As a parent reading Maria Shriver's report, "A woman's nation pushes back from the brink," and finding out that one-third of American women are living at or near the brink of poverty, I wondered: How as parents do we make sense of these abysmal facts? How do we use them to make a difference?
One thought is that we begin a dialog with our children, as they are the future leaders of the world. If, as a mother, you want your daughters treated fairly, then we must take the time to speak with our sons about gender equity, to ensure that they grow-up with the thought of equality between men and women being the rule and not a welcomed exception. The old saying goes, "charity begins at home and ends abroad" and I dare say, so does gender equality.
It starts in our homes, schools churches and other common places in our communities. Recently, a 7th grade girl and her parents at a middle school in Pennsylvania successfully sued her school district so that she could join the wrestling team. "Girls sports" versus "boys sports" still exist in 2014. These labels that seem so innocuous can have long lasting effects. And it is the meaning behind the labels that often do most of the damage. Girl sports are seen as softer and less competitive or easier. This is why it is not surprising when we hear reports that most Fortune 500 companies are run by men, and that women typically receive .77 cents on the dollar in comparison to men's salaries. Many young boys and girls are still raised with the gender inequality rhetoric that has been around for decades.
We need to consider where these ideas began and why they are so widely accepted. Though we speak openly and loudly about gender equity, somehow those words do not transfer to the bottom line benefit of our mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces. As we talk about the language of life, how do we begin speaking in a way that equity becomes more than just a talking point but also an action? As parents, we have a lot of power to impact the future. We are doing one of the most important jobs in life: raising and grooming future leaders and citizens.
More than just sharing alarming statistics, Shriver, in her report, has afforded us a look into the lives of everyday American women, many of whom are the breadwinners for their family and in many cases are single-handedly raising their children. Shriver has afforded us a place to start the conversations with not only our children, but also our entire family. Consider addressing the subject of equality, immediately, with your children. Take a moment to see what they already know. I would wager that even at the earliest ages, they have begun to repeat some of the gender biases.
I remember when my son was 5 years old, I went toward a clothing rack to select a pink shirt for him. He yelled out, "No! Pink is for girls." And when I asked him why he felt that way, he just shrugged. At that time, I explained to him that pink is a color like green, blue and yellow, and that he had a choice of choosing whichever color was his favorite - even if it is the pink one. The gender equality and equity conversation can be as simply as asking your child about their favorite color or sport. This is truly where, in the earliest years, we can begin to address some of the biases that truly impede the growth and success of our citizens and country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angela Jackson is Founder and Executive Director of the Global Language Project, a nonprofit program that teaches youth a second language while preparing them and empowering them to compete in a global workforce. She founded Global Language Project after her experience working with multinational companies and traveling abroad. She was most recently head of New Channels Marketing at Nokia, responsible for managing the North American marketing and strategic-partnership development for Nokia's Nseries brand. In addition, Angela sat on a cross-divisional, global team that outlined Nokia's best practices for improving profitability and increasing market share in Asia. She is fluent in English and French, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, with Bachelor's degrees in Journalism and History.