Poll: Do You Talk to Your Daughter About Being a Woman?

BlogHer Original Post

I read BlogHer Contributing Editor Suzanne Reisman's post on religion and violence towards women as I was trying to figure out what to write this post about. It made me sad. Then, as I put away my lunch dishes, my eye fell to my five-year-old's ice-cream-cone art project. Next to her list of vocabulary words. And it occurred to me that I had the ability to influence her understanding of words, of expectations for herself as a woman. Do you agree? Let's take a poll.

I've had this conversation with so many friends. We talk about whether or not we leave the television on in front of our kids. We discuss schools and classroom make-up. But we never talk about talking to our daughters about being a woman.

If you think that being a woman is a nonissue in the Western world in 2010, here's some food for thought.

Do you think your clothing can put you at risk? Judy Clement at Zebra Sounds writes:

It’s not that I’m naieve.(sic) It’s not that I don’t know what they’re trying to say. A short skirt can be interpreted as an invitation, is what they’re saying. I get that, but shouldn’t we at least be pissed off about that? Shouldn’t we be judging the society that allows for such an interpretation? The legal system that has accepted it as a defense? The culture that shrugs and smiles and says, “boys will be boys”?

Please don’t tell me how I’m unrealistic, or how, if I had daughters, I’d know just how these women feel. I already know how these women feel. I’m a woman. I think twice before wearing a short skirt. I’m not writing this post because I have an answer. I’m writing it because I don’t. And because it pisses me off. And because it should piss you off too.

In Canada (where if you have surgery, a woman might have an unwanted pelvic exam while you're unconscious), the following ran in a National Post article about Women's Studies programs disappearing from Canadian universities:

Women's Studies courses have taught that all women--or nearly all-- are victims and nearly all men are victimizers. Their professors have argued, with some success, that rights should be granted not to individuals alone, but to whole classes of people, too. This has led to employment equity -- hiring quotas based on one's gender or race rather than on an objective assessment of individual talents. The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.

Those voices are still out there, still publishing and being heard and accepted without question by a portion of the population. Shouldn't we be teaching our girls to question that? Shouldn't we be questioning that ourselves? And if a woman questions it, shouldn't we be behind her with a resounding hell, yes?

Are we? Ever wonder why we women get so jealous of each other? Why it seems there is no old-girl network? Does this sound familiar? Rae Cattach writes:

Jealousy is rife among girls and women. I frequently see women react with thinly veiled jealousy when they see other women stepping up and claiming a level of entitlement they can only dream of. An entitlement they either don’t know how to, or don’t feel entitled to claim for themselves. Female jealousy is a natural reaction to our collective experience of being invisible and starved for attention. Generations of being the uncared-for carers of everyone else, silencing ourselves so not to upset anyone and putting our needs last, has left women emotionally starved. It is hard to see other women feed themselves with attention, entitlement, self-worth and self-care when you are starving for that yourself. And when we don’t recognise how starved we really are, the reaction to criticise, to put down and to tell other women that they are behaving in an unacceptable manner makes sense at some level, even though it isn’t OK.

And you know what's sick? I'm sitting here writing this article about feminism and when I first saw Rae's site, I thought I was in the wrong place because the masthead is a big picture of her in a bikini. She's a female bodybuilder. And since when do girls in bikinis care about feminism? SEE HOW DEEP IT RUNS? A very dear friend of mine is both a former bodybuilder and the holder of a doctorate in mathematics. *bangs head against desk* I know better than this. But as a woman born in 1974, I am constantly redefining for myself what it means to be a woman.

So, now that I've admitted that ... which kind of mother are you? It's okay. Let's talk about this honestly.


Choice A: She's Two, and I've Explained Woman's Suffrage

One of the reasons I love reading BlogHer is that so many women writing here are so much smarter than I, so much better read, so much more educated -- in terms of schooling and in terms of life. While I'm a feminist, I feel I constantly have to have issues I accept as universal reframed for me. I need to be reminded that while women have come a long way, baby, we still hold more college degrees and fewer executive jobs than men. We still bear the brunt of birth control and child-rearing. I need to be reminded that my foremothers fought hard for my right to make choices about my life, and the roles that I play are my choice, must be my choice, or I'm part of the problem, not the solution. I admire the Choice A woman, but I'm not her. Yet. But I strive to become the Choice A woman.

By the time my daughter reaches puberty, I need to be sure she understands her life will be based upon her choices: whether or not she accepts poor treatment from others, whether she accepts glass ceilings or breaks them, whether she chooses to have children or not, whether she accepts the way her body looks or not, whether or not she loves herself and others. I need to be sure she understands that society will encourage her to hate the way she looks via magazine headlines and reality television shows, but that ultimately, it is her choice. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Choice B: I've Explained Physical Differences, but That's About It

This is where I live now. She's five. I've explained why she must always, always wipe front-to-back, even though boys don't have to worry so much about that. I told her boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, and I'll explain the rest later. I've told her sex is how you get babies, but I didn't explain what sex was. At this point, she still thinks boys and girls are equal.

But now that I'm thinking about that, maybe she wouldn't have if I hadn't insisted her Disney princesses be countered with Princess Bubble and Something for School. I'm forgetting about all the times I've firmly said, "You don't have to get married to be happy. You don't have to be a mommy, but you can if you want to. You can be a mommy and have another job, or do one and not the other. Everyone is different." Because that's what my mother said to me, and it was that message that I carried out into my life, into who I've become, a mother now ready to talk to her daughter about the challenge and glory that is being a woman.

Choice C: I Think This Whole Discussion Is Overthinking It

This is a valid viewpoint. Some women don't want to talk about being a woman, they just want to be one. They lead by example and not discussion. My grandmother never talked about being a woman, but after my grandfather died, she put on her first pair of trousers and jetted off on a PanAm flight around the world. She never talked to me about being a woman because she didn't have to -- in my library now hangs a collage of postcards she sent me from at least twenty different countries as I was growing up. Her travels -- especially later in life for a woman who grew up with a master's degree in home economics and a penchant for chivalry -- told me all I needed to know about needing, or not needing, a man to take care of me.

What do you think?

Rita Arens writes at Surrender Dorothy and BlogHer and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.


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