Would you say that to a boy?
I have four girls to raise. Four!
I have been entrusted with these four precious people and making sure they grow up to be the women they are meant to be. What a responsibility and honour. It’s something I think about a lot. Especially the difficulties that could arise when raising girls in today’s world. I’m sure you know what I mean. We’re surrounded by messages from the media about the role of girls in society that are not too positive. We’re trying to combat that in our home.
I want to raise strong confident girls. I want them to know that they are more, much more, than what they look like. I want them to know they can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do. I want them to know they are important and valuable and powerful. I want them to feel empowered. I want them to know they are loved and that they deserve to be. I want them to know they are worthy of respect. I want them to know they are beautiful inside and out. I think we’re succeeding in sending them these messages so far, but it’s not easy. We can be conscious of what type of media they’re exposed to at these young ages (what type of tv they watch, etc), but society still seems to want to tell them who they should be any chance it can get. People make offhand comments all the time about what they should do, and that is harder to avoid. Do you know what I mean? Here’s some of the things we’ve heard…
‘She knows what she wants doesn’t she? I bet you’re not looking forward to the teenage years!’
‘Bossy little thing aren’t you!’
‘Good luck with that one!’ (sarcastically referring to one of my children)
‘She’s going to have to find a husband who doesn’t mind her being the boss’
In ALL of the circumstances when these were said, my girls weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Nothing that alarmed me or that I thought they shouldn’t do. In fact, sometimes they were doing things that made me proud of them! Like sticking up for themselves, telling someone they did not want to do what they were trying to get them to do, speaking their mind confidently. What message do these comments send to my girls about who they are supposed to be and how they should act?
Girls should be compliant. Girls shouldn’t be ‘bossy’. Girls aren’t leaders. Girls who speak their mind are trouble. Girls should be quiet and well mannered. Girls should do what they’re told. A girl’s goal is to find a husband.
Not only do they get comments about how they should act, but also how they should look.
‘Oh she has beautiful long hair doesn’t she?’
‘Oh no, don’t play in the dirt! You’ll get your pretty dress all dirty!’
‘Oh look at you, such a pretty girl all dressed up!’
I can almost guarantee the first thing that someone will say to my girls when they meet them will be something to do with their appearance. What message are we sending here?
A girl’s worth is based on how she looks. Girls should have long hair. Girls are expected to dress up to look ‘pretty’ for other people. Girls don’t get messy and play in the dirt.
It’s not just what people say either. Having 4 girls I notice so often how differently they are treated when they are around boys. If one of my girls wants to go play in the mud I often receive questioning looks from others as if to say, ‘is this ok?’. Or they might get a comment from someone like ‘oh no, you’re going to get all dirty!’. If my girls are playing rough they are much more likely to get a warning of ‘someone’s going to get hurt!’. If someone does get hurt, they are more likely to be met with affection and cuddles and soothing words, whether they’re ok or not. Whereas boys in these situations are met with comments like ‘oh well, boys will be boys’, ‘you’re ok, dust yourself off’, and ‘what a tough boy you are’. Again, the message is loud and clear. Girls are sweet and polite and clean and fragile. Boys are strong and tough and messy and capable. I know it’s not always the case. But these comments and scenarios happen much more often than I like. They’re so counterproductive to the messages I’m trying to send my girls so they stand out to me like a sore thumb.
Let’s redefine what it means to be a girl and let go of all of these extremely outdated assumptions. Some of these comments come out automatically because people have heard them said by their parents and grandparents. Let’s not let our children hear them said by us. Ask yourself, would you say that to a boy?
A girl is precisely whatever she wants to be. Maybe she likes traditionally ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ things. Maybe she likes both! Who cares? She is an individual. She is powerful and strong. She can speak her mind when she wants to. She is more than her appearance. And the same goes for boys! Let’s just put away the assumptions and treat all children like people. The beautiful fascinating individual people that they are.
So what could we say instead when talking to girls?
We could start with not talking about them in front of them as if they’re not there, and instead talking to them. Little ears hear everything and understand more than you think.
We could choose to simply not comment at all. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing.
We could focus on other qualities instead of appearance (‘I saw you running just now, you’re such a fast runner!’).
We could choose words that encourage and support instead of judge (‘Thank you for telling me how you feel’).
We could ask questions (‘What are you learning about at the moment?’).
Let’s choose words that build our girls up and help them grow up to be strong confident women. Not words that tear them down or try to tell them what they should be. Words are powerful, it all starts with us.
“Here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them.”
It’s always important to work to become aware of our subconscious ideas about gender. I think it goes both ways, though. I’ve seen little, little boys told to brush off being hurt and sometimes it’s just heartbreaking. Those little guys are also deserving of a big hug rather than being asked to man up at a tender age. So we need to question these things both ways & not just assume that the way we treat boys is best and the way we treat girls is second best. In many ways girls are treated better.
I get what you’re saying, though. My little girl has naturally curly hair and we literally cannot go to the grocery store without a stranger (almost always women) commenting about how pretty her curls are. It happens so frequently that, at 3 years old, she told me that she wished she had straight hair. I asked her why and she said that she doesn’t want people to say that they like her hair. :-/ Unfortunately it’s strangers, so there’s not really much I can do about it other than never leave the house again. Perhaps, though, this would happen to a boy too and it’s just bc it’s a slightly unusual trait to have? Who knows, but I totally agree that sometimes a sweet smile and how do you do will suffice. 😉
Yes I definitely agree, which is what I said in the post too. Little boys often told they’re ok and to be tough when they need comfort. Let’s just treat all children like individuals hey!
I can identify with what you said. I have curly hair and as a child so many well meaning adults complimented me on it. I became fixated on my hair, wishing it was straight. As I grew older I became overly fixated upon my appearance, hiding behind clothes and make up. I didn’t nurture my intelligence or other qualities. My parents, like others of their generation, tried to put me in a defined role, although I was a tomboy at heart. I grew up lacking confidence and today as a grandparent those feelings remain. It was only in later life that I finally took a degree.
Beautiful post! I so agree with you in so many ways! I am a very assertive woman and when I was working in the corporate world I was told several times how bossy I was…. So disrespectful!
I have two boys and yes, they are expected to be tough and never show their emotions. I don’t want that and that’s not what I’m teaching them. I want them to be strong and gentle and brave and kind and that it’s more than okay to show your feelings…. It’s hard as well with boys. I have a highly sensitive boy and he gets often a comment when he’s crying about something like this: oh he’ll learn when he goes to school! Oh I get so mad internally. I’m so done with social stereotypes, and bullying and all that crap! Ugh!
On the other side, my second child has curly red/auburn hair – and just as the comment above, he gets way soooo many compliments from strangers all.the.time! Some ladies are very polite and stop to make a comment to my oldest but generally he doesn’t get any. He hasn’t made a point or comment about it just yet (he’s 3.5 yo) but I really don’t want him to feel that he is not good enough just because of his hair!
Anyway, thank you for your post. You have a beautiful way to write and express your ideas and feelings that I truly appreciate!
Love seeing all your pictures!
It’s so funny bc she’s never had anyone say anything negative about her hair. It’s always “oh, look at those gorgeous curls” or something like that. But 99% of the time that a stranger says anything to her or us it’s about her hair. Somehow she internalized that she stands out & she doesn’t like that (already!). I’m pretty sure she’s going to turn out to be an introvert just based on how she plays at playgrounds; with lots of kids she’ll shut down, but give her 1 “friend” and she blooms. Anyway, maybe that has something to do w/ how she’s taking it.
I have a daughter – now an adult! – whose lovely, curly, auburn hair got a lot of attention. It was the first thing everyone commented on – her beautiful hair. It made her angry that no one even saw her face, her personality, her carefully chosen clothing, her freckles, her anything else. As a teen, she cut off that beautiful hair. She dyed it. She straightened it. She wanted desperately for people – strangers and friends/family alike – to see beyond her hair. Now as an adult she still struggles with hair issues. Every time she tries to go natural and let it grow out, she starts getting comments at work, at the movie theater – wherever she goes. All anyone sees is the hair. Today it’s short and pink. I miss her lovely hair, and I feel a deep sorrow that I may have contributed to her hair anger before I realized the problem. I have always loved all of her, but the hair was always easy to compliment.
Thank you 🙂
I love this! My 9 year old sister is what we would call a ‘Tom boy’ she plays with boys toys, she likes to shop in the boy section, she plays with mainly boys! She plays rough and loves to get dirty. The main comment she gets is ‘she’s going to be a lesbian!’ It’s disgusting how in to days day and age sexism is still so prominent. That funny thing is, the children she plays with don’t think twice about the fact she is a girl wearing boys clothes or she can show the most boyish boy up in a wrestling match, if the children she has grown up with never pass comment, why can’t the parents learn a little something from there children?!
I have a boy and he owns a pram and doll, he has free run of what he plays with and what he’s in to. There is nothing worse than forced idealisms. It’s sounds like your doing an amazing job a shaping lovely, well rounded and strong girls and the older they get and they pass on these values to their children or there peers, it’s one step closer to a nicer world 🙂 x
Gosh people can be so thoughtless!
I love this one! I have a boy and a girl, and it’s interesting to me how often people chalk traits up to sex when there’s so much more involved — birth order, interests, the households’ economics, siblings and their temperaments, blah blah blah. Anyway, I was a tomboy as a child and my sister and I spent our days catching reptiles, digging in mud, assembling skeletons from bones we found or climbing trees. My daughter is, if asked, a ballerina princess on most days, and the comments I get most about her center on her size. Starting at six months! Yes, she grew quickly, but geez. Yes, that’s a size 5 pant and we’re no longer rolling them up. Who cares if she is taller than all the 3-year-old boys you know? She’s also faster and can hop further on one leg. I wish we could stop comparing based on many things, but I guess strangers need something to talk about when they stop you on the street.
As a mum to 2 girls this really resonates with me! Yes, I want my girls to be strong, independent and confident women whose courage, thoughtfulness, intellect and creativity are heralded rather than their clothing or hairstyle. I have to admit though, sometimes it is hard parenting the child of the adult I’d like them to become. Courage can cause me to internally gasp at their exploits; thoughtfulness and the resulting hurt from interactions with thoughtless people can be painful to watch; intellect can make my head fit to burst with the never ending questions; and all that independence and confidence… Well sometimes I have to have A LOT of patience!!!
haha yes me too!
I currently have one little girl and I have been thinking about this very topic. She is 3-years-old and I make sure to tell her things that make her feel empowered as well as encourage her to do things independently that many parents might just do for their kids.
I agree that we should be focusing on their qualities rather than their appearance, I do make sure to tell her that she is beautiful both inside and out a few times a day. I also love what you said about not talking about them while they are in the room. I hadn’t thought about that, but what a great point.
Thank you for posting such a thought provoking post. I also loved to learn about your little family.
Thank you for reading 🙂
I think you are right. We need to ask our selves would you say that to a boy and we need to start saying some softer things to our boys too. Male or female we all have the same feelings and ideas and we need to make sure our kids feel safe exploring their likes and dislikes no matter what gender they are. Thanks for posting!
A book I read recently is absolutely on this topic. ‘When God Was a Woman,’ by Merlin Stone.
I thought it would be good, but it was absolutely paradigm-shattering.
Along with Weston A. Price’s ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ it stands out as one of the most influential books I’ve ever read (and I’ve read probably thousands by now (including ALL of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce!)). The idea -or research- is that of a vast and negative power change back in history. The way things are is simply due to masculine might- a group (not quite a race per se) of people who still remain in power. I don’t want to bang on about it, but if anyone is looking for a serious investigation in to why girls/women are so manipulated from an early age to believe they’re so much less, then this is most definitely the very best book to read.
Yep. I never use the word ‘bossy’ to describe anyone. My girl has strong leadership qualities and that’s how I talk about it
Great post. I fully agree, but just want you to know I have boys and people says these exact same things to me all the time. They comment on thier looks, raise eyebrows when they play in the mud, talk about my younger one’s independence and mention he’s going to be a handful when he is older. I’m not saying that is the norm, or that we shouldn’t focus on raising strong, smart, independent women. I think it does happen more to girls and am glad you bring attention to it.
I have three boys (twins and another close in age) and get a lot of ridiculous comments — many of which are negative — in front of my kids. The ones that push my buttons most fall along the lines of “it must be crazy and messy and chaotic in your home” and “aw, poor mom, they’re all just going to leave you one day and not be emotionally close to you at all when they get married.” Um, that’s not who I’m trying to raise, but thanks for pointing out these cultural standards. So it’s not just girls who get the ridiculous messaging!!
Oh goodness, I have two boys and often hear “your Son’s your son till he gets a wife, your daughter’s your daughter for life” wow. Thanks. Really helpful and not at all depressing/ridiculous!!
Love this! You seriously plucked the words directly from my thoughts. I have three girls and this.is.perfect.
Thank you 🙂
Good article, i am raising 2 children (one of each type of bits) it is so hard to get people to see tgem as CHILDREN not gender isn’t it!