By STEPHANIE BRIGHT | Moonshine Ink
I missed most of the Super Bowl. I stayed home with a sick kid, worked on my laptop, and munched on a football-appropriate snack while the game and a multitude of commercials played in the background. Besides being vaguely aware of Katy Perry dancing with a group of stuffed sharks and riding a mechanical tiger, I more or less tuned the whole thing out. One commercial, though, caught my attention and I found myself not only actually watching the TV but wiping away a tear. OK, that last part was a bit of an understatement. In fact, I was choking back sobs, tears soaking my nachos by the end of the commercial. Why did I have such a strong reaction, and to a feminine hygiene product ad no less?
In the ad for Always, teenage girls and boys are asked to run like a girl, fight like a girl, and throw like a girl. The teens acted out each prompt as you might expect — running with arms flying around like windmills, worrying about their hair, pretending to hit with floppy wrists. No surprise there unfortunately. The surprise, and my nacho-soaking tears, came when the announcer gave 5- and 6-year-old girls the same instructions. These strong little girls came on the screen showing everyone what “like a girl” meant to them. To a 6-year-old in a pink lacy dress, running like a girl meant running as fast as she could, and to an 8-year-old, hitting like a girl meant throwing the strongest and hardest punch possible.
Why has doing something “like a girl” become an insult? The next day, I decided to do my own research by quizzing my 6-year-old twin daughters. I asked one daughter what it meant to “run like a girl.” She looked at me like I was crazy — why would I even ask that? “Mom,” she sighed, “a girl runs like any other person.” I asked my other daughter, who just started karate classes, what it meant to her to “hit like a girl.” She stood up and showed me her strongest punch — arm extended, muscles tight, fist strong and clenched. Even though she’s a wee little thing, you’d want to stay out of her way if she decided to use her newly learned karate skills against you.
I want my kids to stay this way. I want them to continue to wonder why anyone would even bother to ask what doing something “like a girl” means. I wondered, how can I ensure that my own girls don’t lose their natural confidence as they grow into young women?
Deciding to extend my research beyond my immediate family, I was saddened, though not surprised, to find study after study that show how girls’ self-esteem tends to plummet starting around age 10 (yikes, less than four years away for my girls). I was disheartened to learn that tweens, kids between ages 10 and 12, are confronted at increasingly earlier ages with traditionally teen issues, such as dating and sex. I read studies that show how girls and boys enjoy and succeed in science equally in fourth grade, but by eighth grade girls’ interest and participation drops dramatically. Girls not only begin to doubt themselves and the way they look and feel, but also begin to doubt their intelligence and skills.
Among all this disheartening information, I also found some solutions to help maintain and increase confidence in girls as they grow into teenagers and beyond. Research shows that dads make a big difference; doing fun activities and getting positive feedback from both parents, especially dad, is important in developing a girl’s self-esteem. Maybe my husband and I can help our pull-up-doing, mogul-skiing, pill-bug-loving 6 year olds maintain their natural confidence, and even build on it. Research also shows that encouraging children to develop skills — in sports, art, music, or whatever interests them — and emphasizing hard work and perseverance are keys to building and maintaining confidence.
Luckily, we have many great individuals and organizations in our Tahoe/Truckee community that support efforts to raise confident, happy, and productive children. The KidZone Museum hosts events like the upcoming free Daddy & Me night, where dads and their kids can have fun, play, and learn together. In the Girls on the Run program, girls run in an encouraging and uplifting environment. And our local karate instructors don’t hesitate in welcoming a little girl into a class full of boys, giving her a gi and a white belt, and teaching her to throw a practice punch without condescension or qualification.
We should all be so lucky to be able to hit like that girl.