When I was in high school, we learned that The Little Mermaid was not just a cute Disney movie. In fact, it perpetuates the unhealthy idea that how a woman looks matters more than what she has to say. That makes sense if you think about it. Ariel does give up her voice and is forced to charm Prince Eric with her feminine wiles. In the end, she gets the guy. And gives up everything she has in the process.
My daughter Jane turned 1 on Sunday. Jane’s hilarious. You always know exactly what she wants and how she’s feeling. If she wants something, she’ll grab it and if she can’t reach, she’ll bang on the table to let you know. She climbs all over everything and moves full speed ahead at all times. When Jane eats, it can only be described as a celebration of food. It’s a full contact event. Most of what Jane does is full contact. She launches herself with abandon into whatever she feels at that moment. I love it.
I hope she never changes. Actually, I’ll qualify that by saying that I definitely hope she becomes a neater eater but I hope her spirit never changes.
As soon as I found out I was having a girl, I immediately prepared myself to counteract all of the unfair pressures she’d inevitably absorb as a young girl. I reread Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein and tried to avoid buying her everything in pink. I also talked to Jim about his role in raising a daughter. He laughed, but now when he tells Jane how cute she is, he’s careful to add “and smart and strong.”
I know that when Jane gets closer to adolescence she’ll likely start to lose her voice, like most young girls. She’ll hesitate before she speaks and she’ll worry more about how others view her than how she views herself. I’m dreading that.
What gives me hope is knowing that there are things I can do to counteract the societal influences that will steer her down that path. Girls in the Game is one of those things. In our programs, girls learn that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty. They learn what it means to be different than other people and more importantly, they learn that those differences are special. In the safe, girl-only space, girls try new things and sometimes fail. But they try again because they know that nobody is laughing at them. They share their thoughts and opinions and their teammates and coaches don’t judge them.
Eventually, the comfort and safety girls feel in our programs extends beyond their weekly Girls in the Game program. They raise their hands in class more often, feeling secure that what they have to say is important. They stick up for others when they are being bullied, and when faced with a tough situation, they make the right decisions that aren’t always easy when everybody else is making the wrong one.
Our hope is that their voices come back and we know this won’t happen in a day or a month. It’s one of the reasons our programs are designed so that girls can stay involved all year round and year after year. The pressures and subtle messages they encounter will tell them that girls should be quiet, and that in order to be feminine, they should keep their opinions to themselves. Those messages are constant and pervasive so we know that Girls in the Game needs to be just as strong of a presence to show them what it really means to be a girl. Loudly and proudly.
Someday Jane will be a girl in the game and I can’t wait. I just hope she stops throwing her food by then.
Jane, courageously battling a spaghetti dinner.