November 11th 2016
Doing It All
Doing It All: What Hillary Clinton's election defeat has taught me about raising girls
November 15th 2016 / 2 comments
It costs £30k more to raise a girl than a boy, according to new research. But what we buy our daughters sends messages of second best, argues Emma Bartley
"To all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
As a mother of two small girls, I immediately wanted to get this line from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech put on a poster for them to see every day. Because these are strange times to be raising girls, aren’t they? When I was my daughters’ age, Britain had its first female Prime Minister and I grew up thinking that meant the glass ceiling had been shattered. History seemed a linear series of events in which women and minorities gained gradually more rights all the time. Perhaps we didn’t yet have full equality, but it was only a matter of time.
Last week, as Donald Trump’s election showed me how naïve I’d been, I opened a press release saying that it costs around £30,000 more to raise a girl than a boy. Research by MoneySuperMarket shows parents spend more on clothes, jewellery and toiletries for girls, with an estimated beauty spend of £7,000. Meanwhile boys cost more on technology and pocket money (yes, the gender pay gap begins before we even enter the labour market).
What am I supposed to do with this information right now? Start saving for cosmetics in the hope that my dolled-up daughters might someday attract the attention of some furry-headed male billionaire? Ban beauty products from the house in the hope they’ll grow up to be Clinton-esque “bluestockings”?
Even in Frozen, which has been hailed for its feminist values, the ice queen has to look sexy when she declares her freedom.
I’m not saying that the free world is going to hell in a handcart because women wear mascara and men don’t, but the disproportionate focus on women’s appearance does seem globally and domestically relevant. From a young, young age we place more value on how our girls look (£30,000 more, according to MoneySuperMarket). Then we encourage them to do the same: last Christmas someone gave my SEVEN-MONTH-OLD goddaughter a toy vanity table complete with plastic make-up. While boys build spaceships, Lego Friends offers girls a hair salon. Even in Frozen, which has been hailed for its feminist values, the ice queen has to look sexy when she declares her freedom.
Boys, meanwhile, measure their worth in financial terms. The study shows that they ask for and get more pocket money and that pattern continues in the workplace, where they still earn 18 per cent more than we do. By the time we have kids, the men are earning so much more that it usually makes sense for the lower-earning woman to be the one who takes time off to look after them. And so it continues.
There’s a girl I used to babysit for, now a sixth-former, who’s decided that she wants to be a footballer’s wife. She’s got the styling down pat, from the ultra-long, ultra-styled hair to the false eyelashes and bodycon dresses… In 2016, part of me is mortified that this is the life she wants, and part of me wonders how different we are. I can tell my daughters they need to support themselves, but if they look closely they may decide that the best thing that ever happened to me financially was ensnaring their father and the way to ensure their own security is to be pretty enough to attract a rich dude. (I do my best to undermine this by walking around looking like Swampy but it could all backfire if my husband does a Donald and trades me in for a new model.)
Perhaps that sounds melodramatic, but messages matter. If we’re conditioned to think that boys are supposed to make money and girls are supposed to be pretty so that boys like them, an ambitious woman seems wrong. She loses out at work, as Clinton just did despite being one of the most qualified candidates for the presidency in history. Meanwhile the men get richer, as Trump has, and begin to believe their net worth shows they have superior abilities.
Think of your own life choices. I can’t count the number of times when I backed off an opportunity at work because I thought there was someone more qualified, or accepted a job without negotiating on salary because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. I can’t count what I’ve spent on highlights and waxing and manicures. I could save plenty of time and money if I stopped applying make-up, but I won’t because I feel like people judge me on my appearance.
So what do I tell my girls? I guess to some extent that they have to do what I say, not what I do. That there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, but it isn’t their job. That each of them, as psychologist Steve Biddulph puts it in Raising Girls, “is part of a bigger story; a fight that has been fought on her behalf, long before she was born, and that she needs to keep fighting”. That they are valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve their own dreams. That even though the glass ceiling still exists, someone, someday will shatter it. I hope.
Do you agree with Emma? Tell us what you think.
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