Some time before WonderBaby was born, my husband and I had a conversation about what it was going to be like to have a daughter. I asked him whether he thought he might find it challenging, as a man, to raise a girl. No, he said. Not at all. Except…
Except that I’m bracing myself, I guess.
For more pain, than if we had a boy. For getting my heart broken.
I knew what he meant. He wasn’t talking about losing her, one day, to the great big world beyond childhood and family – to life on her own, to lovers, to a spouse, to adulthood. That was a given, a pain that we didn’t need to brace ourselves against, a pain that we had already accepted, even though it was so far off. He was afraid of not being able to protect her from the darker forces of a world that would likely try to take her from us too soon – that would take her childhood, her innocence, too soon.
He was talking about all of the terrible things that the world can do to girls (which is not to say that boys are invulnerable, only that we usually believe girls to be more vulnerable), about all of the dangers and all of the threats that shape parents’ nightmares, the things that we all want to plug our ears and shut our eyes against. But he was also talking about the more insidious ways that the world conspires to steal our daughters’ innocence.
He was talking about the influence of this sort of thing:
And, God help us, this:
The knee-jerk response to this – my knee-jerk response to this – is to want to hide your children from the world, to protect them from the world, to protect them from the influence of Britney and Lindsay and Paris and Bratz Dollz and (god dear god crop tops with saucy diapers and chain-linked bottles) Baby Bratz Dollz and Pussycat Dolls.
The knee-jerk response is to want to keep them innocent forever, to want to do anything, anything at all that will keep them innocent forever. But that’s not necessarily the answer – as Rebecca of Girl’s Gone Child reminded us all the other day, our children need to learn how to navigate this world. We don’t necessarily help them by keeping them from it, or it from them. We need to mediate their relationship to the world and everything in it, certainly, but do we help them by censoring it?
I’m still undecided about where, exactly, I draw the line between mediation and censorship in helping my children navigate the often choppy and mostly murky waters of this world that we live in. But what I do know is this: I not only want to preserve my daughter’s innocence for as long as is reasonable (how long this is, is another question), I want to her to come to understand herself as a physical and, eventually, sexual being innocently. Does that make sense? I want her understanding of herself as a sexual being to unfold naturally, healthily, innocently – I don’t want it forced upon her. I don’t want it imposed upon her by popular culture or by peer pressure or – dear god – by another human being.
I don’t want her to be confused by or misinformed about human sexuality. As I was. If I want my daughter to be powerful as a woman – and I do – I need to ensure that she understands herself (in the healthiest way possible) as a powerful physical being. She needs to understand her own sexuality.
So, I end up caught between a rock and a hard place. Protect her from becoming sexualized, but encourage her to understand and embrace her own sexuality. On this issue, I am at a loss.
What to do, what to do…?
I know! Let’s ask Gloria Steinem!
Us:* How do we – as women and mothers and feminists – find a balance between embracing and being empowered by our own sexuality and protecting our girls from the effects of a hyper-sexualized culture that seems to encourage them to use their sexuality in all the wrong ways?
Gloria: We have a power that the media doesn’t: the power of an all-five-senses example. If our daughters see us behaving as sexual and whole in a positive way – if we don’t allow ourselves to be treated as we wouldn’t want our daughters to be treated – that’s truly subversive. If we don’t give up ourselves for male approval, or “Uncle Tom” by treating men as more important than they are, or complain about our bodies every time we pass a mirror, our daughters will know they don’t have to either. They may go underground for a while and conform to the media or their peers, but they will always know there’s another way. Also, I think we can link kids’ sense of fairness to sex. Why should girls be more judged by appearance than boys? Why are our bodies ornaments while theirs are instruments? Why should girls perform oral sex on boys – what kind of unequal pleasure is that?
I love this answer (and I love her for taking the time to answer it) – but, I’ll be honest, it also frustrates me. She’s absolutely correct that we are the best examples for our daughters – but what if we are still struggling with our own sexuality? On a cultural level, I’m thinking of all of the women my own age that I regularly see who seem to be modelling themselves on Bratz Dolls – if these women are or become mothers, they’re going to be raising a whole generation of little tartlets.
On a personal level, it’s even more complicated. I still have lingering issues about my body, and issues about my sexuality. This isn’t the forum for them, but they’re there. And I’m terrified of passing these on to my daughter. I have some miles to go before I will feel fully confident about modelling ‘whole and positive’ sexuality and body confidence to my daughter. But I need to get there.
What do you think? About her answer, or about the general dilemma? I’m looking for more guidance here, people…
Because Mother’s bathing costume looks exactly like this one…
*This question was an amalgamation of a the questions submitted by Izzy and Penelope. I compiled a second question from a few more of your questions, which she also answered (nice lady!), and I’ll post it next week. In the meantime, check out these other blogs, which will likely have their question/responses posted soon:
Jen Satterwhite of Mommy Needs Coffee; Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation; Leah Peterson of Leah Peah; Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored; Ingrid Wiese of Three New York Women; Sarah Brown of Que Sera Sera; Stolie of Funky Brown Chick; Liz of Mom-101.