I notice when men walk toward me without even slowing their pace because they expect me to clear the way. I see men raise their eyebrows in surprise when I don’t move aside for them. I resist the urge to be “polite.”
I remember when I began Kindergarten, the boys hogged the Legos and girls were directed to play House and Dolls or another quiet feminine role activity.
I wanted to play Legos.
I felt lost for through most of elementary school because I didn’t fit into the traditional gender role. I was a tomboy. I liked to be outside. I liked bugs and critters, exploring the swamp, climbing trees.
Middle school and high school were a nightmare because I didn’t know how to navigate the new relationships my peers formed.
I quickly learned to be ashamed of my intelligence and over achiever attitude and stay silent in the classroom.
I was bullied. I got death threats – from girls!
I saw how boys controlled the narrative with each other, girls, teachers, authorities.
Growing up as a Southern girl, I was taught to be small and silent, deferential to elders and especially men. Compliance and subservience was goodness.
While I teach my daughters to take up space, I have to teach my son how to make room.
I try to use gender-free language.
I don’t accuse my girls of being unladylike. I remember how that made me feel, growing up in a Southern household with those ridiculous and impossible ideals.
I tell all my kids to be polite, kind, and respectful.
I don’t tell my son “to man up” or not to cry. I tell my kids to have courage and be strong, even if it’s scary. And that it’s ok to cry and have strong emotions.
In How to play Patriarchy Chicken, Dr. Charlotte Riley writes, “The point is that men have been socialised, for their entire lives, to take up space. Men who would never express these thoughts out loud have nevertheless been brought up to believe that their right to occupy space takes [precedence] over anyone else’s right to be there. Women have not been socialised to take up space. Women have been socialised to give way, to alleviate, to conciliate, and to step to the side.”
It’s frustrating for my girls to be silenced, interrupted, overlooked. Naturally, they want to shrivel and become invisible. It’s embarrassing and we always feel like we’re in the wrong. What did we do to deserve this treatment?
As my girls grow to be teens, the world becomes scarier as we read and hear about assault in the news and on social media. My girls have experienced harassment and inappropriate language from men.
I actively teach my daughters their voice is valid.
I listen. I follow. I learn. I do better – as a parent and as a woman.
How I Teach My Daughters to Take Up Space
- Don’t be careful. Be safe!
- Don’t be quiet. Speak up!
- Always be willing to listen and learn.
- Healthy pride in personal achievements. Don’t downplay skills!
- Cooperation is often better than conflict, but don’t back down. Be tactful and fight for your rights.
- Our society has an impossible ideal of beauty. Be yourself in all your imperfect glory.
- Protect your sisters. Reach over and pull them up. Never push them down with words, actions, or thoughts.
- Lots and lots of books and films with great female and minority characters.
- No restrictions on clothing choices, except for safety and weather conditions. Appearances aren’t what’s most important. I allow for self-expression even if it makes me uncomfortable.
- Unconditional love. No matter what.
As a mother of three girls, we hold that space. Perhaps others should step aside to make room for us.
In many cultures, girls are worthless and it’s devastating financially for a family to have more than one daughter. All children should be celebrated and honored.
As a parent, it’s my job to teach my kids how to function in healthy ways as citizens.