How Dads help raise brave women

Sexism is a crime against humanity!
Sexism is a crime against humanity! (Photo credit: ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN)

Loved this recent piece in Time magazine, written by two men, fathers of two daughters:

 The need for fathers to help empower daughters is clear, since we still live in a world where some powerful men throw sexual slurs at adult women and girls are being sexualized and objectified at a younger and younger age. As dads of a combined 4 daughters (ranging in age from 1 to 21,) these recent events have made us pause and reflect on how to best encourage our daughters to combat these tendencies in our society.

But how do we do this as fathers? One of the most important ways is to break down the old stereotypes that men are rational and logical while women are emotional. We can free our daughters from the burden of that myth by expressing our own feelings and by respecting the intelligence, decisions, and leadership abilities of women. When they see us opening up and talking, they learn to do the same and to not remain silent when something doesn’t feel right. A father’s influence can help a girl find her own strong voice. We also need to listen to our daughters more instead of trying to always impart a lesson. Listening paves the way for girls to discover what they want to say and the inner strength to say it.

The other big thing dads can do is treat women the way we would want a partner to treat our daughters. We wish that it went without saying that daughters need their fathers to reject treating women as objects through sexist jokes, stares and comments on the street, and pornography….

The need for fathers to help empower daughters is clear, since we still live in a world where some powerful men throw sexual slurs at adult women and girls are being sexualized and objectified at a younger and younger age. As dads of a combined 4 daughters (ranging in age from 1 to 21,) these recent events have made us pause and reflect on how to best encourage our daughters to combat these tendencies in our society.

It’s a hopeless task — and completely unfair — to ask only girls and women to defend themselves from the culturally toxic stew in which they’re raised.

Especially in the United States, where being thin/pretty/blond/materialist/popular/wealthy/famous is held up as the ultimate goal. And when legislators are ruthlessly determined to strip women of every possible reproductive right, whether access to abortion, birth control or a safe, private pregnancy; 39 states (!) have recently passed or are considering passing such laws.

It is a really lousy time to be female in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, as “America the Beautiful” so romantically opines. If there was ever a time for young women to be reminded how much their voices matter to their political and economic future, that time is now.

A seminal study was done in the 1970s of women who later went on to significant success in the corporate world. The key? Their Dads played sports with them when they were teenagers.

Seems pretty simple, but as someone who also had this experience, it’s not.

When your father very clearly values your company and you’re a young woman, he is teaching you an important lesson. His focus on your brain and your heart, your character — not just your perky figure — teaches you that these matter.

When you spend a day together skating or skiing or hiking or fishing, you learn to share skills and enjoyment with a man who’s enjoying your company, not your sexual allure.

When he consistently values your intelligence, competitiveness, physical strength, agility and stamina — just some of the attributes needed for most sports — you’re more likely to emerge from the potential hell of female adolescence, if you’re lucky, with a solid base of self-confidence.

What greater gift can a Dad can give you?

If you’re a father, how did you help your daughter(s) become self-confident?

If your Dad did a terrific job — (or a poor one) — of helping you feel great about yourself, how does that play out for you today?

25 thoughts on “How Dads help raise brave women

  1. Great post. I’d love to say my father was supportive and open about his emotions but he wasn’t. But I enjoyed what you wrote.

    ( By the way, Is there a copy and paste mix up at the end of the article you featured? Or is that how it was concluded, just curious ).

  2. My father is a quiet man, dull with random bursts of hilarious goofiness. More religious and much more conservative than me, I think he was sometimes baffled by what to do with a daughter that he has little in common with (he was raised by WASPs of the Old School), but by golly he was at every football match, piano recital, and horseback riding lesson. He’s not terribly demonstrative, but even his most prosaic and awkward expressions of love were received loud and clear. I think my relationship with my dad set the stage for all subsequent relationships with men (friendly and romantic), and thinking back, I’ve never had a bad one or ever tolerated poor treatment from a man. My dad set the standard high for the men in my life and my life is hugely rich because of them.

    1. My Dad is also an old-school WASP and not great with emotions (understatement) but he has always taken me seriously and expected great things from me, so any man who underestimates me is dismissed at once as a fool. (Many bosses have fit this bill.) He was away a lot, which was tough for me, but when he was around was attentive.

      I like the sound of yours!

  3. wicca303

    My mum died when I was young so it was just me and my dad. I’d always been a ‘daddy’s girl’ and the loss of my mum just brought us even closer. I spent hours with him picking over car engines (even when I was too small to help he’d give me an old toothbrush and a part to clean), watching sport (there’s not really opportunities for girls to play sports in Yorkshire although it’s getting better), I did my share of all the housekeeping stuff and learnt to cook. He supported me 110% even when he didn’t understand why I was doing something.

    In his relationship with my mum I saw how it is when soul mates are together, and through his relationship with my stepmum (who he met when I was 19) I saw how it is when two very different people love each other. In both relationships my dad was the same; fun, loving, respectful and totally devoted to the other person.

    That’s what I look for, it’s the standard he set and I won’t settle for anything less.

    1. He sounds like a lovely guy. Lucky you! I saw a relationship between my Dad and step-mother that was super-close; they both worked in the same field (film and TV) and my husband and I have a similarly close relationship and also work in the same industry (journalism), even on the same stories sometimes. It’s great to have a role model like that when growing up.

      I love the image of you with the car engine and the toothbrush!

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  5. Yes! This is along the same lines of my latest post.
    I think our parents, our society, can do so much good for us and so much damage.
    This is so much to think about. Thank you for making me think about it.

  6. thebitchybride

    I didn’t speak to my dad for two years after my parents split up, then one day I turned up on his doorstep and moved in with him. Even now, our relationship is of extremes. He still has the ability to make me cry, yet I always want him to be proud. I think our bizarre relationship has undoubtably influenced my relationships with others, but that often sounds like a horrible, therapy-worthy excuse. This post makes me wish we had the relationship you describe, but also, in a strange way, I’m reminded of the little things my dad has done wonderfully. Most of all, he offered me a safe place when I felt totally alone, and for that I could never wish to swap him.

  7. Thank you for posting this! My relationship with my grandpa gave me the courage and confidence that I have now. He taught me how to shoot, fish, play basketball, hike, camp, woodwork and how to make a garden. I could always play with the boys, and sometimes harder than the boys. He made it very clear to me that a good companion later in life would value my abilities and he was right! After years of dating guys who couldn’t stand my “tomboy” tendencies, I finally met a guy who really loves all of it, and that’s how I know he’s the guy for me. (Not that the point of this article is to find your husband, this is just my thoughts on one of the ways it relates back to my personal life.) My grandfather taught me how to discuss instead of argue. He taught me how to get out of bad situations. He taught me how to say what was on my mind and not give a damn about being a demure little lady. He was always on my side and always had my back. The fact that I knew I had a male I could come home to who valued me as a person saved me from so many miserable days where I was told by someone that I was less than because I was a girl.

    What my grandpa did by showing me how to stand up for myself, and how to go against the grain of being a typical “girl,” was preparing me for being myself the rest of my life. I’m not just the tomboy, but I am instead just Amanda. He taught me that self-value and worth that I will never forget.

    1. Great story! I never met either of my grandfathers as they’d died before I was born. My father’s father was pretty ferocious, so I am not sure I missed much there and my mother’s mother married six or eight times (!)

      Your grandfather sounds like an amazing man. Lucky you!

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  9. I love this. As a father of three girls, I spend a great deal of time when they get home from school listening to them. I ask “how was your day”? and they are free to tell me everything… and they do… all the nitty gritty details. I don’t stifle their creativity, I celebrate it. I love to watch them become who they will become. Girls are like little flowers. You can water them, feed them, plant them in good logical soil, and when they bloom they are unique and wonderful. I “date” my daughters, taking them on outings alone (just the two of us). I open the door for them, treat them with respect, listen to them, and encourage them to think for themselves. In this way, I hope to raise three very independent, very intelligent women.

  10. My father was and still is my first best friend. We talk every day, several times a day. I feel like I can do anything, because he’s behind me in everything. We respect each each other and I see life differently because I’m his kid.

    I truly would not be the person I am if my Dad wasn’t who he is. I’m grateful for what we have every day.

    Sarge is a lot like him, though I resisted the comparison in the beginning!

    And you may appreciate this one. Now that we’ve announced the engagement, I half-jokingly refer to my father as The Mother of the Bride!

    1. This is such a great story…so good to know (and remember) how essential good Dads are to our lives, childhood onward.

      My Dad and Jose did not get along for a very long time, which is one reason I delayed marriage, as I wasn’t planning to ditch either of them. They think they’re very different but in some ways they are very similar.

      My mother was not even invited to my second wedding, so I hear you on this one!

  11. Few fathers know how great an effect their attitudes can have in influencing the lives of their daughters. I hope they’re listening.

    ( Caitlin, there is, in fact, a copy and paste mix up at the end of the article you featured. Take another look.)

  12. My dad had just returned from 5 years overseas, fighting in WWII, when I was born. Perhaps he would have loved to have a son, or at least a daughter would share his love of sports, but he never let me know it…because that’s not what he got. He always let me know that I was exactly all that he wished for, and he does to this day. I’m a thinker, not a sport, so he trimmed his sails to that wind.

    He always believed that I could do anything I put my hand and mind to at least as well as any man, and he made sure I believed it too. The time he might have spent throwing a ball around with a son, he spent talking to me, as he still does–analyzing, laughing, and solving the world’s problems whenever an hour or four can be spared.

    It was a long time before I realized that that’s not just what fathers do. But they should.

      1. Well, I write historical fiction so I have, in fact, written a book about my dad, but it focused on his years as a soldier, when he exhibited altogether different qualities. But Tommy was a charmer, so readers may well insist on at least blog posts about the years after he returned, and I’m prepared to oblige. He was exceptional.

        Come to think about it, the years when I was a child would qualify as historical now! (and thanks so much for allowing me to acknowledge that…Ouch!)

        And, believe me, I make sure he knows that he got it right. Life is a crap shoot, and I know now that I was one of the very few lucky ones.

      2. My Dad turns 83 in June and is still healthy and strong. We’ve had a very tumultuous relationship for decades, complicated by his second wife and three step-siblings and his own behavior. At best, he’s fun, charming, very bright and deeply proud of me. But I’ve almost walked away from him for good on several occasions. He knows it. Hard-won is the word.

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