This week, I was delighted to meet Deepa Narayan, an Indian scholar who has written a book called Chup!. Chup is the Hindi word for “shut up,” or “Silence!”. Her book addresses the devaluing of girls, a factor that leads to a massive loss of human potential as well as violence against women.
Deepa says that no matter what we do on the outside to support girls (such as universal education or progressive policies), the cultural systems embedded in our collective consciousness will determine how effective those programs are. Working from 1,800 hours of in-depth interviews, Deepa has cataloged the cultural habits that keep repressive and violent systems in place— systems in which girls and women are trained to minimize themselves and to behave as though they do not exist. Only when systems evolve that teach girls they are as valuable as boys will we have a chance of transforming the culture for the daughters of the world. You can find her book here.
In the meantime, here are five things you can teach your own daughter (or yourself, if you didn’t learn these lessons early in life) to unwind the internalized messages about being “less than”:
1) YOUR BODY BELONGS TO YOU.
Teach her: You own your body. Teach her how the body works, help her discover better ways to operate and enjoy it. Teach her that she is sovereign, a perfect form of nature.
2) YOUR VOICE IS WELCOME.
Teach her: You have a voice. Model this: When she speaks up, engage her with attention, inquiry and respect.
3) YOUR PREFERENCES ARE VALID.
Teach her: When you know yourself and share who you are, you give us all a gift. Teach her to articulate her desires, and make clean decisions.
4) YOU HAVE AN INDEPENDENT IDENTITY.
Teach her: You are an inimitable combination of time, place, circumstance, nature, and nurture. You have gifts that are uniquely yours to give. The duties and expectations assigned to you by others don’t define you.
5) BEING A FRIEND TO OTHER GIRLS AND WOMEN MATTERS.
Teach her how to trust and collaborate with other women. How to be a good girlfriend and to support her sisters, in the broadest sense of the word. United, things change, divided they don't.
If these beliefs are internalized (and if boys are taught them as well), we will move toward a new culture. We will grow to be less pliable and accommodating, anchored instead in the ocean of our own soft power.