Nothing Gold

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. -Robert Frost

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Location: Arlington, Virginia, United States

I am a white American middle class suburban housewife trying desperately to tell herself that that is not who she is. One time I was a glowing young ruffian. Oh my God it was a million years ago.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On Having a Girl

I'm thrilled to be having a girl, because now I will have a complete collection, but there are a lot of issues that come with having a girl, and I'm getting a little freaked out.
When I was pregnant with Levi, I was worried about having a boy, because I didn't know anything about boys. I was a girl at one time, so I had some understanding of that. Now, it's the opposite. I feel good about raising Levi. I don't know how to raise a girl.
I was at a birthday party for two of Levi's friends from school (twins, a boy and a girl) recently. They were turning 6. I watched them open their presents, sort of, it was a little chaotic. But every time the little girl opened a barbie or a bratz doll, I felt panicky. I wanted to put my arms around my stomach and run off and live in the woods. The little boy didn't open anything I might consider offensive, no guns or violent toys. No muscley gi joes. He got cars and building toys.
I was looking at a toy catalog recently. The boy pages had toys that I thought looked really fun. A lot of them were sciency. The girl pages had fairies and flowers and dolls and play pots and pans. Everything was pink. I realize I can buy things for a girl in the "boy" pages, but wtf is this about? This is 2008. Aren't our daughters supposed to be empowered and taught to be smart and independent, like our sons? Do we really think these toy choices don't matter?
I was at a halloween party that included several 12 year old girls. Two of them had costumes that were rather obscene. When I was that age, I would have had to go to a store called something like "Lover's Package" to buy a costume like that. And they certainly didn't come in child's sizes. I thought things were supposed to be getting better for women/girls.
I remember looking for clothes for Levi and thinking that they made tons of cute clothes for girls, but boys clothes were boring. Recently I looked at baby girl clothes and everything was pink, pink, pink, pink. And sparkly. Do I have to dress my daughter that way before she even has a say? I have no problem giving in to princess wear when she's older, but really? as an infant?

I'm getting ready for having a girl by reading books about raising girls, because that's what I do. I read. I've read lots of books about raising boys.

Aside: The only book about raising boys that I would really really recommend is Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. I would recommend that everyone read it, not just the parents of boys. The main reason that it is so much better than the others is that it deals with individuals rather than averages. It is not about the inherent differences between boys and girls, because those are often not true on an individual basis. It is more about the unique experience that boys have in our culture. One of the other books actually said (paraphrase), "Boys don't hear as well as girls, so make sure you talk loudly to your son." Seriously? Just because the average girl has slightly better hearing than the average boy does not mean one has to shout when talking to a male person. This book doesn't generally pull that crap.

I find that sometimes the books about boys and the books about girls seem to be contradictory. The book about boys will say things like 'school favors girls and shortchanges boys', then go on to explain why this is true. The book about girls will say 'school favors boys and shortchanges girls' and then go on the explain why this is true. I think they're both right. Our schools shortchange both boys and girls in different ways. I think it's important to be aware of those ways and to keep the dialogue going about it. In no way does it have to be about boys against girls or helping one group at the expense of the other. Both sexes should be able to have a healthy school experience and I don't think that those two healthy experiences need to be separate or are in any way mutually exclusive.

I started reading Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher. It is more about teenage girls, but it is a classic and I had to read it. I'm only about a quarter into it, but it is very well written. I would recommend it so far. Like the book about boys above, it is more about the experience that girls in our culture share than about differences between average girls and average boys. But it was published in 1994. I wonder if things are worse now or better. There are some major differences. The internet, for one. And halloween costumes, for sure.
One thing that particularly interests me about the book, is that while she says that things are different "now" from "when we were kids", the book was published when I was in 8th or 9th grade. So I can directly compare and contrast my experience with the experiences of the girls in her book. Sex and drugs and alcohol were not really present in my middle school the way that they are for her girls, but the harassment was there to a lesser extent. I was teased and harassed for developing breasts early, but not grabbed. Alcohol and sex were a bigger deal in my high school, but not necessarily for everyone. But I want to be careful not to generalize the level of temptation I felt even to include the rest of my class. Because teenagers are extremely self centered and I doubt I paid much attention to what other people were going through. One thing the book mentioned is that sometimes this transition can be hardest for smart girls. I think that was true for me. As a child I was proud of being smart and doing well in school. I quickly learned to hide that in middle school. As I entered 9th grade, I was smart enough to realize that I was going to be judged largely on my looks, and smart enough to realize that that was stupid, but not mature enough to sort that out and stand on my own. So I struggled with it. One example: in 10th grade, at 5 foot 3 and half or so, I weighed about 130. That's a BMI of 23. Normal. I decided to get skinny. I lost 25 lbs in a short amount of time. I was underweight on the BMI scale, but not dangerously so. I got a lot of compliments from my adult relatives about the weight I'd lost and how good I looked. I was thrilled, of course, but I was also sort of a feminist and in the back of my mind I was appalled that the adults weren't more worried about my self image. I was on antidepressants in high school and regularly saw a psychiatrist. I was polite and agreeable with her. I didn't really open up. I told her I was fine. She asked me every week whether I had a boyfriend. She seemed concerned when the answer was no. She said things like, "you're so pretty, you should have no problems getting a boyfriend". I didn't really care whether I had a boyfriend. I saw that she was trying to make me feel good about myself, I thought it was stupid, I went along with it to be nice. I said thank you. I got out of there as quick as I could.
I'd been through health and sex ed and various girl power education. I'd learned to be careful about eating disorders and that girls can be as smart as boys and that looks didn't matter as much as what was inside. But I was smart enough to see too that a lot of that was bullshit. That even the adults that spewed that rhetoric were judging me by my looks. How is someone who is not a well adjusted adult supposed to deal with that kind of juxtaposition? How are they supposed to learn to respect themselves? I did learn eventually, over time, and I suppose I'm still learning.
I really really don't want my little baby girl to go through all that, but I know she's going to have to and that there is only so much that I can do to protect her. I'm terrified.


Blogger P3T3RK3Y5 said...


12:34 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Krautter said...

You turned out pretty well despite confused parenting. Your children have and will have love at home. And from what I've seen of pre-teen girls, even when they pretend to not like thier parents, the ones that are loved love themselves.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Shelly said...

Maggie, I've been thinking about this post for a long time. Still can't say I've entirely thought through it, but wanted to offer a couple things.

Growing up a girl is super tough. In a lot of ways. It's possible Adah may be a roll around in the mud and slingshots kid and not want a doll ever. That's one way of growing up girl that gets a lot of crap. Making sure she's supported and loved and encouraged in that (with role models - women athletes, etc.) is a big help. But it's also super dangerous like you talk about to be a pretty girl and have huge amounts of super pressure on you. And be encouraged to dress in horrifying ways really early.

It was REALLY important for me growing up to have a parent on my side. (My mom would have been much happier had I not turned into angry drama smoking teenager and instead been fighting off school dance invitations from jocks like she was in high school.) But my dad was all over it - he was buying me books from the women's studies section of the bookstore when I was in middle school. He stood up to the principal and the school board with me when I was challenging an unfair rule. He taught me that authority must be questioned and earned. He told me to never apologize for kicking boys' asses on math tests. He stood up for me, and would always cheer me on and tell me "Good job" when I would come home from school furious that we were learning that white people "found" America and that there were no women in the history books. He taught me to fight, and he taught me that I could ALWAYS come home and have backup. This doesn't mean I was immune from all the bullshit (obv I was a mess in high school) but it has kept me strong and sane in myself even into my adulthood, in speaking up in class, in challenging douchebag boys, in being ambitious. Adah having parents on her team matters a LOT. Teaching her about what's out there, what's going to screw with her, and giving her tools to fight it, and encouragement in doing that, matters.

One more note: I remember when you lost all that weight in high school. I *was* worried about you. People were worried about you. I'm sorry I didn't have the courage to ask you if you were OK.

Also, as another p.s. Michael Kimmel's "Guyland" which just came out is a pretty good look at what young men are supposed to be to be "men" or whatever - I recommend it. Might be illuminating for what Levi's going to start facing in 5-10 years.

8:01 PM  

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