By Melissa Janisin of Goodness Madness
If you’ve ever been denied something because you were a girl, then you know how it feels. Stunning, not only because you’re prohibited from getting it, but also because you’ve found yourself requesting such a thing in the first place.
This was exactly the position I found myself in: aged nine and on the sidelines while my dad taught my cousin John the ins and outs of trumpeteering. Or whatever they call it.
“You can’t play the trumpet,” my dad told me at the time. “You’re a girl.”
I remember this well, not because it was particularly upsetting to me (Well, maybe for a minute, but, you know. I didn’t feel the call of the horn that strongly). I remember it because I’m pretty sure it was the one and only time that either of my parents said anything to me “because you’re a girl.”
Being a girl did not equal special allowances or encouragements. There weren’t limitations or threats to boyfriends. No one suggested I quit combing my Barbie’s hair and instead send her to medical school. Nor did anyone suggest that listening to baseball games on a transistor radio late into every evening was not a “girl” thing. Looking back, it was almost as if I was not a daughter as much as a non-gender-specific human child who happened to read a lot. And like baseball. And Barbie.
Which, if you ask me, has worked to my distinct advantage.
I don’t have daughters. I’ve been asked many times if I was going to “try for a girl,” and my answer has always been, “Probably not because my husband has had a vasectomy, so even if I did manage to become pregnant with a female, I’m guessing he’d feel a little resentful.”
I have no daughters to tell things to, and yet, I have things I want to tell them. So in their absence, I will share the five things I wouldn’t say to my daughters (because I’d never say them to my sons):
You can do anything boys can do. First of all, this implies that boys are doing all the desirable things, while girls can only aspire to them. Which is false. Second, saying “you can” sort of suggests that maybe there’s another “you can’t” side to the argument. Of course you can. And I think it’s time we stopped planting the seeds of doubt.
You’ll have to work harder. Why? Harder than whom? A man? Who cares? You’ll have to work as hard as you’ll have to work, but it will seem a lot easier if you’re doing something you love. I wouldn’t tell my boys they’ll need to work harder than anyone else – even though I’m sure they will, if not at one thing, then at another – because bitterness is counterproductive. Do something you like, work hard. Someone’s always going to have it easier than you. Pay them no attention. Keep moving.
You’ll get paid less. Maybe you will, and if you truly believe you’re not getting what you’re worth, then you should find something else to do. Lots of people have lots of reasons why they think they should be paid more than they are, and sometimes, the reasons behind it are seriously unfair. But what you focus on grows, and if you’re constantly on the lookout for unfairness, I guarantee you’ll find it. Girls and boys alike.
You don’t need makeup to look pretty. Here’s the thing: a person with a bitter and angry heart rarely looks pretty. A person who feels less than everyone else doesn’t usually look pretty. A person who feels her own motives are suspect might have a hard time with it as well. Telling a teenaged girl that she doesn’t need makeup to look pretty turns her desire to try it into something desperate and semi-pathetic. I don’t tell my 8-year-old son that he doesn’t “need” to spike his hair in the front to look good; I just assume he likes that hairdo, hit him with some hair gel and get on with my day. Assuming that a girl wants to wear makeup because she feels she “needs” it is actually pretty insulting, if you ask me. Maybe she doesn’t care about looking pretty. Maybe she just wants to look interesting. Let it go.
You should go into a STEM field. Maybe girls need more encouragement in this area than boys do. Maybe they’re too intimidated by the male dominance in these fields to enter them confidently. On the other hand, maybe we’re not giving girls enough credit, and maybe they need to know that traditionally “girl” things are perfectly fine, too. Loving your job is important. Rather than encourage my sons (or my imaginary daughters) in one direction or another based on what I consider success, I hope I’ll encourage them to really know what they love and to do it. Of course, in the back of my mind I’ll be really, really hoping what they love will be neurosurgery, but, you know. My wishes can’t be their wishes. And I only hope that I’ll remember this when it comes time for them to choose.
What do you think? If we stop prepping girls for a struggle, might they become even more successful? If we don’t tell them there’s a glass ceiling, might they shoot straight through it without a second thought? And if we value the “girl” things just as highly as the “boy” things – well, isn’t that when we’ll make things truly equal?
About the Author
Melissa Janisin is a mom of two and stepmom of one, living and working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She writes nearly everything down on a daily basis, and shares some of her observations at Goodness Madness. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.