Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gender and Sexy and Little Girls

I've been doing some pondering on raising little girls, particularly around the ideas of gender stereotyping. Some of this was from my recent following of Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies on Facebook, which has been providing all sorts of thought provoking little nuggets, and I even ordered her book Redefining Girly (although I have yet to read it).

But there have also been moments of personal reflection. This blog article about girls' clothes does an excellent job outlining the problems with the children's clothing section at Target. Add the additional frustrations of sorting through hand-me-downs of super skinny jeans with "cutie" on the ass and a child who is wearing clothes several sizes above her age, and you have my realm of little girls garments.

(Please note, Gymboree clothes aren't quite as bad for following the super trendy neon crop top trend and go up to size 12. Hanna Andersson is beyond awesome for "clothing little girls to look like little girls" and they go up into tween sizes with little girl playdresses, so long as you can foot the price tag.)

Kristina has a plush Buzz Lightyear doll that hangs out with her "important but not most important" stuffed animals at the foot of her bed (you know, the end where she's been insisting on sleeping at for the past month for no apparent reason). On a recent evening, as I was settling her down for the night, she told me she doesn't want to bring her Buzz Lightyear into school for pajama-and-lovie day because her friends would make fun of her for having a boy toy.

And that was a hard moment for me. How do I actually talk to her about peer pressure and gender stereotypes and how to navigate this sometimes shitty world?

I started with, but Buzz Lightyear is totally awesome!!

She grinned, and agreed with me that he really is awesome. I covered that she shouldn't worry about what her friends think of her, to just be herself. And I attempted to get into how kids can like whatever toys they like, whether or not they're a girl or a boy, before she got sidetracked onto an unrelated idea (a common occurrence).

And I think for right then, in that moment of conversation, it was handled well. And I think being aware of it in a general sense and trying to gain additional information on top simply thinking about the matter is an excellent place to start.

But that's not enough.

The base core of "how do I help my daughter see pass crappy but overly integrated into every day society stereotypes without giving any undue pressure for her to behave in any particular way?" is still hard to realistically answer. 

I was thinking about myself as a child, and how I thought of gender and being a girl. How did my parents address or not address these things with me? What helped me that can help Kristina? What was missing that I can add?

And what I realized was that my mother did an excellent job teaching me the fundamental idea of valuing the female mind.

Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue just hit newsstands, and there are all sorts of articles out there about the objectifying of women, exposure to children, and adding to the unrealistic body images inundating our society.

My parents did not have Sports Illustrated magazines in the house. My parents read Newsweek and the local paper. My parents listened to NPR and watched the news. My mother did not fuss with her hair or layer on makeup, only had catalogs selling LLBean-esq clothing, and carried on long and involved conversations with my father and her friends about current events dealing with 'foreign affairs in ___ country' or 'new legislature up for a vote in the senate'.

There were a few awkward side effects of this upbringing, such as my "dressing like an old lady" clothing phase (oh boy, was I ever into those found-at-thrift-stores sweater vests when I was about 12...) when I was attempting to navigate my own personal sense of fashion for the first time. Makeup was a skill I learned from friends two years after everyone seemed to have figured it out, I have read a half dozen fashion magazines in my life, and hair.... lets just say taming hair is still something I pretend to be working on occasionally.

But overall, it gave me a very practical and firm foundation of what was expected of me as a person.

And this line of thought made me suddenly pause to think about that Victoria's Secret catalog sitting in the stack of mail on my kitchen table. Intentionally or not, it does send messages to children. Images stay with people, regardless of the intended audience. And someday they will flip through whatever catalogs are laying around, looking at the models within, to learn about how to be a grown up.

So what do I want them to learn?

Those Victoria's Secret catalogs just might have to go... and maybe some of the worst offending for gender stereotyping toy catalogs while I'm at it. 

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