Change Messages to Girls, Change the World

By Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly, Psy.D.

Dr. Nancy and Family Members

As a mother of three daughters, I did my best to raise my girls to be strong women who are capable of doing anything they want. Dr. Janet Rose is an educator and speaks nationally about women leaders and the importance of independence, hardiness and self-reliance. She has written the book, “The Seven Secrets of Parenting Girls” which, along with her blog, provides valuable resources for nurturing female leadership in young women.

I talked with Dr. Janet about the future of women leaders, how our roles are changing in this new century and what battles we must continue to fight to achieve equality. We need to plant a positive image of strength in our girls as we raise them and with young women around us in the workplace and community.

Dr. Janet says our childhoods show why we as women make the choices we do in our careers, education and roles.

“One of the biggest barriers to women entering into leadership is not the external barriers, but the internal barriers,” Dr. Janet says. “We don’t see ourselves as valuable or as leaders. The messages sent to us as young girls caused us to grow up seeing ourselves as sexual beings and we don’t see ourselves as having leadership skills.”

One of the roots of this problem is the over-sexualization of girls. “We see little six-year olds dancing to Beyonce’s Single Girls song in their skimpy outfits, shaking their booty,” Dr. Janet says. “Parents think it’s cute and okay, because it’s dance, but I don’t agree at all. They become middle school girls who are way too sexual, who come to school dressed totally inappropriately, gearing their lives around how pretty they are or how sexy they are and what boys they attract. That is what we should be teaching our girls.”

Is Playing Princess So Bad?

Recent reports say girls are playing princess more than ever before, probably due largely to successful Disney marketing. “That bothers me,” says Dr. Janet. “Boys don’t say, ‘I want to grow up and be a prince.’ Playing dress-up is fun but I like the approach of a woman in England who said, ‘Sure I’m letting my daughter play princess, but I’m telling her that she’ll grow up to be prime minister.’ That’s what we want to do.”

So often girls think they can become a princess by finding Prince Charming, but they’re lost if he turns into a frog and they can’t take care of themselves. “Girls need to learn marketable skills,” Dr Janet agrees. “I have no problem with being a stay-at-home mom if you can afford it. But if you have a divorce, do you want to become a single mom without any skills to support yourself and our children?”

It doesn’t help than men still scorn and denigrate women. “I read a neat blog NASA had about the four female astronauts and I couldn’t believe what the men were saying,” Dr. Janet says. “They were saying women are going to be putting on makeup in space; and tripping on their stiletto heels; and that men invented space travel so why are women butting in on it? We must raise our sons to respect women for their talent and skills. We can raise really strong women, but if men don’t respect us, we still can’t reach equality.”

But to me, what’s worst is that women still aren’t very supportive of each other.

Women Undercut Each Other

Dr. Janet told the story of a woman who wanted a superintendent position but said, “I haven’t got a good chance because the women on that school board have the attitude: “Who does she thinks she is? I was a stay-at-home mom….” It’s shocking that it could actually hurt you to have women on the board.

Dr. Janet says she hears from college students all the time, “I don’t want a woman boss. A woman is bitchy to work for.” I don’t know if that’s real experience or just a perception about women. Maybe women think they have to emulate men to be a good boss.

Research is showing that women are wonderful leaders. “The typical female characteristics of vulnerability, cooperation and collaboration all fall under the wave of transformational leadership,” Dr. Janet says. “Women provide balanced leadership that has proven to be highly successful in corporations and organizations. Yet it’s still not recognized that we have those strengths.”

Dr. Janet is right that we must change childrearing practices and raise strong girls and fair-minded boys to change the future. Her Seven Secrets e-book is available as a free download and I have adapted her ideas into tips for mentoring the women around us.

Dr. Janet’s tips for parenting strong girls apply to other women around us as well.

Scroll to top