Last year when my daughter and I arrived at school before the bell rang, she ran up to the handball court and jumped in line. A boy said, "No girls allowed. Boys game only.” She didn't say anything. He said it again, "No girls allowed, boys game only."
She looked back at me, smirked and stayed in line. I almost cried; I was so proud.
I spent 24 years of my childhood and adult life passive, shy, sweet, and pretty. I compromised who I was to fit what others thought I should be. With the help of an amazing English teacher, some solid therapy hours and a few awesome books, I became aware of the person I was pretending to be, and what I was squashing to fit inside her.
I also realized, my daughter is living in the same world I grew up in. Isn’t it my job to reveal the influences around her, so that she can move through it secure and rooted in herself?
Below is a list of things I was taught and what I would like to teach my daughter.
1. Everything you see in magazines has been Photoshopped.
- What I was taught: I should be one of those women.
- What I want to teach: Women do not look like that and here is how Photoshop works. Oh, and, women have way more to offer than what they are offering in that ad.
- My opinion: Photoshop is Photoshop. And manufacturing an image isn’t going anywhere. But, girls need to know what they are looking at: a 10-hour day with lighting, hair and makeup, and another 10-hour day of photo plastic surgery.
2. Your weight is perfect as long as you are healthy.
- What I was taught: Use that measuring tape!
- What I want to teach: You are perfect!
- My opinion: If you are taking care of your body and giving it what it needs to be healthy, then you are the perfect size for you. Everyone is different. What matters is how you nurture yourself.
3. Barbies and Dolls are OK.
- What I was taught: Barbie is my life!
- What I want to teach: Barbies and Dolls are cool, but be aware of how not real they are. If Barbie was life size, she would be dragging her head on all fours and have some major organ issues.
- My opinion: Dolls are here, and if she wants to play with them, I won’t stop her. But I will let her know that a real human body does not look like that, and I will ask her why she thinks only one body type is made when there are all sorts of sizes in the world.
4. Allow her to read "The Hunger Games" series.
- What I was taught: What female heroes?
- What I want to teach: Awesome!!!!! Read as much as you want!
- My opinion: Katniss kicks butt. Thank you Suzanne Collins. Please make more strong female characters.
5. Isis, Athena and Artemis are pretty cool.
- What I was taught: Only male Gods exist.
- What I want to teach: There are many sides of the story. Artemis carries a bow and arrow, hangs out with wild animals and protects young girls. How cool is that?
- My opinion: I love religions. Monotheistic, polytheistic, they are all fascinating to me. Deities are archetypes. Girls (and women) need to be introduced to their half.
6. Calling you ugly is not flirting.
- What I was taught: When a boy likes you, he will twist your arm and call you fat.
- What I want to teach: Boys who don’t know how to express their affection for you in a kind and respectful way are just bullies.
- My opinion: I never really thought about this until a boy threw a ball at my daughter’s head and I caught myself saying, “Oh, I think he likes you.” I was horrified. Is this what is shaping future courting rituals? Is this what is shaping what love is to her? “When I say you are revolting, what I really mean is I like you?” No, she needs someone who can express what they mean by really saying what they mean -- not by putting her down first.
7. Don’t swallow hurtful comments
- What I was taught: Shhhhh, your thoughts don’t matter.
- What I want to teach: Throw those hurtful comments back.
Boy: “You/re ugly.”
My daughter: “And you need glasses.”
- My opinion: Don’t allow those hurtful words to go into you. Toss them from whence they came. This can be done tastefully without stooping to a lower level. It can be done in a way that says, “hey, don’t talk to me like that. Your anger does not belong to me. You keep it.”
8. Who cares about those holes in your jeans?
- What I was taught: Don’t ruin your clothes
- What I want to teach: Sometimes you just need to sacrifice a new pair of jeans for a slicey. (Actually she taught me this. I gave up saying anything after the fifth pair.) On the LAUSD elementary handball courts, a slicey refers to a type of hit where the ball is only inches from the ground.
- My opinion: If she doesn’t mind sporting holes and scraped knuckles, cool by me. Her body, her rules. Her movement and freedom does not need to be limited by aesthetics.
9. There is no one idea of beauty.
- What I was taught: This is what beauty is.
- What I want to teach: What is beauty to you?
- My opinion: Beauty is not some innate biological standard we all must measure ourselves against. Our idea of beauty is learned. Intelligence is beautiful; health is beautiful; kindness is beautiful; empathy is beautiful.
I try to ask questions rather than only stating facts. What do you think happened to all the female gods? Why, in some countries, aren’t girls allowed to go to school? Why do you think there isn’t a female president? Are men posing in pictures in the same way as women? And if not, why? What do you think that lyric means? Everything is an opportunity to ask a question. And, sometimes I am floored by her responses.
I asked her if she wanted to add anything to this article and she said, “You should say how girls believe that they are weaker because they are taught that they are weaker, so they don’t even try, even though they are stronger. They don’t know it, because they don’t believe it.” Uh, I get teary-eyed just writing it.
Very soon, my influence will diminish and her social group will have more impact on how she identifies with the world. I want to teach her how to think, how to ask why. She does not need to accept how things are. She does not need to participate in something that does not strengthen who she is. She can be a part of the change, even if that’s just being herself.