In this environment of sexual harassment, what can parents do to stop it? What is the recipe for raising strong independent minded women? To avoid becoming a victim, how do we teach them from the get go? How do you instill self worth?

Although most of our readers are no longer raising young kids, the topic is still relevant as mentors, leaders, coaches and life long parents.  Our generation was raised in a culture that most likely requires some “unlearning” of our personal experiences which did not prepare us to deal with sexual harassment.

I thought I didn’t need “unlearning” and believed Dad had done it right, until recently, until I began listening to all the sexual harassment stories over this past month. I think the way I was raised backfired as it has for so many women. The new rules for raising girls today is radically different from how I was raised. This piece in Parenting about raising kids today was eye opening.

“Our daughters will enjoy more opportunities than any generation before. Everywhere from the playroom (gender-neutral toys!) to the boardroom. That’s why the rules of raising confident girls have changed—and why you have to get hip to them, fast.”

But, the truth is good parenting today is not automatic, and some learning is important. But that was not the case with most parents of my generation.

My dad raised us like boys. I’d always had a bit of braggadocio about that, until recently.

My name was supposed to be Gabe. My two older sisters, were to be named Jonathan, and the youngest….well I’m not sure. We three eldest were raised as a pack.

To be girly was to be weak, vulnerable and materialistic. I loved my Dad and his approval and praise meant the world to me. Being athletic, strong and successful was where I excelled and what my Dad loved too. The prouder my Dad was of me, the better I got at all things praised.

Praise was generous on the ski slopes, and tennis court, and when I slugged down a scotch to be more like him, I entered into his circle of love. In those days, I was encouraged to be one of the guys and it felt just right.

Dad would look at my eldest sister and bark, “Take off that eye shadow, you look like a slut.” My sister was just being a typical teenager, she was a great athlete too but the girl experiments were shot down. I decided then and there, I would not wear girly makeup.

We were rewarded with equipment not dresses by Dad. New ski equipment, better tennis racquets, faster 10 speeds. These were the coveted prizes.

My Mom made a sport of shopping, my Dad was appalled by the money she spent on clothes. I hated new clothes because he did. I didn’t want to be “that” kind of girl. My Dad’s way of looking at the world was bold and outrageously optimistic. That philosophy was the magnet I attached to. What my Dad embraced and wanted became what I wanted.

Women athletes were heroes in our home.  Dad rooted for Billie Jean King in The Battle of The Sexes, (Billie Jean Vs. Bobby Riggs). He loved strong women who kicked men’s butts. He told me I had a forehand like Chrissie Evert. Hearing that made me feel empowered. He paid for me to play with Ken Rosewall in a charity tournament for the Boston Lobsters and bragged to his friends when I hit Rosewall in the crotch with an overhead. Once again I glowed, I was one of the guys.

Play time with Dad was outside, and the riskier and more aggressive the activity, the more fun. Frost bitten toes after a brutally cold ski day generated the best hugs, swimming in the dangerous red flag waters on Martha’s Vineyard’s South Beach were badges of honor.  Sitting in front of the windshield, straddling the headlights of his WWII jeep, he accelerated over the dunes. My sister and I screaming wildly.  One tumble in front of the tire, I hate to think about it, but that was never discussed.

I owned no Barbies or Kens. This was not a childhood home for girly girls…we were encouraged to speak our minds but with 3 sisters, it was impossible to get heard.  Our dinner table was a hot bed of debate, arguing, tough love and motivational talks. Being smart was king.

So, when I left home at 17, I never thought about the vulnerability of being a girl. I was on my way to becoming an independent strong woman.

I embraced risk away from home.  My favorite release was to hitchhike to the top of Nederlands in Boulder, Colorado and ride the 17 miles down (sans helmet) at 40 miles an hour). I taught the east coast boys in my dorm how to ski the bumps. My confidence came from being one of the guys.

All that was male was better, and I was dismissive of girly girls as being frivolous. I loved jocks, both men and women and I loved being with a pack of guys.

I felt really confident until I started dating and that’s when it all got confusing.

When I first started experimenting with dating in college, (I was a late bloomer), I was never concerned that I would be taken advantage of, but I was confused about how to be “the girl” in a relationship.

I didn’t know how to say what I wanted as a woman, I had no practice being a woman. When a man chose me, that was when I felt loved. I never did the choosing.  I never went after the guy, the guy went after me. I had no idea what I wanted, it was what he wanted.

The problem with all of this turned out that men’s praise mattered more than understanding my own wants and needs. Being loved meant being chosen.

And that’s what ultimately defined how I made decisions in my male dominated. world.

Pleasing men so I could be one of the guys, meant, I didn’t learn how to form my own girl groups. I  didn’t figure that out until I became a parent.  My upbringing could have back fired but luckily it didn’t because I eventually found my voice.

What I thought was so special, what I used to brag about, “being one of the guys” turns out not to be the right message to teach this generation.

That is why I am so encouraged by the important sexual harassment dialogue today. Because, whether or not you have been a victim, learning to say what you want, what is ok, not letting someone else’s wants and needs define what will happen next is something we all need to become more conscious of. It is a conversation I could have used when I was growing up.



Unlearning Our Past: New Rules For Raising Girls was last modified: by

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