I just loved reading Anea Bogue’s 9 Ways We’re Screwing Up Our Girls And How We Can Stop. As adults, we know women live in a trick bag of cultural mixed messages, unrealistic expectations, and damaging, persistent biases about what being a girl, a woman, and a mother “should” mean. Ms. Bogue points out that this process began in childhood, and it is already influencing our daughters’ developing self-perception and sense of the world. I found not only a good dose of information pertinent to raising my daughter, but a way to make sense of my past and present too. I heartily recommend the book to you, for yourself and for mothering your children. To give you a glimpse of what it’s like, here’s the first half of my discussion the author:
WIW: Mothers are besieged today by too many, and often conflicting, messages about what society expects of them. How do we cut through all that and arrive at an authentic and healthy way of mothering?
AB: First and foremost, we must remember that most societal messages we receive are rooted in a patriarchal viewpoint that sadly and to the detriment of us all (women AND men), diminishes the value of all things feminine, including motherhood. The result has been that a devastating number of girls and women are walking around questioning their value, plagued with feelings of ‘not good enough,’ doubting their razor sharp instincts, feeling ashamed of and disconnected from their bodies and not trusting their value and ability as mothers. I feel very strongly that no one should just go on auto-pilot with their children and cross their fingers that they’ll turn out well (especially in light of our own patriarchal programming). However, I also strongly believe that if girls and women were raised to trust ourselves, we would parent with greater confidence, we would embody self-love for our daughters and sons to witness as part of womanhood and we would lead the discussion around mothering instead of allowing the current very broken status quo discussion to dictate and scrutinize our every move as women and mothers. This of course, requires the work of becoming aware of this programming and beginning to strip away the layers to find our powerful, primal, razor sharp mothering instincts and learning to trust ourselves again.
WIW: Can we really teach our daughters how to fulfill their own potential if we haven’t broken free ourselves of the male-dominant society we live in, and achieved our potential?
Our own programming is certainly one of the greatest challenges we face as mothers who desire to raise girls and boys who have a greater value and respect for the feminine. My number one piece of advice to mothers who ask me how they can build and protect their daughters’ self-esteem is this: ‘Embody the woman you want your daughter to become’. Of course this is easier said than done because in order to embody self-value we need to feel it and believe it ourselves. This is a tall order in light of generations of programming, rooted in messages of female inferiority, which have made it extremely difficult for women to feel at their core, the incredible value and power of being female. This is why in the action steps section of every chapter of my book I always start with encouraging parents to become aware of their own programming. Many of us are unknowingly perpetuating low self-value in girls because the messages, behaviors, traditions that are the biggest culprits have become part of our cultural fabric and we continue to engage in them because they are our ‘familiar’. They are comfortable but they are incredibly damaging because they are limiting the potential of at least half of our population.
WIW: Many of our daughters are enthralled with the “princess culture” so prevalent today. Is it possible for a little girl to love it as a child, but abandon the narrative of “be pretty-find your one true love-live happily ever after” as she grows up? I’ve seen some moms try to outlaw all things princess-related in their homes – it’s usually not successful!
I think it’s incredibly difficult to undo this programming later in life when it has been introduced early on in such a prevalent way. We imprint deeply in our early years. The way I’ve approached ‘princess culture’ with my own girls is to have discussion around the subject. Instead of simply saying ‘no’, I ask them questions like, ‘What do we know is true of real princesses?’ ‘Are real princesses who are part of ruling royal families helpless or powerless?’ ‘If she has power in part because she was born into a royal family why would it be necessary for a prince to come along to make her powerful?’ ‘Do you have the power to make choices in the world even though you’re not a princess?’ (Of course!!) I also call out my specific concerns with movies instead of just saying ‘no’. For example, with ‘The Little Mermaid’ my 5-year-old will tell you if you asked why she’s not allowed to watch the movie that ‘Ariel gives up her voice which is very important so she can be with a boy. We should never give up our voice for anyone!’ This has not completely deterred her interest in the movie but at the very least she has some understanding and will recognize these things when she sees them whether while watching the movie at her grandparents’ house and when seeing these behaviors elsewhere, including the opposite healthier behaviors. In the first five minutes of Maleficent when the winged fairy fiercely stands up to the King, my 5-year-old leaned over and whispered, “Mommy! She’s using her voice and standing up for herself!”
Stay tuned for Part II of my conversation with Anea Bogue.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington