Whatever the outcome of the November elections this year, there’s no doubt that women legislators will still be very much in the minority. On the upside, this could be an ideal “teachable moment” to get your girl interested in politics or any other forum that gives her an opportunity to see girls making change.
When a girl learns from early on to speak out and advocate for a cause, she acquires a critical skill that will serve her now and in the future. You can help by showing her that there are many ways she can make things better, whether it’s becoming a leader in a youth organization, persuading a school official or local company to do things differently, or writing a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece.
The experience is sure to bolster her self-confidence, and who knows? Maybe your girl will be part of the generation that boosts the rate of female legislators to the more equitable rates enjoyed by nations such as Canada, Mexico, and others around the world.
An easy place to start is to simply chat with her about passionate people she knows. “Talk with her about women she may admire who are doing interesting things,” advises Karenna Gore Schiff, author of Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America. “These women don’t have to be famous at all,” she notes, just women who may advocate for changes in the schools, city, or businesses.
Of course, it’s fine to talk with her about male advocates, but girls may relate particularly well to a female role model. Gore Schiff says she has always been inspired by her famous father, Al Gore, but was even more inspired by her grandmother Pauline Lafon Gore, who waitressed her way through law school and kept speaking out for change as wife of US congress member Albert Gore Sr.
If you’re passionate about an issue, share the ways that you’re making your voice heard. If your girl’s younger, just explain issues to her in simpler terms. Boston dad Ken Bresler took his now-tween daughters along on everything from door-to-door voter education to meeting Jean Shaheen, former New Hampshire governor. He puts articles on issues on a bulletin board that faces the girls as they eat at the breakfast bar to spark conversations. Older girls can volunteer on campaigns or offer input on youth issues to politicians mindful that most kids turn 18 and are able to vote before leaving high school.
Girls will be most interested when the issue affects them, so you might start by asking her what annoys her the most. Perhaps it’s the school dress code—try the free curriculum that inspires strategizing on this hot topic from GirlsMatter, a group aiming to get more girls involved in political processes. For a group of Pennsylvania girls, it was insulting T-shirt logos such as “Who needs brains when you have these?” and “All Men Like Tig Old Bitties.” These 13- to 16-year-olds started a “girlcott” of the offensive shirts and traveled to the corporate headquarters of Abercrombie & Fitch to ask officials to stop marketing them and instead market ones with girl-positive emblems such as “That’s Madame President to you.”
The officials didn’t agree to market the positive shirts, but did agree to pull the two shirts the girls found most offensive. Getting a major multinational clothing company to consent to their proposals was “totally exhilarating” for the girls, says Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, which sponsors the girls group. “This project began during a retreat, when the girls brainstormed about things they would like to see change. All of them got so excited by being part of the process of turning an idea into reality,” says Arnet. The girls are now involved in giving peer grants to other teen girls for change-making projects.
When getting a discussion going, don’t forget a fun touch. Pop some popcorn and talk about why voting is important while watching a movie such as Iron Jawed Angels, which is about suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, suggests The White House Project, an organization seeking to get girls and women involved in politics. And remind girls to aim high—White House, anyone?