The Surprising (and Overlooked) Way to Raise an Empowered Girl

Dacy Knight

One of the things that humour can do is … help girls stand up for themselves in ways that people don't retaliate for.

Lisa Damour

There's scientific evidence that encouraging girls to be funny helps them to stand up for themselves and be strong. "One of the things that happens to girls is that they are encroached upon by the world," notes Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.

She goes on to explain that "one of the things that humour can do is … help girls stand up for themselves in ways that people don't retaliate for." McCarthy also notes that there's "an abundance of research on the social advantages that come with a strong sense of humour." Humour conveys a number of desirable and respected attributes, including but not limited to intelligence, confidence, and competency.

T. Bradford Bitterly, co-author of a new Wharton study on the use of humour in professional settings, has found that individuals who effectively use humour are more likely to be elected to leadership positions. "It can actually shift perspective of status—and by status what we mean is respect, influence, and admiration," he says. "The ability to crack a joke shows social ease and can turn awkward elevator silence into a golden moment of human connection," adds McCarthy.

[Humour] can actually shift perspective of status—and by status what we mean is respect, influence, and admiration.

T. Bradford Bitterly

Still, funny women are not received by society in the same way as funny men. "Both men and women are more likely to laugh if a male is talking to them," says Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Society still sees girls and women exhibiting humour as going outside of the norm, as not being in line with "traditional feminine behaviour."

Yet by encouraging girls to cultivate their sense of humour from a young age and celebrating it rather than discouraging it, can help instill this important tool. So what does this mean for parenting strategies to raise empowered girls? McCarthy outlines the following: Praise attempts at humour, combat messages that diminish it, and encourage sons to value humour in the girls and women in their lives.

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