Should we stop telling little girls they're amazing?

Pat Fitzpatrick and Catherine Shanahan discuss raising their daughters in the midst of a critical moment in feminism.

Should we stop telling little girls they're amazing?

Pat Fitzpatrick and Catherine Shanahan discuss raising their daughters in the midst of a critical moment in feminism.

We read Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to our daughter some days, writes Pat Fitzpatrick.

It’s a collection of one-page stories highlighting females who fought and won against the odds. It includes everyone from the Bronte sisters to Serena Williams and Amna al Haddad, a weightlifter from the UAE.

The book has the kind of PC tone that is guaranteed to drive Trump and his type bonkers, so that is good enough for me.

Or at least it was until I saw the introduction page.

It reads, “To the Rebel Girls of the World, Dream Bigger, Fight Harder, And when in doubt remember, You are right.”

Is this really a good message to give anyone, let alone little girls? You are always right, even when you suspect you mightn’t be.

Jesus, my daughter reckons she is never wrong anyway, without getting further encouragement from a book.

And what about her little brother?

He enjoys a few of the Rebel Girls stories, mainly the ones about pirates, but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent book for him.

If you Google ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Boys’, you are directed to a book on Amazon called Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different.

The title page explains this is, “true tales of amazing boys who changed the world without killing dragons”.

Would you not let him kill a dragon or two before he grows up?

I’m delighted no one tried to read this to me when I was a boy.

As you might expect, it doesn’t have a page telling little boys they are right, even when they have doubts. This is unfair.

As far as I can see, girls are being told they can do anything, while boys are being told they have to operate within some limits.

I get the context here — it’s clear from the stories about rebel girls that females in every society have been held back for thousands of years.

But I look around me now and see women thriving and getting ahead in every aspect of life.

With girls outperforming boys in education, you’re going to see the gender pay gap disappear to nothing, as men spend more time minding kids while their better-qualified partners go out and make the bulk of the household income.

So why isn’t my son getting the same message as my daughter?

Well, first of all, it’s impossible to lose money these days publishing a book that says you go, girl.

There is already a second volume of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and the Be Bold Baby series, featuring Michelle Obama and Oprah, is flying off the shelves.

Secondly, I think there is a reluctance to encourage men these days.

I agree that men have had the upper hand for generations and there is a revolution on to change the status quo. But my little guy isn’t to blame for past inequalities.

Telling him that he can’t kill the odd dragon or dream as big as his sister is a bit like original sin — he is being burdened with this because he was born with a penis.

Selling boys a different version of life to girls has caused generations of inequality.

So here’s a thought — can someone out there write a book called Goodnight Stories for Little People?

You can have Michelle Obama, Oprah, Margaret Thatcher in there, alongside Nelson Mandela, Paul Pogba, Lionel Messi, and Ru Paul. Those are stories you can read to all your kids, without leaving anyone out.

Oh and speaking of leaving out, make sure to omit anything that tells kids they are right all the time.

They’re hard enough to manage as it is.

Now that we’re all in the throes of trying to rear unisex children, it follows that our sons and daughters should be treated exactly alike, right?, asks Catherine Shanahan.

I mean if we’re barrelling down that great big genderless road, it’s only a matter of time before the female brain starts to rewire, and all of a sudden internal combustion and Ryder Cup scores dominate the conversation over a few pints in the local on a Sunday night, while himself is at home developing a sense of empathy and preparing for the week ahead and having flashes of intuition about parental responsibility, right?

In this future society, where we are all gender-neutral, there will be no bias.

When two people perform the same job to the same standard, the reward will be identical.

There will be no need to invest more heavily in a “weaker” sex.

No one will be disadvantaged by virtue of their gender.

Everyone will be treated equally and outcomes will be exactly the same.

Back in the real world, we can try all we like to level the playing field at home, but in wider society, cultural assumptions about gender remain at play.

As a blatant example, take the recent treatment of Rena Buckley by male members of the organisation she dedicated her best years to.

Despite her stunning contribution to the GAA and her achievement of bagging 18 All-Ireland medals — unequalled by any man — she was spurned at an awards ceremony for U12 boys.

Her achievements counted for nothing in the face of her femaleness.

Reena’s experience is just one teeny snapshot of the kind of sexism our daughters can expect to face unless society suddenly undergoes a cultural quantum leap, or sports organisations like the GAA evolve to the point where effort is rewarded for effort’s sake and not just in response to gate receipts, and employers recognise that merit and not gender should dictate who stays beneath the glass ceiling.

Until such time, our girls have to apply themselves with greater gusto than their brothers to... well, almost everything, in an effort to attract equal attention.

It’s not how the world should be, but it’s the reality.

So if I nurture my daughter a bit more and go the extra mile to shore up the resilience she will need to deal with the setbacks her gender attracts, if I praise her more loudly and more often than her brothers, it’s not because I want to, it’s because I feel I have to.

I’ve already begun waking the feminist within her because I need to arm her early to challenge the bias head-on.

This brand of feminism does not extend to banishing fairy tales that send out the “wrong” message; ie, that she meet her Prince Charming and live happily ever after.

I have no objection in principle to a butler opening the curtains or an end to budget holidays or cars to match my wardrobe.

Or to living happily ever after with the perfect partner, royal or commoner.

Nor does it extend to relying on hashtag movements to air female grievances, although I do appreciate the sentiment and recognise that there’s strength in numbers.

What my brand of feminism does extend to is a critical analysis of the fairytale in question and the ability to make an informed decision as to what represents the best life possible — and to go for it.

At the end of the day all any of us wants is the best for our children.

We just need to fight a little harder for our girls.

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