Saturday, May 06, 2006

Raising a girl in our consumer culture

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own identity as a woman, as a mother and most specifically as a mother raising a daughter. This entry is inspired from other blog entries I have read lately such as here and here.

I have a thirteen year old daughter, and I am constantly struggling with teaching her my morals and values (feminism and accepting herself/being proud of herself as a woman) versus society's and our culture's morals (ie: femininty, meekness, consumerism). Just looking at her, the struggle is written all over her emerging adult identity. She is a study in contrasts. She wears only black and white, but she has to have the fashionable belt everyone else is wearing. Her hair must be long, but she insists on stylish cuts and wants to dye it. She spends all of her allowance on fashionable "alternative" or "punk" or "Goth" clothes, but wants to wear lip gloss and eye shaddow and paint her nails. She has recently been overly-concerned about her weight because her body type does not fit the "ideal" that is promoted in the media. Yet she is outspoken, to the point of aggressive at times, about issues she is passionate about. She is often moody and sullen. How much of that is her age, adjusting to her hormones and so-called normal development? What is it about normal development that makes fun loving little girls into sullen, moody teens? This concept is explored in Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia . Unfortunately, my copy is lost somewhere in the contenents of books we have in this house or I lent it out to someone. But from wht I remember it basically explores how our society is "girl-poisoning" with the images the media portrays of the ideal of femininity. I read the book a few years ago, and I see this more and more with my daughter. The consumerism, the desire for the perfect clothes and accessories to fit in, the peer pressure and nastieness of other girls forcing them further into the mold of the perfect feminine woman. These forces lead our daughters to do some terrible things to themselves. Some of these destructive behaviors, as I have observed first-hand, include eating disorders (my daughter) and self-mutilation (a friend of mine's daughter). And this is "normal development" for our daughters? If that is the case, something does need to be done to reclaim them. I am at a loss as to what, however, as I have always tried to teach, demonstrate and level with my daughter how our culture is destructive to girls and why. Sadly, it seems as if the lure of the media is stronger than my voice, and I am losing this war.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mom101 said...

You bring up such great issues. From what I understand, problems like eating disorders/mutilation, while horrible, are less widespread than the press would have you believe. (Even so, of course just a few cases are too many - but I was recently enlightened by someone who pointed out that we spend so much time worrying about this stuff over something like obesity, which is far more likely to impact our children.) It all scares me too, especially having a daughter.

The one thing I would challenge a bit though, and maybe it's just a question of semantics, is the idea that femininity be lumped in with consumerism or meekness. I think it's good to be feminine, the way it's good to be masculine. No dad out there is like, shit, my son is playing sports and wearing muscle shirts. Maybe I need to femme him up a bit. I'm all for nailpolish as a form of identity expression on teenage girls. Just as long as it's not keeping them from typing or gardening or painting or hurling kickballs.

07 May, 2006 16:08  
Blogger macboudica said...

Absolutely, I agree. My point was is that at this stage as a teen age daughter, it is overpowering any other interests, almost like a fixation. Almost as if they are afraid to express their real interests in fear of being ostracised and instead focus all (or most) energies on "the look."

08 May, 2006 08:16  
Blogger macboudica said...

I think she mentioned it in her book, and I see it to, not only wirh my daughter, but with all her friends, there is no balance between femininity and their "selves". To them, the goal is to achieve femininity, the pressure is great, and it causes, if not outright eating disorders and self-mutilation, a lot of depression. Because the goal of absolute feminity portrayed in the media is not realistic, but the allure and social pressure is so strong, their other interests tend to be derailed. It is very difficult for teen girls to find balance and to know it okay to pursue something besides being a size 1 or the perfect outfit.

08 May, 2006 08:33  
Blogger Michele said...

I would never, ever want to be a 13 or 14 year old girl again. I remember the pressure, self-induced and otherwise to both blend and stand out. It was a study in contrasts as well. You want to be noticed, but not look weird or goofy. You want to dress cool, but you dont want to look like yoiu are trying too hard. The girls that are the most popular are often girls you would never really want to be, yet you imitate them, even unconsciously.

I think the most sensible thing I ever heard about kids was that a teenager is constantly straddling kid vs. adult and the adult part is both intoxicatingly attractive and frightening. Kids need firm boundaries to retreat into as a comfort zone - even if they PUSH AND PUSH against them. I cant speak to hamrful behaviors but I do know that self-mutilation is often a control mechanism - as weird and warped as it seems to us as outsiders. I would wonder about what that friend is trying to "control", for her sake.

08 May, 2006 12:22  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I'll have to check out that book. Part of my dissertation was devoted to the idea of manliness as it has pertained to women in the history of political thought (which was how old white men used to treat the idea of strong women - as manly), which I find fascinating. I agree with mom101 - there shouldn't be anything wrong with femininity. But the commercialization or Barbiefication of femininity, that's another story...

08 May, 2006 13:44  

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