“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.” – Coco Chanel
I remember an 8 year old girl in my maths group from a couple of years ago. She had a bubbly personality and quirky sense of humour. At the beginning of the school year, when my maths group had just started, she would arrive at my classroom door in tears. I would ask her “what’s the matter?”, and she would respond “I can’t do it”, to which I would reply “but you don’t know what we’re doing in maths today.” Based on her prior experiences at school, she had built up anxieties and felt like a failure. My student would then revert to a ‘ditsy girl’ persona to avoid challenging activities. Thankfully over time, with lots of reassurance, praise and multi-sensory learning, the girl started to become aware of her own abilities and felt safe enough to try her best to learn then apply herself.
Another girl in the same maths group springs to mind. This young lady was clever and had an inquisitive nature with so much potential. However, the second she arrived in any classroom she switched off because she had no interest in learning. At 9 years of age, she had the maths ability of a 4 year old. Over time, I came to realise that the girl was very capable but adults underestimated her abilities. These messages were picked up on by the girl, and she kept up with this image, by zoning out and taking the easy road academically. Two years on, with a lot of tough love, personalised teaching towards her learning style and lots of praise, she smashed through her learning targets and is now ‘age related’ in academic subjects. It’s brilliant to see her now as an independent, sassy learner with an endearing personality that shines through.
“Don’t underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, and notice more than you realise.” – Bridgette Nicole
Today, I still see a few instances where girls are unable to recognise their own talents or understand how to fulfill their potential, compared to their male counterparts because of well-meaning families, society, peers and the media. What struck me about the female students above is that by taking on the ‘ditsy girl’ flaky stereotype, they did not push themselves because expectations were generally quite low.
According to research from the Society of Pediatric Psychology, parents are more likely to encourage boys to try challenging activities to develop new skills. In a recent study, the majority of parents warned their daughters away by from doing anything that involved risk or made them exert themselves. In general, girls experience more pressure to be careful, focus on low risk activities like reading and to quietly conform socially. This may explain why females generally perform better at school compared to boys, but tend to feel more anxious about getting things right and give up very quickly if support is not in place.
“We girls, we’re tough, darling. Soft on the outside but, deep down, we’re tough.” – Kristen Ashley
There was a time when being a woman was seen as the fragile “weaker sex” in a man’s world, and although in many cultures this mode of thought still remains, times are changing. Fortunately, gender bias is not the case for every girl because many push the boundaries, break the rules, achieve and thrive regardless of their circumstances.
Did you know the person who invented windscreen wipers was a woman? The mastermind who created the home surveillance system was a female nurse. The inventor of aeroplane engine mufflers was, yes, you guessed it, an incredible woman. And it was a remarkable woman who contributed to the discovery of DNA. These intelligent and brave ladies are a part of our history and chose not to conform to stereotypes, when equality was at an all-time low. Ladies like Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and Benazir Bhutto and many more; all blasted through the blocks and despite the challenges, initiated many things that you and I have today.
So what can be done today to empower girls to achieve their real potential? First things first, educate girls to learn to love themselves for who they are. No two people are the same so a girl’s unique traits should be recognised and celebrated at every opportunity. Let’s encourage girls to find strong female role models, get stuck in and take more risks. And if a girl wants to be a girlie girl, a tom boy or in between the two, that’s absolutely fine because all girls should be nurtured and encouraged to be confident in their own skin, learning to stand tall regardless. Also, if appropriate, I recommend joining the girl guides, brownies, after school clubs or mixed sex community groups to develop independence and social skills with like-minded girls and boys. In addition, media platforms that show positive representations of women like Girls Out Loud UK, A Mighty Girl and Always #LikeAGirl Campaign (see video below) are also great resources.
So regardless of your gender, I hope this post inspires you to be the best and most empowered version of you. Be more #LikeAGirl and rewrite the rules!
Miss H ♥
(Originally posted in April 2016)