Photo by: Gabe Gomez NYC
(The brilliant women in my life who support me, love me, encourage me, and push me.)
How many of us have young girls in our lives who look up to us (women) as an example? On my maternal side, I am one of fourteen granddaughters/great-granddaughters in my family (for scale, there are ten grandsons/great-grandsons). On my paternal side, I’m one of four females and three males. Of those eighteen, there are six under the age of ten. When I interact with them, I have the opportunity to influence them. The question is, what kind of influence will I choose?
In 2011 I read a blog based on an article that has stuck with me every since. A Cup of Jo talked about the HuffPo article by Lisa Bloom dealing with how to appropriately talk with little girls. It deals with the way people address them and what they place value on, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Stereotypically, what is the first thing you want to do when you see an adorable little girl in the cutest outfit? You want to compliment the way she looks. I’m with you! My little cousins are beautiful—but, more than their beauty they are hilarious, intelligent, witty, and observant. That’s why, from the time I read that article till today, I do my best to ask the young girls I encounter about their interests, school, books, outdoors, anything other than their attire. It’s hard, though! Habits are hard to break.
As Bloom put it, “What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.”
Here’s why it’s important to break the habit and start talking about things other than clothes and appearance: “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”
Imagine, then, the frustration I (and others) feel that as girls grow into young women they are still overwhelmed with the magnifying attention that is constantly placed on their clothing in settings where they are supposed to be growing as contributing human beings (like school, religious settings, clubs and organizations, volunteer situations, etc.).
Earlier today I read an article (one of how many?) dealing with a girl whose male history teacher berated her in front of the class about her clothing and her body shape/size. It stated, “The teacher reportedly told Anderson she was in violation of the dress code and should be shopping at plus-sized stores. He then went on to lecture the mortified high school student in front of the entire class on how ‘smaller busted women could get away with more than larger busted women,’ the lawyer said in a statement.”
The girl’s mother addressed the issue on Facebook with the following. “I refuse to put my daughter in a situation where her self esteem is completely destroyed. She is there to learn. This whole time she was missing out on an education while we were all sitting in a room discussing her boobs. How often does this happen to your sons? Seems like another way to keep girls uneducated.”
How long are we going to continue allowing people’s and institution’s ideologies harass and abuse females? How long will we allow the double standard and sole-focus regarding women’s appearances to be the main conversation? When will say enough is enough? This is why we need feminism. This is why females have to support each other, because if we tear each other down, we have taken out our allies. Our intelligence is not based on the head coverings or crop tops we choose to wear, it’s based on what is in our minds and hearts.