Here’s a thought — equality of action needs to match equality of spirit… it sounds easier than it actually is, I promise.
I swore to myself that my little girls would grow up with no preconceptions about their options, roles and dreams. Most days I think I’m doing pretty well. Then we hit a wall —— screeeech!
When the girls and I are in Gettysburg and I’m doing research we share a small efficiency apartment. So there’s a lot of mother-daughter time — I get lots of questions about growing up, about the differences in boys and girls, the meanings of words I thought I’d have a few more years before I explained and they even ask a few questions about history and the work that I do.
They see me plunge into new situations, with unknown people and uncertain responses, elated and quite delirious with joy at a particularly juicy interview. I see them in love with a new skill or merely tolerating it. We’ve each discovered new passions in books, music, art and sports this summer. And they see me doing these things as an individual, popped out of the suburban wife/mom/carpooler role of their everyday world. The wall that comes out of nowhere and crumples our equanimity usually involves confusion over gender roles — can/should/why would a girl do/think whatever….
Often, it’s something on Disney channel’s gender codified sit-coms, where all girls are scheming to get boys and all the boys have ‘clueless boy brains.’ Often, it’s a joke they hear from someone we know, even me on occasion. You know the jokes I mean, how to manage, manipulate, or otherwise game a boy…. now please understand, I’m not talking about flirting. That’s in a class by itself — and I would flirt with a rock if I thought I could make it smile. So not the point, and we move on.
Well, maybe it is a little the point. Flirting is having enough self-confidence to play; it’s neither asking nor expecting anything. It’s pure pleasure. Manipulation takes the tools of flirting and uses them to get stuff. And, unfortunately, way too often — girls are taught to use that as a path to power. Caveat — not always, not all girls… but enough so that it’s a flawed stereotype for tween girls to emulate.
Here’s one situation we’ve been facing: at least 3 times this summer, my 10 year old has been offered advice on how to “play” a boy so that he’ll like her. First of all, yuck, she’s 10!!!! Second, boys are not catnip mouse toys to be batted across some vast emotional carpet. And finally, it undercuts everything I’ve been trying to teach my girls about equality and respect and communication!!!
Ye Gods, how do I handle this in a way that avoids the dreaded eye-roll of “mo-om, enough already…?” Or worse, sounding like a self-righteous prig even to myself? At the risk of being Napoleonic, I usually open on 2 fronts.
Operation Popular Culture, the squishier front in tactical terms, offers substitutes for biased media with lots of girl power (thank you New Moon), stories of powerful women who didn’t compromise intellect, ideals or femininity, and lots of kick-ass music. The music — some of which is below, is the easiest conduit with my girls. Both of them could spell “r-e-s-p-e-c-t” before they were 7. 🙂
Operation Hearts and Minds is far more fraught. Unless dire peril is involved, I won’t say anything that would discourage them from talking to me — that’s the beach-head I must maintain through the next wave of puberty…. so not ready for that!!! Given that, I ask lots of questions — all sort of aimed at asking them to move beyond the boy vs. girl dynamic — into a real interaction, person to person. I try and create the notion of “friend-boys,” so they can enjoy the companionship and differing perspectives they will garner. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I have always had as many friend-boys as boyfriends and they’ve been treasured relationships. So, I model those for the girls as well (not so much the boyfriend part, but you know what I mean — hi, honey!!!).
It’s an adventure, a delight and the scariest journey I’ve ever undertaken — parenting these incredibly amazing young women. As I leap, trip, dance and stumble forward — I remember something my Daddy used to tell me when I had a “how do I ever do this” panic attack. He would say, “Alyce Jeanne, when you’re getting up and see your nose print down there in the dust, look around. See how many others there are…. everyone falls. The secret is getting back up!”
Sing a song of girls: Respect (Aretha’s version is the gold standard, but Kelly Clarkson brings some good attitude); Extraordinary (Liz Phair); Anything You Can Do (from Annie Get your Gun); 9 to 5 (check out Allison Krauss’s cover of this iconic Dolly hit); No Regrets (Billie Holiday); I will not be broken (Bonnie Raitt); Done with Like (Brie Larson); I love you ’cause I want to (Carlene Carter); Sisters (Rosemary Clooney or there’s a cool version with Bette Midler & Linda Ronstadt); Glamourous Life (Sheila E.); Be Your Own Girl (Wallflowers); Hey Cinderella (Suzy Bogguss); Venus (Southern Culture on the Skids); I’m gonna Live ’til I Die (Queen Latifah); Stupid Girls (Pink; awesome discussion song); The Hard Way (Mary Chapin-Carpenter); And She Was (Talking Heads) and of course, Sisters are Doing it For Themselves (Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin)!
Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.–> Harriet Tubman