I think we want to pigeon-hole all the things that are wrong in this world on the decisions of someone else, usually a parent. And while sometimes it may be accurate, oftentimes, it’s just a rash judgment on something you know little or nothing about.
When my daughter was in fourth grade, I received an email from another mother.
“I just wanted to say how grateful I am that our girls are friends. A 5th grader started picking on Joy on the playground, and your daughter stood up for her. You are really raising her right!”
I think about how awkward it felt for me to approach a group of parents, a group where we all shared a common interest in our daughters’ soccer team. And then I think of how difficult it must feel when there are true differences between you and other people, when the circles seem impenetrable because they are made of steel.
It is a tight-rope I walk with my daughters. I want them to feel empowered, beautiful and accepted as they are, but I know that self-confidence is more than receiving compliments. Learning to accept and manage criticism, whether constructive or malicious, is an important life skill, yet I feel crushed between the desire for honesty and the motherly instinct to protect them from pain, whether from me or someone else.
They are threats and barbs and put downs and intimidation tactics and insults. They made me feel frightened and nervous and panicky and anxious and uneasy.
Should I be tougher? Should I ensure my daughter is tough enough to handle these itty bitty little words?
So, I wonder, when my daughter looks in the mirror, will she hear my voice saying she is beautiful on the inside and out, or will she choose to purge her last meal? When a young girl ostracizes her on social media, will her father’s words ring in her ears, reminding her of her strength, or will she choose to cut her skin to deal with the pain? When a boy pressures her to move forward too quickly, will she remember her worth or succumb to peer pressure?
I looked at the carefully posed photos of the gorgeous women who appeared in all colors, shapes and sizes, highlighting their beautiful bodies with captions of #mermaidthighs scripted underneath. It made me wonder: “Do my girls need to identify with a thigh trend to feel body confident? Can bodies even be a trend?”
We keep telling our girls that they can do anything and be anything, but the cold reality is they can’t. Women are constantly in sexual danger, and it limits our potential. Until we change the conversation from who gets raped to who commits rapes, the “Rape Culture” in our society lives on.
I’ve been struggling lately. The way I parented my “little girls” does not seem to be working with my tween-agers. I’ve used every tool in my toolbox, and I often still come up short of feeling like I know what I’m doing.
When we tell our daughters consistently that girls are jealous of them, we are perpetuating a stereotype we’ve lived for too long. While insecurity is still a major problem — and the main reason for the “Mommy Wars” — jealousy should not be the go-to excuse in our feminist toolbox. Instead, we need to teach our kids how to navigate difficult relationships and improve communication as opposed to merely writing off behavior as a jealous rage.