Ask any Church Youth leader, teacher, parent, grandparent, or anyone given the opportunity to work with teenage girls what they want most for the women in their life, and you will always get variations of the same answer.
I want my daughter to know that she is smart. I want her to know that I will support her in whatever dream she chooses, I want her to know that she can be anything she wants. I want her to know that she is capable of greatness. If you are Mormon, or religious in anyway, you might respond with "I want her to know that she is a Daughter of God."
We want a lot of things for our girls/young adult women. We've come along way from simply wanting them to be pretty and silent.
But if my interactions on the internet and in the classroom are any indication, while we pay lip service to the idea of a smart young woman, we don't always want her to know that she is smart. We'd rather have her be demure, overly humble, self-deprecating, and doubting. So very often, a boy who knows he is smart is confident, self-assured, and a leader. A girl who knows she is smart is arrogant, cocky, and aggressive.
I speak from experience. If I even hint at being smart on the internet, I get a couple comments, and a couple more emails, from people accusing me of all sorts of nonsense. I'm a snob. I'm an elitist, I think I'm better than everybody else. Once, someone who read my blog complained about me to my mother. It was so rude of me to say that I was smart, and I was hurting her feelings.
I never claimed I was the smartest (the ability to conjugate is apparently a lost art,) I simply acknowledge that through a combination of hard work, and luck, I am smart. I see no crime in acknowledging that there is a spectrum between the intelligence of the primordial single-celled sludge I evolved from, and, say....Einstein. I fall somewhere in that spectrum. Hopefully closer to the Einsteins then the sludges.
However, I also acknowledge that I fall in different places in different subjects. I am a microbiotic parasite when it comes to chemical equations. I used to feel insecure around people who did understand chemistry, until I realized that their talents are no more or less important than my own. If you ask me to analyze the significance of polytheistic religions in Ancient Near East cultures... well, I can work with that.
Speaking of the Ancient Near East, I recently held a discussion with my students. We were analyzing the effectiveness of the Sumerian class system in maintaining social order. Riveting. I know. Many students, both male and female, made intelligent comments. However, I noticed that many of my girls seem addicted to disclaimers: "I don't know for sure, but......I could be wrong but.....I think....."*
It was almost as if they worried that stating a strong opinion would hurt the Ancient Sumerian's feelings.
Whether it hurts our feelings or not, if we really want girls to know anything, we need to let go of our own insecurities and let them truly know things about themselves without the minutiae of disclaimers tying them down. If they are smart, let them say so. If they work hard and become smarter, let them acknowledge their success.
The Ancient Sumerians are all dead, anyways.
* We can talk another day about the ills our society inflicts on teenage boys. I am aware of them, and acknowledge their validity, but decided to focus this post on girls.