Girls tend to be a riddle to fathers and stepfathers. Like any mystery, the relationship with our daughter can be frightening, exciting, entertaining, baffling, enlightening or leave us completely in the dark; sometimes all at once. If we want to unravel this mystery, we have to pay attention and listen, even in the most ordinary moments.
Why? Because a girl’s voice may be the most valuable and most threatened resource she has. Her voice is the conduit for her heart, brains, and spirit. When she speaks bold and clearly—literally and metaphorically—then she is much safer and surer. Dads must help nurture these qualities.
In recent years, research has well documented the silencing of girls’ voices in our culture during the pivotal adolescent years. Girls are typically loud, opinionated, and physically confident until age 12 or so; then many girls begin silencing their own voices. The sassy, tree-climbing 10-year-old who expects justice from the world for everyone, including herself, often turns into a soft-spoken, passive 13-year-old who may still demand justice from the world—but, strangely, not for herself.
Nancy Gruver, creator of New Moon Girls magazine (www.newmoon.com), explains the change this way: “A girl silences herself because she encounters a culture that still encourages her, in ways both subtle and blatant, to put her own needs second. Our culture is extraordinarily uncomfortable with girls who know what they want and expect to get it. It labels girls’ complaints as whining and their pursuit of their desires as bitchiness and being self-centered.”
When a girl runs into the notion (sometimes reinforced by Dad) that loud behavior is not ladylike, she learns that it’s unattractive to recognize her own needs and advocate openly for them. People (sometimes within her family) begin seeing her as a sexual object rather than as a person. She begins to wear the gender straight-jacket that squeezes out her breath and she learns that she’ll be rewarded more for her looks, passivity, and soft-spokenness than for her passions, insights, and beliefs.
A girl also gets strong messages that silencing herself is the only way to maintain her relationships with girlfriends, boyfriends, family, and others important to her. She learns the myth that loudness and friction threaten the survival of relationships—and that a relationship will not continue if she demands that it meet her needs.
Fortunately, fathers and stepfathers are in a powerful position to counter these negative cultural messages by encouraging our daughters to speak up and rewarding them when they do. When we respect what our daughters’ voices say, we build up their inner strength—the best foundation for future safety and success.
And that’s worth doing, even if it makes us feel (momentarily) uncomfortable.
Joe Kelly is a father, author,
blogger, activist, and primary media source on fathering. He has
written several books including the best-seller Dads and Daughters.