What are they teaching girls—and boys about girls?
I don’t have a daughter and raising a son has been far from a piece of cake, but lately I’ve been getting chills about what some mothers of girls must be going through. My son is ten years old and starting to get interested in “preteen” stuff. God help us.
I let my son pick his shows when he watches TV and I keep an eye on what he picks. It used to be that he was only interested in cartoons – Cartoon Channel, Sponge Bob, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ben Ten, that sort of thing. I’ve watched plenty of this stuff with him and aside from the loud and rapid-fire action that I think promotes ADD I didn’t really mind them. I found their content for the most part inoffensive and often quite funny. They are action-packed, full of blasting gadgets and high speed vehicles, and kind of gross – the way boys like it. In fact, most of the cartoons that are on TV seem to me more geared towards boys than girls. I don’t even recall coming across any “girlie” cartoons.
Lately, however, I’ve caught my son starting to watch non-animation, relationship-oriented, preteen shows that seem to me more geared toward girls than boys. I don’t care about that part. What has disgusted me is the way girls are portrayed on these shows. First of all, their attire.
What the boys (generally between 12 and 14) wear on these shows is standard stuff: t-shirts, polos, jeans, khakis, sneakers, etc. They all have unremarkable hairstyles, mostly neither too long nor too short. Girls, on the other hand, are always dressed to the hilt, complete with hairdo, makeup, jewelry, fancy shoes – the works. This already is bad enough. But the shocking part is how body-revealing their attire is. The clothes are often skimpy and curve-huggingly tight and frequently reveal skin. And of course the girls are all super skinny and “gorgeous” whereas the boys are quite average in their looks and sometimes even overweight.
A friend of mine was recently telling me that her close friend’s teenage daughter and her friends have been doing self mutilation. They cut themselves. This friend’s girl has a little extra weight on her and is full of self hatred about it. Another one in the group had recently attempted suicide and all the families are duly freaked out. They are desperately trying every resource and remedy they can find. This sort of thing doesn’t seem so common with boys.
Another thing I have noticed in these preteen shows is that the girls all have attitude. While the boys talk and behave normally, the girls have very unnatural manners: they giggle unnecessarily, they prance around showcasing their nubile bodies, they do pranks on boys (stuff you would never see boys getting away with), and, boy, do they roll their eyes an awful lot. They do not have a thought in their minds except for dates and clothes and catfights. Not that the boys have a lot going on for them in the brain department either, but at least they’re not so showy about it.
As I watch these shows I am appalled and thoroughly disgusted. If I had a daughter I would also be worried out of my mind. What kinds of things are girls learning from this culture? How to be vapid? How to be a sex object at an increasingly early age? How to have no aspirations but to fit age-old female stereotypes?
And what indeed are boys learning from this culture?
The other day I was shopping with my son and I asked him to go look for some dates for the desert I was making. He came back with a sly look on his face and said: “I didn’t find dates but I found a date.” And he pointed out to me this young girl, about twelve or thirteen, dressed in skimpy shorts and a slinky tank top, belly button and cleavage exposed. I appreciated my son’s pun but I was flabbergasted to see what his idea of a “date” was. Oh my God! At age ten he has already gotten the message that you date girls like that.
It is really depressing. Now, I’m not too worried about my son’s taste. I think by the time he’s of dating age he will know better. At least I’m going to make sure he learns better, though who knows whether people act on the best things they learn in life. I know that I generally lose no opportunity to point out to him all the different kinds of falseness that the media is constantly bombarding us with. But still I do worry about what he is learning about girls and women.
If I had a girl, however, I would be a great deal more worried. I would be worried not just about the ideas in her head but also about her physical and mental health. This particular falseness that is relentlessly propagated by the media – that is, what is expected of girls to be considered beautiful and attractive – is positively dangerous for girls.
As I look at the spunky, free-spirited girls dangling from the jungle gym at my son’s elementary school I shudder to think how they might change in a couple of years. Will their natural glow be covered up by makeup and their lithe bodies enslaved and exposed by dictates of fashion? Will their free movements be replaced with self-conscious awkwardness or provocative mannerism? Will their natural self confidence be replaced by “attitude”? And will the unnatural, inwardly insecure, full of mannerisms, little sex kittens with attitude be what boys find attractive?