Lizzie Marvelly: Raising girls - it's a matter of opinion

I hope more fathers will teach their daughters to speak up, as mine did.
I'm grateful that I had a father who raised me to be competitive, and a mother who taught me to be strong. Photo / 123RF
I'm grateful that I had a father who raised me to be competitive, and a mother who taught me to be strong. Photo / 123RF

Meekness, like agreeableness and work/life balance, is not something that runs in my family. If love were measured in the decibel-level of heated dinner table debates, my dad and I would top the scale.

Making a case, backing it up and rebutting counter-arguments were all skills I'd learned before I'd hit double-digits, largely thanks to my father.

Every time Father's Day rolls around, it makes me think about the huge influence a father can have upon a daughter.

Mine raised me to ask questions, to form an opinion and to stand up for what I believe in. Which was all fine and good until I began to form opinions that differed from those of dear old Dad.

These days, when we find ourselves locked in a stalemate and he throws his hands up in exasperation, I remind him that he only has himself to blame.

Underneath my mental manoeuvring and passionate proclamations, however, I'm so thankful. While at school I was told off for being "pushy", "aggressive" and "bossy" (the boys, of course, were told they showed "leadership potential") at home I was encouraged to test the strength of my convictions.

"Body hot, mind cool," my father would say to me, reminding me to keep a clear head in the heat of the moment. It's a motto I often repeat to myself today.

I have a special place in my heart for dads of daughters. Some of my favourite discussions with strangers are with dads who come up to talk to me about my writing.

They tell me about the conversations they have with their daughters over breakfast on Saturday mornings and it makes me smile. If I've given them something to debate about, I consider it a job well done. And I hope their daughters voice their opinions tenaciously.

The more I reflect on my childhood, the more I'm convinced that one of the most important things dads can teach their daughters is that their opinions count.

There will be plenty of men (and some women) along the way who will try to tell them otherwise, but when Dad has always affirmed your right to have an opinion, whether he agrees with you or not, it becomes just that little bit easier to stand up to the bullies and the haters.

Girls are often conditioned to be polite and to seek approval. Much more rarely are they encouraged to go after what they want, to be ambitious, or even to disagree.

When Dad has always affirmed your right to have an opinion, whether he agrees with you or not, it becomes just that little bit easier to stand up to the bullies and the haters.

I'm grateful that I had a father who raised me to be competitive, and a mother who taught me to be strong.

My being a girl was simply a biological label to them. I was the only girl in my soccer team, the top student in my woodwork class, and I played with Barbie dolls until I was 13.

I took, "you throw like a girl," as a compliment, because my dad had taught me how to throw a cricket ball further than any of the boys in my class.

That's not to say that it's easy being an opinionated girl, or that it becomes any easier being an opinionated woman. The fact that being female and outspoken is something that people still remark upon shows me that my upbringing may not have been all that common.

The condescending comments I sometimes receive from strange men on social media make me even more grateful that I was born to a dad who built me up rather than trying to knock me down.

My hope is that there will be more dads who will teach their daughters to speak up loudly, and to fight for what they believe in. Just as I hope that there will be more dads who will teach their sons that it's okay to cry.

Dads who will take their sons and daughters to the ballet and to the rugby.

When our dads show us that it's possible to subvert the restrictive binary of masculinity and femininity, they equip us with the tools to deal with a world in which traditional gender roles are increasingly outdated.

And later on down the track, they may even occasionally find themselves agreeing with us.

A few weeks ago my father showed me an article about feminism that had irked him. Apparently, the writer had misrepresented what feminism stood for. They'd cast feminists as hairy man-haters when really, feminism was simply about equality, Dad told me indignantly.

I nearly fell off my chair.

Beneath the blokey exterior, my dad is becoming a bit of a gender equality warrior. I may make a feminist of him yet.

So to all of the dads out there " and particularly the dads and caregivers of daughters " thank you.

And to the dads like mine who raised headstrong, loud and opinionated women, thank God for you. Happy Father's Day.

- NZ Herald

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