8 frank tips for dads on raising a confident girl

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter Viva, who is confident she can best your kid in a battle of wits or in a straight fight.

To paraphrase Theodore Parker, the arc of the feminine universe is long but it bends towards liberation.

And though we’re trending mightily towards a healthy world for our daughters to inhabit, the recent battles in the media over female Star Wars protagonists (#WheresRey), girl-themed erector sets with old school rap jingles (Goldieblox) and the daily complaints from “Hilldawgs” that the “BernieBros” are harshing their mellow, show us that modern parents have a profound concern that the environment surrounding the raising of girls is an embattled one. What’s a dad to do?

First thing, fellas, settle down. Sure, it matters–it matters a lot– that the way you treat your daughter is the way she’ll expect to be treated by boys, but overthinking the challenge of raising a daughter is going to draw too much attention to her self-worth as a product of her gender identity and its actualization … and you’ll sound like a lame-o tryhard at barbecues. Start by following my simple tips. (And, remember, I’m the guy who told you to use Peeps as an Easter Bloody Mary garnish … so you really can’t go wrong with my advice.)

Don’t buy into boys’ PR

Boys aren’t smart, they’re just great at marketing. Starting in preschool, boys get loud, flashy and rough. That’s when girls start assuming the boys must have it figured out and fall in line behind them. It’s why co-education is great for boys–the boys learn to be functioning humans from the girls instead of a bunch of smelly otters–and lousy for girls, who learn to take a back seat. An all-girls school breeds strong women, and an all-boys school is a monkey house with uniforms. So, when you see the boys doing what boys do (punching each other and wetting and their pants) don’t let her be impressed, and don’t write it off as “boys will be boys.” Unacceptable behavior is unacceptable for girls AND for boys. Let her know when other kids need their leashes pulled, and don’t attach it to gender. She needs to stop admiring the class clowns and bullies, and start thinking about how she can leverage their dullness into investments, votes and fandom later in life.

Play rough

Don’t raise a delicate flower. Treat your daughter like a damsel in distress and she’ll spend her life waiting to be untied from the railroad tracks. Get muddy, get sweaty and climb high with her, and she’ll understand that the physical realm is not just a realm for males, and that despite a woman’s lower center of gravity and smaller size, with enough upper body training, a woman’s lighter weight and better flexibility can give them an advantage in anything from bare hand rock climbing to winning American Ninja Warrior. Be careful, though, she’s still a kid and ER visits are expensive.

Geek out

There’s already an anti-intellectual streak in American society. There always has been. We’re so busy earning money, eating corn dogs and hating the French that we often forget to enjoy intellectual and cultural life. Let your daughter know that there’s more to life than tea parties and lipstick. And that Stephen Hawking, Joseph Campbell and Stephen Sondheim aren’t just vital and thrilling for dorky boys; they are also essential for dorky girls.

Embrace your inner metro

You’re probably sick to death of princess culture and its habit of getting your daughter to focus on her looks, but it’s not going far enough to tell your daughter that grooming doesn’t matter. It’s also not true. Good grooming is as good for the gander as it is for the goose. (Forgive my alliteration. And don’t forget to tell your daughter that alliteration is the last refuge of the desperate.) So show her that Dad, too, can be stylish and sharp and feel good about himself.  You’re either a man who knows how to choose a pocket square and several ways to fold it, or you’re not much of a man at all. This isn’t a sitcom. The guys don’t get to be slouches with hoagies hidden in their sock drawer while the women are eye candy.

Pretty is a means, not an end

The media line is that we tend to tell boys that they are smart and strong and girls that they are pretty. Your daughter needs to understand that pretty isn’t the goal. Influencing people is the goal, and pretty people do that well, but only if they are smart and strong. If you’re pretty but NOT smart and strong, you’re going to end up a mark for the fashion industry and a toy for smarter people. If you’re going to bother with being pretty, be smart and strong, too. Then they will fear you.

Don’t let Hasbro and Disney raise your child

The companies who are in the business of making money off of our children’s interests are just that. They don’t care what’s right. They care what sells, and their reports have thus far told them that the best profit margins involve exploiting boys’ love of violence and girls’ vanity. So they encourage–maybe even create–those traits, and leverage it to pay dividends. Elsa is awesome. Let your daughter get some Elsa stuff. But Rey is awesome, too (extra super-duper awesome, actually), so get her some Rey stuff, too. But after you do it, make sure she understands that life isn’t ALL punching and shooting lasers at stormtroopers, nor is it all wearing tiaras and singing showtunes. Both are lovely distractions, but not life itself. Also, never watch live action Disney shows. They are largely designed to turn your daughters into mean-spirited, vain, Pop-Tarts.

Bearhug bossy

There’s a misguided notion these last few years that we should “Ban Bossy.” When boys are bossy, we call them “assertive” and when girls are bossy, we call it “bossy.” This is a garbage argument. If boys are bossy, they should be corrected. If girls are bossy, they should be corrected. Stomping on people’s feelings and goals is a lousy trait that should be labeled and eschewed. Encourage assertiveness in your daughter, but also collaboration and empathy. Nobody likes a bossypants, no matter what’s inside those pants.

Beware the Tex Avery wolf routine

Giving lip service to female empowerment but having your tongue roll out of your mouth when you see Kate Upton in a wet t-shirt sends a mixed message, and the playwright in me has to tell you now, showing is more powerful than telling. You don’t have to fill the house with posters of  Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman and Emily Dickinson, (You’re welcome to, but it’s a lousy decorating choice.) but you also can’t tell your daughter she should be assertive, strong and not overvalue looks and then have her catch you drooling over Jennifer Tilly playing celebrity poker. Save the leering and innuendo for Vegas, Wrigley or some other authorized bro-zone, and teach your little girl what’s truly admirable in a lady.

The bottom line, guys, is that you need to let your daughter know she’s loved unconditionally. Above the bottom line, though, are about a million confusing other lines–which often causes us to look for the sanity clause. (And as Chico Marx told us, “there ain’t no sanity clause.”) Stick to my tips, try to stay sane and best of luck raising that little girl.

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