The answer to this question will shape your daughter’s future
(Excerpted from 9 Ways We’re Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop by Anea Bogue. Copyright by Anea Bogue. Published by Dunham Books.)
One of the saddest and most frustrating phenomena that I witness among teen girls is the way in which so many of them literally lose themselves in boys. I’m not talking about healthy, exciting, and invigorating young love. It’s something very different from that.
Every day, I work with and hear from girls who, oblivious to their own personal value, have become dependent on affirmation from their male counterparts—especially those whom they call “boyfriends.”
More often than not, a girl’s friendships begin to take a back seat, interest is lost in extracurricular activities that once brought her joy and a sense of accomplishment, and grades begin to suffer. Being and doing whatever is necessary to keep her boyfriend happy and close becomes paramount. Over time, she loses touch with her identity and her own personal desires, aspirations, and wellbeing. When the relationship ends, as middle- and high-school relationships usually do, she feels devastated, lost, and often completely worthless.
In light of what girls see, between the archaic “damsel and knight” versions of love in fairy tales and the train-wreck relationships of “reality” television, this is not really surprising. The bar is set dangerously low for our daughters when they rarely see relationships between men and women in which both parties hold equal value and power. Worse yet, as they move through adolescence they are facing plummeting self-esteem and constant bombardment with messages that their value is defined largely by their desirability to males. All of this raises the stakes significantly for us as parents. What we model for our daughters in our own (marital) relationships goes a long way in shaping the way they see themselves and what they believe that they should expect in their relationships. Unfortunately, most of us, thanks to our own programming, are falling short in this arena.
From the time they are little, girls are shown in a variety of ways that being female in our society means that your identity and value are defined by your relationship to men (father, boyfriend, husband, etc.). We do so in the most literal way when we automatically give girls their father’s last name at birth (as is the case even with 92 percent of single moms, including those who know the father isn’t going to be involved), and then again when we expect her to take on her husband’s name when she gets married as an adult.
In my grandmother’s generation, women’s names disappeared altogether when they married. They became “Mrs. John Smith.” Messages of their personal value, related to this male-determined identity, come only slightly more subtly when girls see that the primary mission of most of the female characters in fairy tales and Disney movies is to find a man, so she can then live happily ever after. By the time they are ten, girls are becoming privy to romantic comedies and other adult movies that take over with reinforcing these same deeply impactful messages.
All of this is very much dictated by our patriarchal paradigm, the most prevalent message of which, is that power, prestige, and value are held primarily by men. Most of us were raised and socialized with traditions, belief systems, and perspectives that are rooted in and informed by this model. Consequently, our own male-female relationships almost always reflect patriarchal values.
This societal programming leads us to view males as autonomous beings, so we typically teach boys to focus on their own personal achievement, establish their place in the world, and then find a mate. If we viewed females the same way, we would raise girls to do the same—but we don’t. Instead, we tell them in a variety of ways that the only real access that they have to power in our society and the only road to happiness and fulfillment is to attach themselves to men. In doing so, we shape the way girls view relationships with men—both the importance of those relationships and the role of females within them.
There is no question that the stakes are high. In light of all of the outside influences, it is essential that, as parents, we model relationships that are partnerships rather than rescue missions. We are essentially on stage 24/7, and our children are sitting in the front row. With this in mind, it is critical that we realize that, as mothers and fathers, we are modeling for our children how whole, healthy women and men act and how they interact with each other. What your daughter sees through your interactions as a couple, right from her early years, will shape the way she sees herself as a woman, what she expects of men, and how she sees herself in relation to them.
For information on Anea and her book visit www.AneaBogue.com.
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