…Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

A blog caught my eye last week and I found that I was struck – so struck that I found myself rolling it over and over in my head finding a place for it.  It’s a bit of commentary about raising girls and interacting with girls and supporting girls.  Although it’s close to home for me, I think it pretty much covers all of us.  Culturally, we treat girls terribly.

Consider: “Dear Daughter…”

Hate is a pretty impressive word and used for effect here, one that’s not really needed.  The article stands well enough on its own without any additional intolerant language.  But that’s my only quibble.  How can we be so critical of little girls (or any girl)?  Add to this another article (which I thought I had posted but can’t find in the archives) about our* penchant for telling little girls how pretty they are.  The assertion that we are likely to tell little girls how pretty they are and little boys how smart they are is one I see evidence of in the park every time we go.

Consider: How to Talk to Little Girls

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from strangers how pretty my daughter is when she’s standing there doing quantum physics in front of them (okay, counting, but whatever).  Oh you’re so pretty.  Isn’t she pretty.  You’re a pretty one, aren’t you?  And let’s be clear, this has absolutely no reflection on her actual appearance, it just seems to be what people say to girls.  Although I’ve heard little boys in the park called handsome, mostly I hear some variation of the following:  You’re so brave!  Look at how smart you are.  He’s such a boy, isn’t he?

So tell me, how do you raise a daughter to be strong and brave and smart and pretty (of mind and body and soul)?  I’m pretty sure I’ve nailed how to raise a daughter with an enormous ego: by telling her she’s ALL of those things in excess in order to compensate for the appearance related remarks I make.  Check back in 18 years and I’ll tell you how that works out.


17 Responses

  1. I find myself continuously thinking about this as well. especially now that i have a daughter. as well as two sons. our eldest son is sensitive. and funny. and sweet. he wears pink shirts. and asked santa for an american girl doll (he received the target version complete with change of clothes and a horse). he also has a penchant for swords and wrestling. yes he is a boy. but really he is a child. who is only now at the age of seven really beginning to hear about how boys should act vs girls. from school. and the media. his friends. i want to shield him from it and tell him to keep playing with his my little ponies as long as he would like no matter what his friends may say.
    with the twins, everyone always says how pretty our little girl is. and what a little man baby boy is. as they are both running around eating sand and throwing things…
    raising kids is hard.

    • Isn’t it funny how (for many people), if you have a little girl who likes pink and pretty it’s okay and if you have a girl who likes dirt and trees she’s a tomboy which is also okay, but if you have a boy who doesn’t like dirt and trees and does like pink and pretty it isn’t okay? Convoluted and by no means expertly articulated but extremely frustrating, regardless.

      • This makes me nuts. Our son (he’s 2) enjoys cars and trains and all the things boys are “expected” to like, but he also loves pretend cooking and Minnie Mouse. He has a pair of Minnie pajamas that are bright pink and he adores them. You would not believe the comments people make about him wearing pink PJs! I just wish I could shield him so he could like what he likes without worry about what people will say or how they will judge him. Ugh.

      • Viva la Minnie Mouse. I would love it if the only thing that dictated happiness for my child was what actually made her happy.

  2. I think about this every day. And have no fucking clue. :-/

    • Let’s compare notes in 20 years and see if constantly telling our girls they are smart to balance society’s pretty vibe turns them into brilliant individuals or egotistical ones – or both…or neither 😦

  3. I’ve been thinking about this today. I think a lot of moms of little girls want to be told their daughters are pretty. They love to dress them up and do their hair and all that.

    I also think a lot has changed in the public school systems – and they’re much more geared toward girls. The boys are on drugs for a.d.d and such trying to make them better behaved – or behaved more like the girls. These days there are more females than males going to and graduating from college. I think the pendulum has swung in favor of females – look at all the commercials showing smart women and doofus men. (Now I’m probably getting a little off topic.)

    One trend I think is interesting is going back to classes segregated by gender. My nephew is in some and really does well in them.

    As for commenting on how cute Noah is – I gotta admit, I really enjoy it. We think he’s the cutest boy around! In a couple of years will I want the comments to be much more about how well behaved he is? YES. But for now I’m ok with “he’s SO cute”.

  4. I only mean this in the kindest of all ways, first of all, RR is not even 2 yet, second of all, does she, or Noah, for that matter, even know what pretty and brave really means? I understand your worries about “society” but what really matters is what you and D teach her. So here’s virtual “you worry too too much so I’m going to whup you upside the head”!

    • She doesn’t know. But, I’d like to make sure I don’t contribute to the problem because there definitely is one. She’s too little to be discerning about nuances and so the least I can do is be sure that at least one person reminds her that there is more to her than looks. If I can do the same for other little girls too, all the better!

  5. Understood, I just hope that she won’t feel that it’s harder for her to thrive in this world because of our own experiences, whatever they might have been.

    • I think she’ll be better for it – neither Debra or I experienced an emphasis on pretty or smart (her compliments surrounded her musical ability and mine around my fearlessness) so she has a good shot. It’s also important that we don’t teach our “we don’t give a ****” attitudes to her. She may choose to value other’s opinions of her and we want her to be able to balance that with how she feels about herself.

  6. We listen to a lot of, “Not A Pretty Girl,” here at our house with three daughters and a foster daughter.

    That said, our oldest went way pink and princesses from ages three to eight and has swung to downright butch at age eighteen. Our middle (adopted at age eight after placement with us at age six, from a highly misogynistic family into which she was born, dangerously, the only girl) IS way pink and princesses and will almost certainly stay very ‘girl.’ Our foster daughter (we are desperate to adopt this kiddo who keeps bouncing into and out of our family and who has done so for years) is legally blind and has CP and just wants to be pain-free and safe. And it’s too early to say with the baby (28 months), though I am beginning to worry (well, wonder…) if her piercing and frantic insistence that she is a boy who is going to drive excavators, and her refusal to wear anything ever besides her ‘truck shirt’ is the beginning of an interesting journey…

    I think you have to make it part of an ongoing dialogue, and ask lots of thought-provoking and open-ended questions. At least, that’s what we do. I think you are wise and right to notice and to worry. We read a lot of Tamora Pierce and we listen to lots of Ani, et all, and we call each other on ingrained and unquestioned patterns. We make sure not to bash anyone’s desire to be pretty and wear lipstick (such as my lipstick lesbian wife) but we hold fast to our family’s ideal that there an awful lot of ways to be okay in this world and there’s room for steam shovels and for Pink at our dinner table.

  7. This stuff is so hard. I think lots of folks don’t know what to say to/about kids so they fall back on whatever comes to mind (which tends to be the super-gendered examples you list).
    It seems to me that one of the best ways to teach RR to be smart and kind and brave is to catch her being smart and kind and brave and tell her how proud you are of that. You can reflect that back to her in all sorts of ways, like making comments such as, “wow, you worked really hard on that” or “wow, that was scary and you did it anyway!” or “that was such a nice thing to do for your friend!”
    I know this doesn’t fix everything, but the more she knows that you really see and respond to who she is, the less it will matter what weird things other people say.

    • Another thoughtful comment – wow, you guys can come to my park to play anytime. You’re right that we can’t control others but we can take a stand in what we say to our kids. I try to balance my comments to her since it’s clear she’s eating up every word. I love the scary comment you mention – I’m going to use that!

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