This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.
Jessica de Mello is deputy head of programming and audience at The Globe and Mail.
Parental anxiety, especially in moms, seems turbo-fuelled these days by the inescapable global crises around us – climate disasters, economic turmoil, war, COVID – but the world is also offering up beautiful reminders that resilience and survival are in our DNA.
When my seven-year-old daughter begs for an Instagram account, I worry.
When she declares her ambition to be “Prime Minister of Halifax” (hey, she’s seven!), I worry.
When she wants to learn karate, pursue engineering camp, start a business, try red wine or dye her hair … I bite my tongue, furrow my brow in concern … and overthink it.
I’m so proud of her ambition. After all, I’ve cultivated it.
But with every new goal she creates I also feel fear. Politics can be so toxic for women. Body image issues can start so early and be so harmful. STEM careers are still so male-dominated. Female entrepreneurs attract less venture capital than their male counterparts, and female CEOs are still too few and far between. Canadian police will dismiss one in five sexual assault claims as “unfounded.”
Even for a natural optimist, and for someone whose life and career have been blessed with powerful female role models, mentors, supporters, friends and colleagues … growing up a girl today feels fraught with challenge (at best) and terrible danger (at worst).
Maybe the pandemic, a looming recession, being part of the “sandwich” between small kids and aging parents are partly to blame. Worry is a normal mode of being for so many of us now. Maybe my concerns over raising a girl are outdated for Generation Alpha – that uber-digital, gender-fluid, COVID-shaped cohort of kids that will come of age on a planet reeling from the effects of a changing climate and a turbulent world order. Maybe it’s just me, and the privilege I have not to “sweat the small stuff” while chewing my lip over the minutia.
But it’s not just me.
Parents of my generation are more engaged than ever, busier than ever and facing more global uncertainty than anyone has in a really long time. According to the Pew Research Center, we’re also older, more educated and more diverse. As Time Magazine puts it – we believe in “progress, equality and Google.”
We do “conscious parenting” with mental health check-ins and “intensive parenting” with loads of stressful over-planning and the complicated shame and humility of recognizing our own privilege layered atop. My friends with children have the same recurring, fierce, naval-gazing debate this New York Times section nailed in 2014: Should I let my kid quit their extra-curriculars?
And we’re stressed. This U.S. survey showed 68 per cent of moms feeling anxious, mostly because of money and the pressure to be a good parent … and made much, much worse by the pandemic.
And our kids … are still just kids. My daughter is as interested in making prank calls as she is in defining whether our cat is a “they.”
Around the world, I expect kids share her potty humour, her grand ambitions, her curiosity. And many – if not most – have more serious things to think about every day.
Many – if not most – girls and women have more serious concerns. And don’t think for a moment that eagle-eyed-TikTok-YouTube-incessantly-curious Generation Alpha isn’t watching.
And that perspective brings me renewed hope.
The young women of Iran, heroically leading a civil resistance movement that is shaking the world’s conscience. The women and girls of Ukraine, some contending with leaving their men behind while others resolutely face the fight – and the fear – on their own. The female CEOs, sharing their insights and constantly pushing for more and better in the boardroom.
Girls today have more inspiring and empowering female role models, both fact and fiction, than ever before, and a greater ability to access their message thanks to our global digital age.
Malala. Greta. Wednesday Addams (thank you, Netflix). There’s even a series of Inspiring Women Barbie dolls that appeal equally to my daughter and me. And her favourite bedtime stories are the Rebel Girls, a series of books that highlight the global achievements of groundbreaking women.
Yes, women are still under-represented in politics around the world. Plan Canada reported last year that 94 per cent of the Canadian girls they surveyed found the prospect of entering politics challenging, and one in five said they were personally discouraged from participating. Only 15 countries have female heads of government. And once in political positions, women still face more threats than their counterparts.
And yes, according to the UN, the global “gender gap” will take another 286 years to close (!!!), and nearly one in three women around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner. (By the way, this week at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, the UN will highlight these and other gender equity issues and you can watch those conversations online.)
Yes, it’s better than it was before for girls and women … and still so hard.
But today I see the world giving us unexpected visions of female courage, strength and resilience, and for the first time ever an entire, global generation can access and claim those role models for their own at the speed of Google.
What else we’re thinking about
I live in Nova Scotia where emergency room deaths are up 10 per cent since last year and 13 per cent of the population does not have a family doctor (including my family). So I’m thinking: Where are the solutions? This chronic, pervasive, only-growing-worse problem seems intractable. But surely there are students, researchers, public health professionals, civil society groups and businesses – new voices who don’t already have a seat at the table who have solutions. (Bill Morneau has a few ideas.) Where are the radical solutions to better our health care system?
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