I thought I was entering a time warp, stepping back to the 60’s and 70’s, when I read the piece in Forbes online “7 Ways You’re Hurting Your Daughter’s Future” (6/28/2012). It was a list of supposed societal and parental behaviors that impede the full growth and potential of our daughters. The ideas seemed so passé – and so out of touch with reality.
Here are just a few to ponder – and dismiss.
1. We teach our daughters to be polite and quiet.
If only! I wish everyone’s daughters were more polite. My experience of public discourse suggests otherwise. And quiet? Clearly the author has never heard my daughter and her friends rehearsing the latest dance or song from their school performance –at midnight! The girls I know are loud and boisterous and confident – and I pray they are polite.
2. We buy her gender-specific toys.
Does this idea really still have traction? First of all, I know many boys (my grandsons included) who love playing with dolls and playing house. And I don’t think it has any impact on their future choices any more than when female children choose dolls as gifts. When they walk through a toy store, their eyes just don’t alight on the Lego and other building toys the way they do on the dolls. Maybe we should blame the packaging. I don’t think (as the article seems to suggest) that more “male-oriented” toys encourage invention and creativity than do female-oriented ones. Anyone that thinks that has obviously never heard their daughters play house or school!
3. We tell her she’s pretty to the exclusion of everything else.
I’m not sure which parents the author is addressing here. Of course little girls, and big girls, and their mommies, like to be told they look pretty. But they also like to be told they did a good job on a test or project, that they performed well on the soccer field or ice rink, that it was kind of them to share they toy and be considerate of others, that their character matters. I’ve noticed that schools give awards for sports and grades and sometimes character; I haven’t noticed any for looks. So I’m not sure who’s supporting this message.
4. We indoctrinate her into the princess cult.
Perhaps it is true that there has been a glut of princess parties – although certainly not in my home where birthday parties in general were deemed more trouble than they were worth. But haven’t princesses and brides always been little girls’ fantasies? And have they really shaped their future goals and visions? While I certainly find Sleeping Beauty to be a troubling story (not sure what the prince could determine about her character while she was sleeping), I don’t know any young women who honestly expect a prince to come riding up and sweep them off their feet (any more than they would expect a wicked stepmother who plots their death, a poisoned apple or talking mirrors or any other fairy tale phenomena). Can’t little girls just be little girls? They’ll grow up soon enough.
5. We give Dad all the physical tasks around the house.
I feel like I just stepped out of a scene from Father Knows Best. I know many women who do the physical tasks, just as I know many men who do the nurturing ones. The most logical seems to be that whoever is around when something needs doing should just take care of it. Every Friday night, we sing Eshet Chayil, a song about a woman of valor. The list of her accomplishments and abilities (prescribed by King Solomon many hundreds of years ago) suggests that we never believed in leaving all the physical labor to Dad. The truth is that the more common request these days is that Dad would do at least some of the physical labor!
6. She only spends time with other girls.
Guilty as charged. But I don’t accept any negative implications. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Girls educated around only girls seem to be more confident and more advanced academically. No Reviving Ophelia dumbing down to make the boys feel better. And it’s not just scholastically; girls who spend their time with other girls seem happier, more secure, less pressured and more able to just enjoy their time and make the most of it. The author’s contention that girls need coed high school education in order to be successful in business seems to lack focus on the qualities that actually lead to success.
7. We criticize our bodies and other women’s bodies.
This is indeed a battle but I certainly don’t know any homes where other women’s bodies are criticized or where anyone would consider that an acceptable pastime. Yes the media reinforces some negative stereotypes about body image that we need to counteract, but if we really mean it, perhaps we should stop buying the products that are marketing by half-dressed women and watching the television shows (most of them) that continue to objectify us.
I don’t believe that today’s young women are limited by anything except the necessity in life to make tough choices – and perhaps by articles like this that makes them feel like hapless and helpless victims of a sexist society instead of the strong, capable, confident and self-possessed women that they, in fact, are.