So you're a mama raising a daughter? I'm not in the same place as you, but I do have a couple of thoughts on what it takes to raise and empower brave, intelligent, and confident women.
1. Don’t Make Assumptions About Her Interests and Goals
I attended a retreat this past weekend with my dad, an annual get-away that we've participated in and enjoyed for fifteen years now. The retreat speaker was a passionate man, emotional as well as articulate. But he made a few assumptions about men and women that left me frustrated.
Throughout his message, the pastor talked about how different men and women and boys and girls are. He argued that men and women were exactly the same in worth but fundamentally different in expression and function.
He paired that ideology with a few typical gender jokes. Men were emotionally shallow, afraid of intimacy, and one-word wonders. Women were naturally emotive, relationally adept, and detail over-loaders. At the heart of these seemingly harmless jokes was a dangerous assumption: that all men and women fit into these divergent categories.
But women are not always emotionally open. Men are not always one-word wonders. Women like physically demanding work. Men like cooking and cleaning too. Women like football. Men like late-night chats and red wine.
We're not all the same. This is why it's so crucial to avoid putting your daughters in boxes. Instead, I urge parents to encourage your daughters to pursue their interests, whether they are considered “feminine” or not.
Empower daughters who want to be firefighters. Buy theology books for your seminary-bound girls. Does your six year-old like playing pirates or hunting bugs? Praise her for her curiosity and creativity. If your fourteen year-old daughter tells you she wants to run for president, sit her down and ask her to take you through her platform.
Basically, when your daughter dares to differ from the gender binary, dare to celebrate her boldness.
2. Validate Her Leadership
When your daughter steps out from the crowd to take the lead—in the church, among her peers, in school, or wherever—honor her courage. Recognize her potential as a leader and work with her to refine her gift. Learn to recognize when she needs your wisdom and when she is ready to take flight on her own.
When you grant your daughter agency as a leader, and when you teach her that she is capable and competent, she will carry an almost unshakable confidence in her soul. She will carry it with her when she faces opposition, challenge, and even discrimination. In recognizing her strength, you'll ensure that she can be strong when she most needs to be. You'll ensure her preparedness to speak up, take responsibility, advocate, and teach.
I truly think that if daughters believe they can lead, they will. And in their leadership, they will bring new perspectives to the church and world.
3. Teach Her That God Created Her Men's Equal
In another conversation on gender and gifts at the retreat this past weekend, a man stated that women were naturally designed as “helpers” and men were endowed with leadership abilities. He believed that men and women were fundamentally different in their basic natures.
I desperately wanted to ask, “In what way do you imagine that you are so different than me?” And then, “What do you think you and other men have that women do not have?”
The instinct to protect? The confidence to speak up? The drive to lead? The clarity to teach? Commitment to Scripture? A passion for the church?
I know women who have all of these traits and who lead thriving ministries. I know women personally who fit every qualification of being gifted for leadership and teaching in the church, apart from having a Y chromosome.
Is this evidence of a fundamental distinction between male and female nature, capability, and giftedness? Or is it practical evidence that we may have missed something in our understanding of gender and giftedness?
Raise your daughters to believe that they are the functional equals of men. When your toddler daughter is still stumbling around your house, start making parenting decisions built on a foundation of biblical gender equality.
When she learns to read, choose stories with complex female characters that fight, lead, and speak alongside male characters.
When she starts school, encourage her to share her ideas with confidence. Teach her that she's the intellectual equal of the boys in her class, so that when she gets to high school, she’ll ignore the cultural pressure on women to play dumb.
When an authority figure makes a gender-biased statement or assumption, work alongside her to dismantle it. Give her the freedom to critique ideas that limit her identity and potential.
If she enters into a relationship, emphasize her agency, responsibility, and identity, so that she never plays second fiddle to a boyfriend.
You daughter will study women as supporting characters in history. She will search for a reflection of herself among leaders in the church and find few role models. She will be told that she is not qualified to lead a church. She will walk the line between body-shaming and hyper-sexualization. Her college years will put her at risk for sexual assault and harassment. She will often be pressured to suppress her outrage and keep quiet.
Your daughter is growing up in a world where she is peripheral and secondary. This world will test her strength. It will question her ruthlessly at every turn. It will attempt to relegate her to a secondary position in the church, home, and world. It will tell her she is not qualified to lead men. And that is why we must teach our daughters that they are equal to men in more than just essence. We must teach our daughters that they are the functional equals of men.
Good luck, egal mamas! You've got this.