18 May 2010

Momma, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Powerless

When I was in high school and university (late 80s/early 90s), there was a movement toward educational equality.  Teenage girls were encouraged to consider careers in male dominated areas, like the maths, sciences and engineering. We were told that we could excel if we put our minds to it.  The days of being forced into subservient roles was over and we were the generation of women that would shatter all the barriers.  We were encouraged to think, to question and to strive for our dreams.  The boldest, most empowering part of this message was that we were valued for our minds, not just our bodies.  Brains trump breasts.  Grey matter is more valuable than a tight ass and killer legs.  Your mind is your greatest physical asset.

What has happened to feminism?  Over the last thirteen years as a teacher, I am seeing a disturbing trend taking hold of teenage girls.  Many young women are handing over their power.  I often talk to my students about the ways of modern teenage life.  Let me relay some (disturbing) insights that they have passed on to me:

A large number of 14 year old (and younger) girls are now sexually active.  Mainly because they think they are supposed to be having sex to be normal and popular.  TV, movies and music make it sound like all the cool kids are having sex, with multiple partners.  Nowadays, the "good" girls are "only" involved in oral and anal sex, because that way they won't get pregnant. 

Girls are still pretending to be dumb to attract boys.  Boys don't like it if they feel inferior to a girl.

Alcohol, Ecstasy and marijuana are common ingredients at most teenage parties.  Girls are often so drunk and/or stoned that they have severely impaired judgment or they may pass out, leaving themselves open to sexual assault. 

A surprising number of girls are still hoping to attract a wealthy mate to take care of them.  It is considered amusing to be elected as "most likely to marry for money."

Many young women are being verbally, physically and/or sexually abused by their boy friends.  Often they are too scared or embarrassed to report the problem or to seek help.

It's time for a revolution.  A raising of female voices.

So, mothers of the world, sit down with your daughters.  Tell them that they are worthy of respect.  Let them know that they have exceptional abilities beyond tantalizing the opposite sex.  Make them aware that they are greater than the sum of their body parts.  Let them know that they should come first - that their goals and dreams take precedence over everything else.  Encourage them to take care of themselves and to carve out a future of their choosing.  Inspire them to be powerful, smart, headstrong women that can take the world by storm.

33 comments:

Jess said...

I'm a teacher in the UK and we seem to have the same problem. As a relatively 'young' teacher they seem to want to tell me things which is great but some of their stories are so disturbing. One of the saddest things I hear is girls being cruel about other girls. Whatever happened to the sisterhood?!

tumblina said...

I'm happy at least a few of those girls have a powerful, smart, and engaged female science teacher to show a better way - and then you can ship them over to me. My 1st year physics labs are sadly only about 17% female. I'm hoping that other physics courses in the university have more, but I'm not holding my breath.

I think the parents of boys should be working on them too - how many teenage girls will keep up the victim act if all the guys keep falling for the smart and strong girls?

Netter said...

I don't have a daughter, but I'm damn sure going to raise my son to see women as something other than a sex toy, an accessory or a punching bag. He's going to see women as people and his equal... Which means I'm going to have to counteract a lot of social programming!

tarabu said...

Hear, Hear!
There is a great deal of social programming to fight against, from the clothes we buy them to the television they watch, and quite frankly I think some of these girls need to have it drummed into their heads that they are worth more than their midriffs.

Katie said...

this revolution has been fought by our grandmothers...passed on by our mothers...and we have to teach our daughters & sons! The fight is always the same, the story repeats again & again, & strong women will always be there to meet it head on. Look, there you are, right on the front lines! Go show those kids what empowered people can do!Great post, you are so cool!

Nancy K said...

Yet women in their twenties and thirties, even women in careers that they would have had a hard time getting into 30 years ago, don't think of themselves as feminists. They don't see this sexualization of young girls as sexism, but you are right it certainly is. In this country I blame not only the media, but the lack of real, comprehensive sex education for our girls and boys.

Uta said...

I am the mother of a girl, and I hope and pray she will keep her (very, very) strong will, sense of self, integrity. I also think, this is equally the responsibility of mothers with boys - raise them to be receptive to others' (and their own) feelings.

Sophie Miriam said...

I wonder if this is a backlash against what feminism turned into. It seems to me that most of the people nowadays who are vocal about being a feminist (at least in the media and on blogs) are of the "feminism means that men and women are exactly alike" variety of feminist.

Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but the message I hear loud and clear around me and my friends and acquaintances in real life (as opposed to TV and internet) is that women and men are equal but different. And in the vast majority of cases, we girls aren't weak and we don't objectify ourselves, and the guys don't objectify us.

Vicki said...

Done! Both my daughters are confident young ladies. Neither have had boyfriends, do not party and do well at school/uni. And I do hear what can go on from them. We are very lucky.

Gail said...

My daughters attended an all girls school were feminism is taught as a 'religion'. Interestingly though my eldest will not define herself as a feminism. She reckons that feminism has "no role in a post-modernist society". Well at least she is articulate!

Summerset said...

Unfortunately, sad but true. We're raising both our son and daughter better - for her to be strong, independent and to excel at whatever talents she has; for him to be a real man, not just a "taker" and "user" of women.

Sue said...

That's so sad to hear. I have two boys and hope that I am raising them right. My eldest is (hopefully) on the right track as he tells me he doesn't like the giddy 'dumb' girls who are all about looks.

Maggie said...

Shannon, thanks for this post. I have been watching this sad downfall myself and wondered where it would end. Why did we let the media send women and girls back to being sex objects...and even worse ones than what we fought against in the 60's? Look at the type of women projected in things like Bad Girls and Housewives of LA etc. They can laugh at June Cleaver and Donna Reed all they want, but they were respectable ladies. I'm old enough to remember girls wanting to be thought of as ladies. I remember phrases like "mixed company"...that was when you had a lady or young lady in the group. When that was the case, no one would swear, tell an off color joke, or mention any topic that would be offensive. they garnered respect. I always said that women are their own enemies and I still think that is true. I've also heard that the downfall of great civilizations was started with the role of women.

Myra said...

I think the real problem is complex and a spiral effect of many decades. I believe women can do whatever they wish and do it well, but there are differences between men and women physically that just "are" (men are usually stronger, etc., so certain physical jobs are more male-suited unless a women is strong enough to perform the same). The main problem is media's depiction of casual sex, disregard, etc., and has spiraled out of control. In our small town, there are so many unwed mothers, and seems to be a perpetuating trend, too. I am not judging anyone, but like someone above mentioned, the classic ladies of yesteryear were ladies and there was prescribed behavior. Now, anything goes and thus, kids have picked up on that. So sad for our future.

Dana said...

Bravo! I'm so proud that my daughter (9) is fearless! When she was 3 her sitter said, "She really knows what she wants." She didn't get that trait from me but I'm sure glad she's got it!

Sew Passionista said...

God bless you Shannon for putting this topic out there. As a former High School teacher, I recognize a few of the girls you are describing. As the Nana of a 13 year old girl,it makes me realize all the more that communication between a young girl or boy and parents/grandparents is more important than ever.Thank you.

ElspethT said...

Hi, I am a daughter. And I am here to say that, unfortunately, my peers and I are a product of our environments as much as anything else.

I recently (less than two weeks ago) graduated from college with my Bachelor of Science in Engineering, and I can tell you that sexism is far from gone. My experience in academia has been a mixed one. There are teachers out there who are "gender blind", but, unfortunately, there are those who see me as little more than blonde hair and boobs.

It is tough to have my teachers, people I should admire and respect, treat me as though I am worthless. And this is something I have experienced since middle school. It's not restricted to higher level academia, but to the people who influence our sense of selves when they are still developing, when we are most vulnerable. I can say with complete honesty that if it weren't for a teacher in my senior year of high school (and my parents, of course) who gave me the confidence to believe in my science-y skills, I would have given up on them all together, convinced I was too stupid to understand something as simple as a parabola.

Carol said...

Don't get me started on this subject (and I don't even have a daughter). I live and work in a small country town where I see girls as young as 16 deliberately getting pregnant so their boyfriends will marry them. Is this 1955? I saw a television programme recently about women who think it's time we stopped fighting for equality and stayed at home and raised babies! If it is your choice to do so and that's what you really want, I fully support you but if you are like me (and maybe you, too) you might like to choose something other than staying at home to take care of your husband. It's about choice and having the education to know that there is a choice. Two of my young staff (under 20) are girls like you describe who every Friday tell excited stories about how 'trashed' they will get over the weekend. There was also a pregancy scare recently and I asked the girl in question what she was doing have unprotected sex. She said she was on the pill. I asked her again why she had unprotected sex. Short story is that she had no idea that she could contract a disease and possibly die! Then she trumped it all by saying she didn't really like the guy anyway. Like that made it OK. Young women today are two or three generations removed from those women who picketed and made their voices heard. Try telling them that not long ago they would have had to ask their husband if they wanted to buy something. Try telling them that not long ago they would have had no right to vote or own property. My father told me that I could do anything I wanted to. Not because he was into equality, just that he couldn't see why I couldn't and that is the attitude I entered the world with. I tell every young woman who stops long enough to listen that they can have anything they set their hearts on, if they are prepared to go and get it. Sorry for the long rant, but I hear you and I am passing it on!

Marie-Christine said...

Disheartening to hear that's the case in Canada too - we're so used to think it's better up there :-). But what you say definitely goes with what seems to be true everywhere.
Fortunately for your students, they have you. A flaming teacher will be remembered, you can be certain :-). Thank you from all of us...

Coco, not as in Chanel :) said...

Honestly, to hell w/ feminism. How about girls/ladies just not act/look/behave like whores? And the blame doesn't always fall back on the parents. I know. My husband and I raised a daughter in a Christian home, with morals and ethics. Today, she is a thriving drug addict and whore. She steals on the side. The guilt we felt was tremendous because we believed initially that we FAILED. We didn't. She caved to worldly things, and is suffering the consequences of her actions.

sewing spots said...

Homeschool:) Unfortunately, it does require a parent to stay home with the kids to do that. DD is aware that most teens, even boys, don't take calculus, much less in 10th grade. But she didn't find that out until recently and realized that this is something to be proud of!

Anonymous said...

Our oldest daughter, born 1974, always had an inner strength and drive which we encouraged and she got her mechnical engineering degree though she was only 1 of 2 females in her class. She's had a rough time in the business world balancing her brains with femininity but she has succeeded! I want the same avenues open for my granddaughter and constantly tell her she can be and do anything in her life even if it's not popular with her peers. I hope she hears me and becomes a strong woman like her mom.

Karen in Houston

Bobbie said...

What a great role model you must be. As a mother to 3 girls (and one boy) I have seen this phenomenon first hand. I think the media is to blame for alot of this attitude. Look at most of our trashy tv shows (21/2 Men,the Hills, Jersey Shore) etc etc...ugh ...they all portray women as objects and sex as a casual hobby.
Thank you for speaking up

Janis said...

It's going to take strong and committed parents and teachers to turn this tide. Popular media continues to objectify women (and it's gotten much worse since the equal rights movement of the 70's), so it's really the only thing many of these girls know. I'm an elementary school teacher, and I know the profound impact teachers can have on their students. I'm thankful your students will have a "powerful" role model in you.

Barbara said...

Thanks for this and it made me sad because I know you are so right. I teach in a university and my first years come to me from highschools and this culture. Women may have moved ahead but the boys are still the boys, they just ask for more these days and expect it.

These young women don't respect themselves enough and I feel one of my jobs is to show them a woman who does.

We are sexualizing our girls at far too young an age and setting them up as prey.

Interestingly I also am teaching a gender and professionalism course this summer. Why all this cleavage is not work appropriate always comes up for example. The sad thing is that young grads who have gone through this history enter a work place where older men take advantage of them too.

The sad thing is that despite all their bravado these girls are hurting and still just wanting someone to care about them. Not a lot has changed.

My only answer is that the rest of us as older women have to model strength and self-respect. Women still have to learn that they have to do things because it is right for them and not just because someone else wants them to do it.

Painful post Shannon, but reminds us of our responsibilities to the next generation.

Skitzo Leezra Studio said...

It's such a many layered question. The reason feminism didn't truly succeed is women. For every serious and smart woman with standards, there are 10 bimbos with no shame and a dearth of fabric on their bodies. Check out the younger girls wearing Bratz-inspired whore wear which their mom thinks "cute". Bimbos competing in "love"and bachelor television shows, not to mention wet t-shirt and bikini contests. Add to that, a whore is not a whore anymore = single mom with 4 kids of different dads. WTH?
Guess it comes down to: shame is no longer alive. While women made huge strides in ridding themselves of some shades of shame (unmarried, working, birth control, individuality), the all-or-nothing shame purge went too far. The walk of shame is eagerly discussed. High school mamas have celebrated baby showers. Sex tapes and sexting abounds.
No clue as to the solution.

Mardel said...

Thank you for this post. It is an important issue for all women, now and in the future. But we not only have to support our girls, but change the way we train our boys. It is not just the older generations. And unfortunately I know lots of mother's who let the boys be boys because that is the way it is, and there are far too many role models for them, role models which only perpetuate sexism.

Steph said...

You're so right in your assessment of problems in modern femininity. Perhaps some of the problems are attributable to the porous nature of the nuclear family? I believe someone of my grandparent's (or great-grandparents') generation would have referred to the breakdown of society through the breakdown of the family.

One niggling issue- I ALWAYS had to play dumb to have friends. Not just boys. If you're a strong-minded female who can actually think, you are ostracized nearly to the point of suicide. If you're lucky you play dumb for a few years, become an adult and decide the act is stupid. It is really, really hard to be different and I don't think it is just girls being stupid for boys. Girls like to keep each other down.

Steph said...

Also, to the woman who suggested homeschooling: I was home schooled because the strain of constantly playing dumb and not having enough to do in class was creating a monster in me. It worked. I think in very different ways than most of my peers, and I'm glad of it.

amber said...

A fantastic post Shannon. I know my mother-in-law has a whole speel that she tells young women about knowing your own self-worth, what you want in life and not compromising your beliefs for a boy. I always enjoying hearing it and think that kind of blunt conversation should be shared with more young girls and women.

blue.crab said...

Thank you Shannon. As a mechanical engineer for the past 7 years, I have had to deal with thinly veiled disrespect from people not believing I could do the job I was hired to do. Quite frequently (still!) I get talked down to, or worse, talked over. I'm glad to hear that you are influencing a new generation of girls in the arts of science, and trying to undo what girls think is the way to behave. I hope you know that you are making a difference.

samantha said...

Couldn't agree more.I thank God i don't have a girl...Couldn't cope with all this non sense.

French_Seam said...

It's the same in the UK. I teach 10 year olds, and they mostly want to be footballers' wives or lapdancers. Seriously.
Mothers should bring up their sons to have more respect for women, and we should be able to restrict the really nasty porn that is now everywhere.