Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Parenting a Girl

Being a father to a daughter has made me far more aware and interested in how women behave in public and how they are portrayed in the media.  On the whole, I have to say I'm a little frightened.  Not that boys fair much better, but, based on overheard conversations in and around town, a lot of girls sound, well, ditzy.  The overuse of the word "like" in sentences that do not contain similes, is a major contributor.  The one verbal habit that I see way, way more in girls and women, though (and one that I am trying to drum out of my daughter) is the infamous upward intonation - where everything they say sounds like a question?  I've tried explaining to the Bean that people who talk this way usually sound as if they have no confidence in what they're saying and that they sound like they are seeking approval of everything they say from their audience.  I'm trying to teach her to be more confident about her ideas.  She doesn't need approval from anybody.

Sadly, swearing and cursing was once the domain of boys and men.  Girls and women, made of sugar and spice and everything nice, wouldn't even think of swearing.  In my old age, I realise how coarse it sounds coming from anyone, but, call me sexist, swearing just seems to sound so much worse coming from a female.  Though I have had a potty mouth since a young age, I try explaining to the Bean that swearing not only sounds bad and is offensive to most, but it is a form of linguistic laziness.  I will continue to try to encourage her to find more thoughtful ways of expressing herself and will continue to try to do the same for myself.

Media do women a disservice as well.  Of course, women are generally portrayed as sex objects.  Beer commercials are the quintessential perpetrators of this objectification.  I cringe every time one comes on.  Before I had my daughter, I admit I was at best indifferent to this form of advertising.  Now, I hate it.  Some feminists say that women's sexuality is a source of empowerment.  Okay, but sexuality to the exclusion of any other trait is, well, wrong.

The media seem to take great glee in putting the worst of womanhood on a pedestal, as either idols or objects of derision.  I don't understand the appeal of the Kardashians, for example.  Empty headed bimbos who are famous just for being famous; pouty and self-absorbed one and all.  Paris Hilton has been both idolised and mocked by the media.  Amy Winehouse (may she rest in peace, finally), Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears.  The media seems to take particular glee in women's misfortune, much more than men's.  Or am I being overly sensitive?

One of the shows my family and I watch is "Cash Cab", a general knowledge quiz show on the Discovery Channel.  I've noticed recently that whenever men and women get into the cab together, the women inevitably sit in the back seat.  The men are always the ones to answer the questions and the women always defer to the men.  Sadly, I have also noticed that when only women are in the cab, they win far less than when men are involved.  I scratch my head at why this seems to so often be the case.  This doesn't fit the character of any women that I know.  My wife and I have been lucky.  Both of us have had the opportunity to spend long periods of time at home with our daughter.  The Bean has been exposed to both of our interests and between the two of us, that covers a lot of ground.  The Bean strikes both of us as a really well rounded kid.  She loves arts and crafts, sports and science, math and fashion, music and computers.  To be honest, at eight years-old, she does quite well on the questions they ask in this particular show.

The Bean brought something to my attention last year that I had never really considered.  She started writing a letter to the editor about how the television networks don't show nearly enough womens' sporting events.  In the letter, she talked about how girls need positive role models in all walks of life including sports.  She felt, rightly, that women's sports were every bit as interesting as men's sports, especially to girls, who make up roughly half the population.  She is a particular fan of hockey.  We Canadians love the game.  Aside from the Olympics, I can't remember the last time a network showed an entire women's hockey tournament.  She never finished that letter, but I think I'll ask her to find and finish it.  She makes many good points.

I really hope my daughter doesn't grow up pigeonholed by the gender stereotypes society still seems to cling to.  I hope she grows up a strong, confident and smart woman who marches to her own cadence.  I love when women excel in fields normally the domain of men, and I try to point these women out to the Bean.  One day I was walking around the neighbourhood and I saw one woman up on a roof with a bunch of men hammering in shingles.  Later I saw a woman sitting on a stool with a bunch of tools taking apart a motorcycle engine.  Brava ladies and thanks for, maybe unwittingly, setting an example.

I think my little girl will be alright.  She already loves a lot of stuff normally associated with boys.  Last summer we built a birdhouse together and before we began the project, I bought her a hammer, and I may as well have given her a pot of gold she was so happy.  I am going out later today to buy her her own screwdrivers for Christmas.  She'll be proud.

In the end, we just want the Bean to be a strong and confident person and to be exposed to as many experiences as possible so she can choose a path that suits her best.

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