“Don’t you want to be a good girl, Gale?”
It was a question often directed to me throughout my childhood years.
Growing up the eldest of five siblings in conservative Wisconsin in 1950s America, being a good girl entailed looking after the needs of my brothers and sisters, having faultless manners and keeping myself ‘neat and tidy’, as was the expectation in those days.
Yet, the concept of being a ‘good girl’ never really sat easily with me, and, also being encouraged by a grandmother who rebelled in her own, fearless way against the limitations placed upon women by the times by amongst other things, running her own aged-care home, in my mind I resisted it. Imagine my horror, then, when in speaking to my own granddaughter recently, those same words crossed my lips!
Over the years, I’ve become a firm believer in needing to do more to encourage women to be seen, and heard, and speak their mind. Those of us in this camp must lead by example. It’s why, at the age of 66, I decided to take up blogging, in part to put a voice to a generation of women who are largely silent on the web and in part to have a forum to speak my mind.
Over the past week, two articles I stumbled across served as a reminder to me of why we need to keep encouraging women to be seen and heard, without fearing judgment. Elizabeth Farrelly, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says the world needs more “uppity women” as the headline proclaims – ladies who are not afraid to speak up, speak out and speak loud.
“Of course, we have plenty of women famed for their beauty and talent – actors and singers, comics and cooks, celebrity know-nothings and failed drug smugglers,” Farrelly writes. “But smart women who speak, eloquently, purposefully, publicly, are staggeringly few.”
And I suspect this is very much because of what almost always happens next – the Internet backlash.
On the same day as Farrelly’s piece appeared, mamamia.com.au posted a response to the trolls who regularly post vicious and misogynistic abuse of the site’s female writers:
“For expressing our opinions in a civilised, respectful way, our writers and editors have been subject to threats of death and rape, threats against our children and families, the denigration of our partners, our sexual histories. And that’s just the start of it.
“We will continue to write and debate and discuss things that matter to us with all the women (and the vast, vast majority of men who stand united with us in their utter contempt for you) who come to [the site]…”
While bleak in their content, I get a lot of hope from reading articles such as these two – they generate discussion and, if one woman around the country acts differently because of them, and speaks their mind without fear, it’s one more empowered person.
To refer back to my starting point – and indeed the start of the problem – as parents we can make a difference by changing the language we use to encourage and reward our girls.
Instead of using the word “good”, try “articulate” or “passionate” or “strong” or “capable”… and allow them to be great.
What do you think is the most important thing you can teach your granddaughter? Tell us in the comments below…