As the mother of two daughters I sometimes struggle with the way things are versus the way things should be when encouraging them to become brave, bold, and confident women. I think about things that could have been most helpful for me as I was navigating the path towards adulthood and want to make this path a little easier for them. One thing that would have been helpful is if I felt I was allowed to express who I was and to be comfortable, loving and accepting of all the aspects of me.
Being raised by a strict, Christian mother, I was taught to believe that my body was something to be kept hidden and at times to even be ashamed of. If I dared to push the boundaries and show any skin, wearing a tank top or shorts too high above the knees, I would be ridiculed or referred to by other unflattering terms where I was accused of seeking attention. It was always confusing for me though because regardless of the clothes I had on, I would still receive that unsolicited attention. It was not until my college years that I realized I liked the way I looked in certain clothing choices and that was okay.
So now, I am raising my own daughters, who are eleven years apart in age, and let me just say, that especially for my oldest, some of her clothing choices would make the little old church ladies I grew up around turn over in their graves! While she is very mindful and respectful of the thoughts of her elders when she is in their presence at church or other functions, she makes certain to never lose her identity in what she chooses to wear. And I embrace that. Do I sometimes hear the gasps from others who would question me as a mother by “allowing her to walk out the house dressed like that”? Certainly. And if I am given the opportunity, I take the time to do a little educating.
By being in this work, but more importantly, by knowing who my daughter is, I know that the thoughts that enter the mind of anyone who might use the way one chooses to dress as justification to pass judgement, harass or excuse sexual violence, are not the thoughts that can put an end to it. Sometimes, I have to put my own thoughts in check because of the societal noise that exists; those thoughts do not empower women and girls to be true to their authentic selves.
In my primary prevention work, I often refer to the metaphor of traveling upstream to do some major bridge repair work. But as I talk about repairing this bridge, I had not given much consideration to the tools one must carry in their backpack. Imagine that the bridge that is encountered is located atop this mountain with a heavy stream of water flowing down. In order for me to even reach this bridge, I have to first climb this mountain, and move past all those voices that tell me who I am supposed to be as a Christian woman. I have to put on my noise canceling headphones.
I have to consider this as I raise my own daughters. I am optimistic that the tools my youngest daughter will have to carry in her backpack will look much different than the ones I have had to carry. I am optimistic that her backpack will be light and the only thing she hears coming from her headphones is the harmony that comes when women and girls are loved, respected and treated as equal. The harmony that comes when the noise that attempts to diminish who they were created to be, cannot and will not prosper.
Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the Action Alliance and is proud to be a mother, daughter, and sister, working to prevent violence against women and girls.
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