This Father’s Day, I hope dads and daughters will experience politics together. Research shows that young men are more likely than women to be socialized by their parents to consider politics a viable career path. But that can change. With 2016 around the corner and female presidential candidates running from across the political spectrum, there’s no better time for young women to get involved in our participatory democracy—and make it a father-daughter bonding opportunity! Your daughters are never too young to learn about their role in American government. Ready to plunge into politics? Here are 11 ways you can empower your daughter to amplify her voice and take part in the democratic process.
1. Bring your daughter to the polls. Election Day is also Take Your Daughter to Vote Day. Show her how to fill out a ballot and explain why it’s important to participate in our democracy. Snap a picture of you and your daughter at your polling place and share it on Twitter with #TakeYourDaughtertoVoteDay. Instill in your daughter a sense of civic duty. When John Mayer wrote his famous hit “Daughters,” I think he was really going for these lyrics:
So fathers, go vote with your daughters,
Daughters will vote if you do.
Girls become voters, who turn into civic motors,
So fathers, take your daughters to vote with you.
2. Talk about politics and ask your daughter for her opinion. As you read the Sunday paper (or scroll through headlines on your iPad), ask your daughter about her thoughts on the day’s events. When you pass the potatoes at the dinner table, exchange ideas about domestic and global affairs. What do you think about [insert issue]? How could our community be better? If you were president, what would you do first?
3. Watch political TV shows and films together, especially ones featuring strong female leads. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Role models have a powerful influence on people’s sense of possibility. Watch Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina’s videos announcing their presidential campaigns. Use this #MarchtoParity Women in Politics Media Guide as a starting place for your movie marathon. Highlight women in the world making major contributions—they just might ignite your daughter’s political ambitions.
4. Read about women political leaders and women’s history—together. Former presidential candidate and Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder once said that more women would run for office, if they only knew their history. Go to the local library and check out books on women suffragists and abolitionists, veterans and civil rights legends. Teach a Girl to Lead, a project of the Center for American Women in Politics, has a digital library of books you can put on your reading list.
5. Get involved in your community. Sixty percent of women in the 113th Congress were once Girl Scouts. Needless to say, early engagement in local and neighborhood issues catalyzed women’s early political awakenings. Look up programs in your community that will allow your daughter to tap into her civic spirit—and join her if you can! Bonus: Watch Girl Scouts interview members of Congress in their Portraits in Leadership series.
6. Take your daughter canvassing. If you’re going door-knocking, take your daughter with you. At age five, former US Senator Mary Landrieu accompanied her father on the campaign trail for his state legislature race. She recalls learning the ropes of campaigning in her childhood: “My little knuckles used to hurt knocking on the doors, so my father would give me a rock to use. I’d tap on the door and say, ‘Hello, I’m Mary Landrieu, and this is my dad.’” Likewise, when she was 13, Hillary Clinton canvassed for a presidential campaign. These early experiences clearly cultivate women’s interest in and commitment to politics down the line.
7. Write a letter to or arrange a visit with your local representative. We live in a participatory democracy, but we often forget to communicate with our government, other than on Election Day. Encourage your daughter to send a letter to your local representative, or visit him/her in person. As a young woman, Senator Susan Collins met then-Senator Margaret Chase Smith in the US Senate Youth Program in Washington and never forgot the experience. Collins now holds the seat once occupied by Smith.
8. Encourage your daughter to play competitive sports. Politics is a contact sport. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was a college squash player, Senator Kelly Ayotte was a competitive skier, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a martial artist and avid surfer. Research from Professor Jennifer Lawless at American University suggests that women who play competitive sports are more likely to express an interest running for office later in life. Lawless explains that key leadership lessons are taught out on the field, including “the ability to compete and the willingness to lose.”
9. Ask your daughter about student government and debate programs at school. Learn about what civic opportunities are offered by your daughter’s school or locally. Student government and debate experience can pave pathways to public service. After all, Senator Susan Collins was the president of her high school, and Senator Elizabeth Warren was named Oklahoma’s top high school debater. If the school doesn’t offer these programs, explore opportunities with your daughter and community members for creating them.
10. Take a field trip to a historic site for women in politics. The next time you sit down to plan a family vacation, think about going to a place where women made history. Visit Rosa Parks’ statue in DC or one of the women’s history sites identified by the National Register of Historic Places. Teach a Girl to Lead has a database of places you can explore that celebrate women’s history.
11. Throw a president party instead of a princess party. As Political Parity Director Marni Allen notes in “Senator, Not Cinderella”, she’s never heard of anyone throwing a young girl a president party. You could change that! For your daughter’s next birthday, consider having a political-themed party with celebratory slogans, birthday buttons and bumper stickers, and even voting booths, where party attendees can vote for historical female presidential candidates. Wrap gifts in political newspapers, and have a star-spangled time!