Friday, March 23, 2012

Watching What We Say

This post is the second in a mini-theme I am blogging about in regard to how women are perceived and portrayed in our culture. I'm sure that neither you nor I want me to repeat what I wrote in the first post, which can be found here if you're interested. A few months ago BJ referred me to a quick article by author Lisa Bloom on relating to girls in today's culture. (Thanks, BJ, for perusing the internet much more widely than me and consequently finding these goodies.) Ms. Bloom recently published a book entitled Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. I haven't read the book but understand it to be about media and the roles that advertising and culture play in forming a girl's self-esteem. I found her points to particularly apply to me at this point in my life, as I am often spending time with the young girls whose parents are my friends (goodness gracious, I'm old). In her article, Ms. Bloom points out that, in our culture, the most acceptable conversational icebreaker with young girls is to tell them how pretty they are, how their clothes and hair are cute, etc.--you know, appearance-related topics. The impact that this may have on a girl over time is drilling the importance of how, first and foremost, the way that she looks is noticed and judged by others. Ouch! I know that numerous times I have said similar things to girls without even thinking about it--never meaning any harm of course--and I can see where little experiences like those can serve as building blocks to a bigger picture. Sadly, the author noted that 25 per cent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.  To quote her, "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 five 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, 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."

All of this isn't to say that little girls aren't cute! Of course they are, and should be told so in moderation. Just imagine though, how surprised and excited your neighbor's daughter might be if you instead asked what her favorite book is, asked her what she likes and dislikes, or commented on one of her accomplishments first. For older girls she suggests more serious conversational topics, such as asking about her takes on pollution and current events. She states, "You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain." The article goes on to cover the importance of modeling for girls what thinking women say and do. Share your own ideas and accomplishments with girls so that they can see a future for women beyond makeup and clothes. As Dr. Caroline Heldman, professor of political science at Occidental College, noted in Miss Representation, boys and girls at the age of 7 equally express a desire to be President of the United States, but that by the age of 15 a "massive gap" has emerged. I'm willing to bet that it's because A) girls no longer see it as within their reach, and B) it's no longer as important to them, because they have learned from our media and our culture to re-prioritize their goals from fostering the mind to fostering the body.

This topic has been an eye-opener for me, but I have been careful to put it into action the past few months. I have ample practice with Silas' good friend Dacie, who has much more to contribute to this world than just her beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. And next week when I'm chilling with little Ms. Ellie, I'll be asking her about what she's been "cooking" in her kitchen and hearing about what her two-year-old mind has been dreaming.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jenny; I too feel strongly about this! I'm with you in your attempt to interact with young girls in a way that values their intelligence rather than their looks. -Rachel K.