Raise boys and girls the same way
Gender roles and expectations in children’s upbringing is something that I haven’t thought too much about in general, until recently. Of course I have found the distinguishing of boys and girls in the toys section alarming, but it was not until a couple of months ago I started to dig a little deeper and deliberately learning more about the different ways we are expected to behave as children only because of our sex, and the unbelievable impact that has on the rest of our lives.
I decided to write this article to learn more and immerse myself in this topic, and I have included photos from two of my favorite photo series by Samera Paz called 'Becoming a girl' og 'GIRL' to emphasize some of my points. This article will be the first one of two. In this text I will focus on how we raise our girls and media's influence and impact on girls, while part two will be more based around the upbringing of boys.
What does it mean to be a girl?
What was the first thing you thought of? Glitter? Barbies? Pink ribbons, princesses, makeup, sundresses, purity or weakness?
I hope you thought strength, empowerment and compassion, but I must admit that it is not easy to avoid thinking of pink when asked that question. It defenatley takes a lot to be a girl, especially when you consider the pressure from society that we have to face every single day. -You should be tall but not taller than most men (ya know, you don't wanna be intimidating), thin yet curvy, sexy but not "slutty", the list goes on. At the same time, you should never get angry, but if you do, you should fight a girl because that is hot™. How on earth did we get to this point?
Today, the easiest way for a female celebrity to transition from a child-star to an adult-star seems to be through her sexuality. Brands like Pink (VS), who originally sells clothing meant for girls in college are in reality targeting younger and younger crowds. Although few retailers dare to admit it, sex sells and the tween market is worth too much money to let such an opportunity go by. All this sexuality aimed at young girls can be extremely harmful and studies show that it is often linked to body-dissfatisfaction, depression and lower self-esteem (ABC News).
This is our culture.
What really opened my eyes to the the negative effects of the new sexual landscape that the cyber age has created was watching a documentary called Sexy Baby. It is an interesting and provocative documentary that questions media's impact on girls' self-esteem and body-image. Throughout the film you meet an ex adult film star, a 12 year old girl as well as a 22 year old teacher who are on a journey to finally acquire a "normal" vagina. While doing research for the film, the team had conversations with many kids ranging from middle schoolers to college students. Some of the things they discovered were that "Having pubic hair is considered unattractive and "gross." Most youngsters know someone who has emailed or texted a naked photo of themselves. Many kids have accidentally or intentionally had their first introduction to sex be via hardcore online porn. Facebook has created an arena where kids compete to be "liked" and constantly worry about what image to portray."
Much of what was once private is now made public and the cyber age has in many ways added to the pressure that women and girls have to face regarding their body and sexuality. As you grow up and try to find out who you want to be, you are easily influenced by what's around you, whether that is the media, celebrities or friends. The unrealistic beauty-standards found on social media, in movies and in the fashion-industry, among other things, are countless. Makeover shows, top-model, and several romantic comedies and disney movies sends the same message: as a girl you should be thin, pretty and fragile. And if you do this you might find a man to marry, and that is it. Of course there are movies that try to represent minorities and break the typical beauty-standards, but what we need a revolution. The pressure to be what society deems as "perfect" is too easily inflicted on young and impressionable girls, especially when the pressure seems to be coming from everywhere. Mom is dieting, the movie you watched last night tells you that complex women are "crazy" and as you open Instagram you can't help but feel insecure and that it is not normal to have pimples. We need more companies that don't profit from making girls feel insecure, we need more diversity and minorities represented and given a voice, and we need to let our girls grow up to love themselves rather than despising their body for not being a size 0 and feel like they have to be dieting.
There are unfortunately may ways that your gender influence your identity and transition into adulthood. It is really all about culture. The advice that girls receive as they grow up, from their family, teachers and friends are often very sexualized. "Don't eat a banana in public". "Don't wear suggestive clothes". "Don't sit like a man". Those types of "advice" are often given, but at the same time it is taboo to talk about sex. It is all ridiculous really. We hardly ever talk about sex in a healthy way. As a girl, you are almost trained to be asexual but suddenly as you enter puberty, or even before that, you have to be "sexy". Now it's time to shave your legs, hide your period from the world and put on some makeup. As a consequence of this, many girls also develop a very weird relationship to their sexuality, and struggle to feel in tune with their body.
Don't even get me started on the difference between toys meant for girls and toys meant for boys. There are so many factors that influences girls' identity and their self-esteem. We become so obsessed with the idea of "perfect", and what counts as a "perfect boy" is very different from what it means to be a "perfect girl". It sometimes feels like our culture does not value what we consider as feminine, like empathy and caring, and our world seems to be so packed with double standards that growing up and figuring out who you want to be (which is difficult on its own) is almost impossible. Not only does society tell girls to dress a certain way, forces sex on them and then doesn't allow them to talk about sex (creating hella confusing feelings), it also does a great job at pitting women against women. Society seems to be designed to constantly pit women against each other, whether it is appearance or career. I believe that the 'girl-drama' that we hear about so often is just another stereotype that we need to get rid of NOW and we should do the same thing about the concept of "perfect".
The good thing is that the revolution has already started, the feminine is rising and the battle is not lost. I believe that women empowering each other and building each other up is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Let's be nicer to each other in small ways, be open, speak with certainty and teach each other to believe in ourselves. Raise boys and girls the same way. We need to fight for a better future for both ourselves and our girls, and we are stronger together.
(Thumbnail photo by me, but all of the other photos are credited to Samera Paz)