I’m a big fan of girls. First of all, I am one. And I have 2 daughters. I was raised by a strong, single Mama and, while I’m not sure my Grandpa ever knew it, it was Grandma who ran the family. I have been surrounded by strong women my entire life.
Strong women: May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.
So it was a little odd when, a few months back, my daughter asked me if I was a feminist and I hesitated. I wasn’t sure. As it turns out, I absolutely am. I looked it up, read the official definition and so now I know. I do believe woman and men are of equal value. I’m not even sure why that’s still a question. The sun rises in the East, the world is round and women and men are of equal value.
But…here it is…my hesitation…I have a son, too. And it seems as though, somewhere along the line, things got confused. We started to think that celebrating and supporting our girls meant that we needed to put our boys down. Like kids in the schoolyard, we’ve sought to make our girls stronger and more confident…but sometimes…we’ve done it by telling our daughters, our sons and ourselves that the girls are better than the boys. Some of it is overt. You hear, “Girls rule, boys drool!” on the bus and at school. That trendy little slogan was also emblazoned on pink, glittery notebooks in the back-to-school section at Target this year. We have t-shirts for girls that proclaim them “faster than the boys” and let you know that “I beat the boys”. Some of it is more subtle and lies in our expectations. Just today, a friend told me that a teacher told her her that she shouldn’t expect her son to do as well in school as her daughter because, although he is a very bright kid…he’s a boy. <insert eye roll>
Here’s the thing about these statements…they’re sexist. You know how I can tell? I just flip them around. Is it okay for anyone to put down or tease or daughters because of their gender? Of course not. If a teacher ever presumed to suggest that one of our daughters wouldn’t do as well in school because she was a girl…we would lose our collective minds, wouldn’t we? Right. Then it’s not okay for our sons, either.
There seems to be this persistent perception in our culture that girls need our support. And they do. So do our boys. Since the 1950’s boys have been steadily falling behind girls in school. Boys have higher drop out rates and are less likely to get a college degree than the girls. (Women earn 57% of all bachelor’s degrees in the US.) We’ve latched onto the notion that the girls need our help, but failed to note that the boys are falling behind. Our boys need us too.
I do want to support our girls. I am FOR THEM. You know who else I’m for? Our boys. All of them…boys and girls together…the whole crew. The lego-lovers and the sports nuts, the science-kids and artists, the future zoologists and the future engineers and the future teachers. I want them all to succeed…together.