“What Makes a Woman?”
Conversations with our Girls
A mere 60 years ago in the United States, half of all young women in the US were marrying in their teens, girls received about a third of all bachelor degrees, and less than half of the states allowed women to serve equally on a jury.
In 1971, only 1 in 27 girls played high school sports.
Thankfully, girls in the US today represent more than half of the undergraduates finishing college, the vast majority will be employed between the ages of 25 – 34, and 1 in 3 high school girls play a sport.
Girls are excelling on the playing field and in the classroom yet the voices in the culture still seem confusing on “what makes a girl”. Words like “nice”, “pretty”, “sexy” and “hot” reverberate. Just take a minute to explore any search engine on the word “girls” – and then try the same with “boys”. The difference between the two is stunning.
The American Psychological Association warns that girls who consume mainstream media place more importance on being pretty and sexy which can lead to an increased vulnerability to a distorted body image, depression, eating disorders and sexual behavior.
Our culture can feel overwhelming at times, invading the lives of our girls 24 hours a day – accessible on a simple phone in a back pocket, on television, print media, social networking, and through the myths and beliefs passed across generations.
The concern is that our girls will lose their individuality and their voice. It’s important for us to stay awake to what the world insists our daughters conform to and offer alternatives to define “what makes a girl”.
Girls learn through experiences and also through our example. Studies of adolescent girls show that although the pull of the culture is strong – what happens in a family between parent and child is stronger.
Girls who feel connected -“feel understood and heard” by their families, their school, faith, or community group will delay risk-taking behavior.
So, how do we connect with our girls? How do we help them build a foundation upon which they can thrive?
Simply listening is a place to start in our conversations with our daughters. The best conversations are ones that are equally weighted – where there is room for silence and each person has a voice. Offering girls an opportunity to calm a flood of emotions gives them a key tool to guide their ability to begin working on solutions.
I recently had the privilege of working with a group of moms and daughters and I asked the girls to write down what they wish their moms understood about being a middle school girl. Here are some of their responses:
I wish moms would know that when we are moody we don’t mean to be mean or angry.
When I say nothing’s wrong I don’t mean it, I want to have a heart-to-heart.
I wish she could understand how important it is to be with my friends – I want space from my mom sometimes and need to feel more independent.
How hard it is to repeat myself when I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.
It’s hard and we’re not perfect.
Sometimes we want to talk to you.
Yelling does not make me listen.
Spending time with you once in a while would be nice.
Show me that you care.
It is hard having to worry about everything.
I don’t like it when she compliments EVERYTHING. I want real input on what I do. “oh, that’s nice” just doesn’t cut it.
I wish my mom knew how sad I am, and how much I’m going through.
In these words, I hear girls looking for connection and consistency with their families – a reaching out for important conversations.