Your sons and daughters deserve better than this, Mom and Dad!
I recently witnessed something in the park that bothered me greatly (and you've likely witnessed something similar) ...
A young boy and a young girl were learning to ride their bikes. They both had the same brand new, expensive Schwinn bikes; the boy's bike was blue and the girl's bike was pink (in typical fashion). Both kids were clearly ecstatic to embrace the open air, almost vibrating with excitement to ride their bikes.
With a parent beside each child, I watched as the girl tried to ride hers first.
With only a couple of minutes of direction and assistance from her mother, she picked up the basic skills right away and soon, with her mom close by, she balanced nicely on her two wheels and started to slowly circle the park.
Meanwhile, the boy tried with his Dad beside him ... and he struggled. A lot.
Finally he fell, scraped his knee, and I saw the tears well up in his eyes. Then I heard the words that made my heart go cold; his father told him "Don't be a girl about it" and then, suggested that the boy get back up and try again.
Many questions ran through my mind:
- What does that say to the boy about how he expressed his feelings?
- What does that say to the boy about his sister, who picked up the skill faster than he could?
- What does that say to the little girl about what her father (or boys) really think of her?
At a young age, children are like sponges. The vocabulary we expose them to and the environment they live in leaves lasting psychological impressions on the way they think, what they believe, and how they conduct themselves (and treat others) later on in life.
Using the word "girl" in a derogatory way is still unfortunately common. Here are 4 ways it inflicts serious damage on, both, boys and girls (impacting their self-esteem and their relationship with one another):
1. It implies traits and behaviors considered "feminine" are bad
Mary Anne Trasciatti, an Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Hofstra University, explains, "To be associated with being a girl is considered bad. This is not just a problem for girls but a problem for boys."
Why? Because when a girl grow up in a society that doesn't value her because of what she is and not who she is, it's detrimental to her confidence and creates a cycle of submissive, self-limiting thinking. When a boy grows up in that very environment, he subconsciously accepts the notion and continues the patriarchal tradition of downplaying women and their efforts (no matter what he thinks of his mother or other women in his life). It also forces him to suppress traits associated with the looked-down-upon sex (girls), resulting in him showing less compassion, vulnerability, or expressing emotions.
2. It imposes unfair (and untrue) ideas about what girls can accomplish
Remember the powerful Always, #LikeAGirl super bowl commercial? It showed this kind of behavior perfectly! Adults behind the camera asked participants to perform tasks "like a girl." In response, older kids and teens (boys and girls) pantomimed performing poorly, weakly, and without effort. Why? Because the common gender stereotype about girls, or women, are not cable of performing as effectively as male counterparts is a notion these young people have already absorbed from our culture. But when younger girls were issued the same challenge, they modeled strength, power, and confident effort. Clearly, the idea that girls are weaker/less than is taught, not actual fact.
By enforcing these types of negative gender stereotypes in our interactions with our own children, our kids grow up with false biases that negatively affect their interactions with other people. Dr. Elizabeth J. Meyer of Psychology Today calls this "unconscious bias."
3. It shames children for expressing their unique, personal choices
Now more than ever kids have more personal choices for expressing themselves and living the lives they desire, regardless of society's preferences. Telling kids who enjoy more "feminine" targeted products that they shouldn't reinforces the idea that "female-ness" is bad, but also that something is innately wrong with the them as a person.
Not all boys like sports and action figures, some like to cook and nurture babies. And that's OK. Not all girls like pink and unicorns, some prefer adventure and science. And that's also OK. Their choices aren't about being a boy or a girl, it's about their unique interests as a complex human person. When you imply their choices are wrong, they hear you telling them who they are as a person is wrong.
If we demoralize a child's personal preference of expression, we hinder their psychological growth which can negatively impact the way they conduct personal and professional relationships for the rest of their lives.
4. It pits kids against each other
When you specify to kids any differences of the sexes beyond anatomy, you're putting an emphasis on an "us vs. them" mentality (good/bad, better/less than) before they're old enough to understand what that means.
Stores like Target are removing gender lines of separation from their various departments to create a more gender neutral shopping environment. By doing so, they're showing equal respect for what we once deemed "masculine" or "feminine." The negative connotation of the phrase "don't be a girl" loses its impact, as a result. And kids are free to just be kids.
We're all working on changing our language (including me!)
In my own vocabulary (i.e. my texts/conversations, especially it seems with men), I myself am known to quote, "I am [just] being a girl" ... and that's not OK language, even for a woman! How long will it take before we fully phase it out of our societal norm? It's time (once and for all) society realizes that "being a girl" isn't something negative, but rather something to celebrate positively with the same enthusiasm we embrace "being a boy."
Gender and generational communications are still evolving. Are your communication habits getting in the way of you having the job, the money, or the relationships of your dreams? Contact Fiona Fine for help improving your communications with the people that matter the most.