I know … I know … this blog is about raising boys, but how do you talk about one without looking at the other? I don’t think you can, and even though we are focusing on boys, there are inevitably times when looking at the way we treat and condition girls helps understand how we mould sex-role stereotyped behaviour and probably drive a wedge of arbitrary and harmful difference between men and women – boys and girls.
Just as boys and men are conditioned to shut down their emotions, as we’ve frequently discussed on this blog, girls and women are conditioned to rely on their physical attractiveness to gain power and status. It builds on the competitiveness between women that has been fed to us through myth and legend and only most recently through persuasively powerful and ubiquitous media. So instead of us working together or for our selves, we are herded into a field of competition for the attention of eligible and desirable males, curtailing the potential of both sexes.
Here is an interesting column from the Huffington Post about how we talk to little girls and the problems that go along with focusing on their cuteness. In it, writer Lisa Bloom remarks on her observation that she has a hard time resisting the urge to gush over how cute a little girl is yet how frequently we all do so. She gives some alternatives that will surely benefit girls and give them a chance to show more about who they really are and what they are interested in. Be sure to check out the comments too.
Fixating on their cuteness – as tempting as this can be – is probably a slippery slope to training girls to become obsessed with their looks – lucractively facilitated by the fashion, movie, music, and media industries – and persuading them to be willing to go to any (ridiculous, dangerous, inane) lengths to acquire or maintain physical beauty.
It breaks my heart to hear about little girls worried about their weight or dressing up in inappropriately sexualized costumes at Halloween because I think, ultimately it leads to unhappiness and suffering from a lack of true purpose in their lives and an insecurity about attaining a long-lasting acknowledgement of their abilities.
And – from the other side of the coin – it’s important for men and especially boys in their formative years to see that girls are treated seriously and are expected and encouraged to have serious interests and abilities.
We need girls and women to be strong, creative, and confident to pick up the torch of work done by previous generations and to carry it forward to the very uncertain and rocky future we humans face.