Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Redefine Girly: A New Way to Parent Young Girls

Guest post by Melissa Wardy

I am rather certain that raising kids has never been easy. First there were saber tooth tigers, then troublesome things like plagues and famine. Take into account marauding armies and the carving out of a New World…there is a lot these days that parents take for granted.

Today there is a new kind of danger we have to protect our kids from: the corporate marketer. Marketers are relentless in their efforts to build life-long consumers of our children, and they aim hypersexual and gender stereotyped advertising directly at our kids to do it.

I believe the sexualization of childhood will soon be seen as the children’s rights issue of our time. Sexualization affects both boys and girls, infant through high school. Sexualization affects all races, economic classes, and geographies. It robs children of their right to childhood, to hit psychological developmental milestones fairly, and it affects their self-esteem and body image.

Parents hand their children toys that don’t look like children, but instead reflect a sexily dressed woman’s body frame that is literally unachievable to 99% of adult women, yet we shake our heads when we hear that 5 and 6 year olds are beginning to say they are fat and need to diet. Our society encourages girls to play with coquettish princesses and scantily-clad fairies, only to slut-shame these same girls in later years.

The commercial sexualization of childhood has gotten to the point that parents have to go out of their way and many times spend twice as much money to keep their home free and clear of clothing, toys, and media that sexualize and marginalize their children. In mainstream, suburban American shopping there is a chasm running through childhood – one side is pink and the other is blue.

When my daughter was born and I would spend the day holding her and dream about catching lightening bugs, teaching her to ride a bike and kick a soccer ball, reading “Little House On The Prairie”, and flying kites. A childhood fit for a Norman Rockwell piece for the Saturday Evening Post.

When my tiny girl was a few weeks old, I needed to restock on diapers or pacifiers or some such thing and went shopping at our local big box store. I came home mystified. My eyes were glazed over from pink pegboard and walls of plastic dolls that looks like sex workers and tulle and tiaras and slogans on every shirt that read “I love being the Princess” and “Daddy’s Princess” and “Sweet as Candy” and “Angel” and “Sassy, sometimes Sweet”. The excess of tiaras and rhinestones had done me in.

This was girlhood? This was how I was supposed to raise my daughter? And why was everything pink? I couldn’t understand it, and thought perhaps my post pregnancy hormones had made me time travel. You know, to 1950.

I wasn’t about to raise my girl to wish upon a star and wait for her prince. I’d rather teach her to get into a rocket ship and reach that star for herself. I wanted that message on infant girl clothing, but couldn’t find it. At least, I couldn’t find it on the “girl side” of the aisle. Then I had one of those a-ha moments and I filled page after page with ideas and drawings and plans…..for what would become Pigtail Pals.

I don’t see childhood as having a boy side and a girl side, not in the first several years. I see childhood as a time for brightly colored, unstructured play fueled by powerful imaginations and the understanding all young children seem to have that the world is their oyster.

I have worked diligently to keep our home media literate, gender neutral with toys, and full of playthings that are open ended. My husband and I try to keep gender stereotypes and sexualization out of our home.  I certainly will not be teaching my daughter, who was named after Amelia Earhart, to sit quietly and be pretty. I flatly refuse to teach her that her beauty is her worth.

I believe girls deserve better. I believe we need to change the way we think about our girls. I think girls should be allowed to dream in every color. I think girls should have the freedom to imagine growing up to be a doctor, a race car driver, a pilot, or an astronaut. Today’s girls are being raised by a generation of women that is the most well educated, most well traveled, most liberated to ever have walked the earth. But you wouldn’t know it after an afternoon of shopping.

I raise my girl to be smart, daring, and adventurous. I don’t think those things belong on the “boy side” of the aisle. I simply think they belong right in the middle of childhood.

Melissa Wardy is a mother of two who owns and operates Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly, an online store and media literacy blog that aims to change the way we look at girlhood. Our empowering products show girls they may be smart, daring, and adventurous.

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