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Are we mentoring daughters right?

13 June 2013 07:14 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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We all know what a little girl’s world consists of – Barbies, Angelina Ballerinas, soft pink dresses and dainty little shoes. Every little girl wants to be a princess and we don’t mind. But, cautions one woman, who also says she has nothing against fairy princesses, we should also bring in a touch of the independent young woman of the future who can think for herself, into the folds of the princess fantasy. Sooner the better, says Amanda Steinberg who founded Dailyworth.com, an Internet startup that empowers women by encouraging financial engagement.

Living princess fantasy

Steinberg worries about her daughter living the princess fantasy, ending up someday with the sole objective of marrying a rich man. She, like most modern mothers, wants her daughter to be financially independent. Instead of bedtime stories about fairies and ballerinas, she wants to get her daughter familiar with words such as innovation and enterprise.

In Sri Lanka, a daughter is not considered a burden as it might be so in the rest of the subcontinent, but a blessing. A daughter always personifies a care-giver for ageing parents although sons engage in it fruitfully as well. We encourage our daughters early on to excel in studies – we also like to encourage them to be financially independent but does it really happen that way?

I remember reading on the Internet recently that in certain parts of rural dry zone areas, even the most talented girls are either given in an early marriage or choose to go to work early instead of opting for higher education. Poverty most likely was the cause – although a few determined ones get through the barriers and go on to make a success of life. Ultimately, it is all about what kind of direction we want our daughters to follow – although for some, the harsh reality of eking out a living may dissuade grand dreams.

Financial independence

It is still said that a woman can always get herself a rich husband if all avenues fail. And that maybe true to an extent. But as Steinberg so succulently puts it, what she sees her son experiencing in financial independence and handling points in video games, she does not see such freedom in the movies and games available for little girls. In the movies, the heroines are ‘rescued’ or released while the heroes get the credit. The princesses are locked up by evil monsters and must await the arrival of prince charming to be rescued.

Even if women do choose to earn and be financially independent as many do, what happens once they get married and kids come along – are ambitions given up in place of family and children or are career goals still nurtured? We talk of the balance but can a balance be truly achieved when it comes to choosing a high powered career that takes a lot of our time and the family that needs more focus and nurturing. As Steinberg has chosen, using the Internet as a place of business is ideal for most women because it gives them flexibility and freedom of having the family to care for and also the business to run.

All of this does not mean that little girls who love their Barbie fantasies do not grow up to be self-sufficient and smart. A lot them do. As they grow up, they acquire values and set goals that empower them to engage in outstanding careers. Even in traditionally rural Sri Lanka, women engaging in financially independent ventures is encouraged and practiced.

Utilizing digital media

But Steinberg does have a point in all that she writes. She wants her little princess to grow up knowing and understanding that she can indeed buy her own tiara and that she does not really need to be rescued. She can escape – if she wants to. She is concerned about what little girls get to hear and believe as they grow up. She just wishes it could be like what it is for the boys; play X Box, X Men whatever and enter different levels, earn different rewards. Maybe it can be true for the girls too.

With her Dailyworth.com encouraging women to engage in financially empowering activities, Steinberg believes that digital media can be better utilized to teach women not only to make money but also manage the money they make. She believes that a whole lot more can be done than what is being done right now and she may be right.

So, can we try to make our daughters more financially independent from an early age – to start with, can we make our sons financially independent early on. How do we start – by linking treats to achievements and rewarding such achievements? In the end, we need to develop our own set of rules, our own set of family rituals that still respect the age old values of responsibility and accountability. It is most likely that then, all will fall into place.

(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at nayominiweerasooriya@gmail.com)
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