Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Our Daughters Need Women’s History Month All Year Long by Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed

Photo by Alyscia Cunningham

Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. The purpose of Women’s History Month is to highlight and honor the contributions of women to historical events and contemporary society. Every year at this time, school curriculums focus on a handful of well-known, front-runner women-in-history.

Unfortunately, besides this one month every year, chances are your daughter will spend a disproportionate amount of time in school studying the men who shaped their country (and the world at large). Although some respectable attempts have been made to correct this imbalance in the U.S., since the introduction of Title 9, which prohibited “sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions” in the 1970s, textbooks and classroom lessons today still fall short of a complete and equally represented history. Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker pioneered much of the research documenting gender bias in American schools. In her book, Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, Sadker shares that a history text for sixth graders, published in 1992, only mentioned eleven female names! Sadker and colleagues conducted a research experiment in which people were asked to list famous women from history, the only limitation being that they could not name entertainers or president’s wives. How do you think people did? How would your daughter do? Too often, the lists only contained a few names or none at all.

Why does this matter?

Dr. Alan Ravitz, a prominent child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, explains that, “as kids individualize themselves from their parents, which is a natural part of development and growing up, they try to establish psychological and emotional independence. No matter the culture, they need somebody to look to, aside from their parents, for guidance and a model for becoming an adult.” Considering the lack of women’s history and real-life role models offered in our school curriculums, to whom are our daughters turning to meet their developmental (and universal) need for role models? Culture icons and the influence of advertising are not sufficient substitutes. Young girls wearing Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus t-shirts, engrossed in the latest YouTube videos, need role models with a more lasting and positive impact. Sure, we did it as children too – Madonna and Kylie Minogue graced many of our childhood bedroom walls - but what exactly did these teen idols offer us and what are they offering our daughters? Celebrity worship and an obsession with teen idols can result in lost self-esteem in children, and this loss of self-esteem can lead to poor family relationships, poor body image, and even eating disorders. Dr. Lin Fang, assistant professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Toronto cautions parents of adolescent girls against the common, but not actually harmless, idolization of pop stars:

“Research shows that girls who strongly idolize celebrities tend to buy into other aspects of commercial culture and may become overly materialistic. The pressure coming from celebrities with perfect bodies may lead to an unrealistic body image and possibly nurture eating disorders, which can consume a child’s life.”

By sharing herstory with our daughters– by imparting knowledge of our past, from a feminist perspective, and emphasizing the role of women told from a woman’s point of view – we can leverage the innate desire for role models and provide our daughters with an abundance of strong, healthy women with whom she can choose to identify and emulate. When introduced in the right way, women such as Joan of Arc and Ruby Bridges can truly meet a girls’ developmental need for role models.

Women’s History Month is indeed a step in the right direction, but our daughters deserve (and need) more than one month a year. Herstory is ours to tell and we are the ones we have been waiting for.

For inspiration and guidance on sharing women’s history with your daughter all year long, check out Melia Keeton-Digby’s revolutionary new book: The Heroines Club: A Mother-Daughter Empowerment Circle, coming April 22, 2016 from Womancraft Publishing.

Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed, is the founder of The Mother-Daughter Nest, a sacred women’s gathering space in Georgia, USA. She is passionately invested in supporting mothers to raise confident, connected daughters. A mother of three, she works as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Transformational Life Coach and Sacred Circle Facilitator. Her work has been featured in a variety of online and print publications, and she is the author of the groundbreaking book, The Heroines Club: a mother-daughter empowerment circle (April 2016, Womancraft Publishing).

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