I have built up a pretty thick skin towards institutional misogyny. Growing up Catholic, I was carefully conditioned to accept my lot: I could never be an altar boy; girls were seductive; boys were smarter; positions of power were always held by men; Eve’s sin is my burden; my rolled uniform skirt is the reason that girls get raped; eyeliner is Satan’s paint, etc., etc., etc.
Even when it came to abuse, Catholic teachings forced girls to accept the blame if they were molested. The female victims (especially the young teens) were “fallen women” (Think about it – have you ever heard the term “fallen man?”). Honestly, if I have to hear one more person question my motives about my work or tell me that the only reason I didn’t come forward sooner is because I “led the teacher on” and I “wanted it” … it won’t be pretty.
Institutional misogyny never surprises me. But what always surprises me is when I hear good, non-institutional people speak the subtle language of hatred towards our girls.
Want some examples?
“Girls are mean”
“Boys are so much easier to raise than girls”
“She wanted it”
I’m not saying these things aren’t true in many cases. What I am saying is that the above statements are equally true for both boys and girls.
We are quick to talk about how vicious and catty preteen and teenage girls are. We even see it on television (remember Mean Girls, anyone?). But when we talk about bullying of boys, many parents see it as a necessary rite of passage. Junior high fights, physical threats, and other mischief are seen as the fault of the boy who is the subject of the violence. He’s told to “man-up.” (Another crappy message, but that’s a whole different topic)
It’s hard to be a girl. Heck, it’s hard to be a kid. We live in a culture where girls’ idols are overly-thin in a world where our girls are heavier than they have ever been before. Our focus on our bodies is not new. We have played with Barbies since the 1950s. We saw Brooke Shields on billboards and partially nude on film when she was barely 12 years old. Girls saw Barbie and Brooke and wanted to look like them. And when they didn’t, the self-hatred set in. This pattern is nothing new.
I’m not saying that we should throw away our girls’ dolls or force them to turn off the television and the radio. What I am saying is that it’s difficult enough to be a girl without parents and other adults predetermining how girls will act at a certain age. Or giving girls a message so often that they simply fulfill a prophesy by taking a wayward path paved in words.
Language is a powerful tool. Children hear what we say and aspire or devolve according to our spoken or implied expectations. Girls who are told that “girls are mean, liars, evil, difficult, slutty and/or worthless” – more often than not – become those very things.
Institutional misogyny is difficult enough for women, let’s not allow our subtle language to become yet another unnecessary burden for our girls to bear.