Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dumbing Down

I have something to say. Shocking, I know.

I caught myself at work today telling all the little girls that they were "cute" or "gorgeous" or "pretty". Sure, I don't know them, so that's a pretty safe observation when you're dealing with mostly strangers, especially in a vulnerable situation. It's easy, superficial, and it doesn't make the conversation too serious. Parents with children with them at the Food Bank most likely don't want to get into it with them. And so, calling a girl cute or pretty is safe.....but I don't do the same thing with little boys. I call them "buddy" or "dude" I tell them they are "cool" or "neat"; true it's also harmless and light and safe, but it's different. I am not creating a commentary on them based on their physical looks and assuming that their physical looks somehow interpret their innate worth. Yes, my comments are harmless enough as they are simply meant to diffuse a tense situation, but this is something that bigger than just me at work. Why do we consistently comment on little girls and their physical appearance as somehow equating to their worth as a human? I don't go around telling little boys that they are "handsome" or "dapper" or "cute" nearly as much as I do with girls. Oh I know that all my textbooks from University have explanations in them. I know that this is a social construct that has been created because we judge a female's worth on her physical attractiveness whereas we allow judgement on men to be based on their intellect and ability to provide in some form or another. We sexualize young girls far more than we do boys, we encourage young girls to be thin, and conform to our ideal beauty at a far younger age than we do boys. If you want quantitative stats on this just go online. I guess what I find so interesting about this is that I know the damage this does to girls; I studied it for 4 years in University and yet I catch myself doing it. I know better than that! Why don't I talk to those girls about school, or about books, or about who their favourite woman is? Sure, I don't do that with the little boys either, but I am also not reinforcing their importance or notability on their physical appearance. I believe in raising strong, smart, funny, independent little children. I see a lot of the same children over and over and it does get to a point where they understand what is going on and that their family is somehow "lacking" (not my belief, but a general feeling that many of these children will internalize) because they are accessing assistance from a community agency. If I can somehow empower a little girl to see herself as worthy and smart and important based on her brain and person rather than her looks and perceived beauty.

So now I am conscious of this. Tomorrow at work, each little girl that I meet I will ask them how school was, I will ask them what their favourite book is, I will tell them that they are pretty rad for helping their parent(s) with getting groceries. Changing the way I address little girls in and out of work may not change the world, it may not even change how these girls see themselves and compare themselves to social standards of beauty, I may not even reach one little girl is having her understand her importance as a brilliant addition to our world, but all I can do is try. I hope that if (hopefully WHEN) I have a little girl she grows up understanding there are no limits for her based on her physical appearance. Rather, because she has a brain and uses it she will be good - not because she is "beautiful" or "cute" or "gorgeous".

So today go ahead and tell the girls and women in your life that they are beautiful, but tell them that they are smart too and that's just as awesome, because it is. Brains are cool.

Found these rad buttons that speak the truth here.

1 comment:

  1. Our culture, that thing that we are drowning in, really does make us conform. I know how bad plastics are for the environment, I read about it and learn about it and preach to people about it. But they surround us. And I still "consume" them. Same thing. We know what's right and when we are in the right mind-set, we do good. But then we slip back into the cultural norm. Part of being human.