Assumptions about sexuality might cause shame, discomfort, and stifling of normal, healthy feelings later in life or at the time of your interaction.
How we treat children is one of the most important ways we can impart a feminist ideology. Be mindful of the next interaction you have with the little girls in your life. The way you treat them sets them up to fail or flourish–let’s make sure it’s the latter.