Lisa McMinn had me at “hello.” Or at least at page 14, where she says:
In the 1950s, roles were more clearly defined, and women and men pretty much understood and accepted their gender-defined tasks. In the 1960s, almost every taken-for-granted assumption about how society ought to function was challenged, shaking the values and traditions that had stabilized society. The problem with our current dilemma is not the questioning and debunking of traditional ways or arranging our lives (much of this has been good for society, particularly as it has allowed us to profit more from the contributions of women). Rather, the problem with our current dilemma, particularly as it relates to how we should raise our daughters, is the lack of a system, or set of criteria, replacing that which we cast off. We no longer have a set of rules to help us decide what is good, less good, and bad for our daughters or society.
It’s hard to focus on living your life well if you don’t know the rules of the game–but that’s exactly the situation many of today’s women find themselves in. I created the Modern Mrs Darcy blog specifically to explore the answer to this question: What does it mean to be a woman in today’s world?
Why is this question so hard for my generation to answer?
- We’ve not been taught. Because of the lack of a system, we didn’t have an example. Many of us received good teaching–but there are gaps that need to be filled.
- We were raised in an era that exalted individuality. The message of our formative years was: it’s up to you to decide who you want to be. But we’ve grown up and realized that it’s not about us. We are individual women–but we don’t live on islands, we live in community. We’re trying to figure out how.
- Our society devalues things female. It’s hard to embrace femininity in a society that devalues the feminine.
- Mixed messages abound. I was told “You can do anything!” when I was growing up, but my culture still devalues feminine qualities and abilities. For those raised in religious settings, the dissonance between the messages we receive and reality as we experience it can be especially unsettling. (Want to know where I heard the most misogynistic jokes growing up? Church.)
Growing Strong Daughters is not just for mothers. McMinn discusses the value and strength of femininity, how early family life shapes our view of femininity, and the struggles of being female in a culture that doesn’t always honor our gender. Any woman–regardless of marital or family status–would benefit from reflecting on these issues and on how she became the woman she is today. In fact, I think that’s the first step to growing a strong daughter.
I’m the mother of two little girls, and I want to guide them into becoming strong women, but I don’t have a model. McMinn convinced me that to raise strong daughters, I need to model strength. Strong women embrace their femininity as a good thing, and have healthy, interdependent relationships with others (especially their spouses). They have their own voices, and appreciate their bodies for what they can do, not just what they look like. Strong women are confident, and capable.
Our girls need that confidence to make the right decisions, and they need to begin learning it at home. It’s going to take confident women to teach them.
McMinn raised three daughters herself, and I love the personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book. (My favorite was her description of the different ways she bonded with each daughter based on her own unique personality.)
This book is full of interesting, practical and sometimes surprising insights on the development of girls. McMinn covers everything from family relationships to body image to sexuality. My oldest daughter is 6, so I read the very interesting chapter on romantic relationships with fear and trembling for that far-off season. Strong fathers are incredibly important to young women, and there is a special father-daughter chapter by the author’s husband, psychotherapist Mark McMinn.
It’s not easy to be a strong woman, or to grow a strong daughter. Parenting is a messy process. But if our girls are going to become all they’re meant to be, it’s up to strong women to show them the way.
Note: McMinn is a sociologist and a Christian, and her worldview is evident through her writing. For example, she speaks specifically about how our daughters bear the image of God and how that practically takes form in their lives. I think the wisdom and practical insight in this book will be appreciated by anyone, regardless of religious belief, but I want you to know about the religious element before you buy it.
If you buy Growing Strong Daughters (and I highly recommend it), make sure you get the 2007 or 2010 edition. The book underwent a significant update for the 2007 edition, largely to reflect updated thinking regarding the increasing emphasis on community as opposed to individualism. The newer editions reflect the belief that “We do not discover who we are in isolation as we pursue some personal quest, but from the commitments we make and the relationships we keep.”