Monday, March 10, 2014

“It’s a Girl!” Who’s to Blame for Gender Stereotyping?

Upworthy, the delivery system for progressive agendas masked as inspirational click-bait, recently posted a video with the title, “Baby Showers Usually Lead with “It’s a Girl!” or “It’s a Boy!” Here’s Why That’s a Problem.” It claims that such a joyful announcement is the beginning of gender stereotypes that “don’t have a happy ending.” Here’s why that message is a problem.

Produced by The Representation Project, which aims to “expose injustices created by gender stereotypes,” the video begins by suggesting that celebrating a birth with “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” somehow sets the child on the path toward one of two inevitable futures: violent machismo for males and sexual objectification for females. Dressing the baby in pink or blue apparently locks her or him into one of these two gender-restricted destinies. Praising a girl’s prettiness or a boy’s athletic prowess condemns them to unfulfilled lives as a video ho or a lineman for the Cowboys.

For space considerations, let’s focus now on the girls (I’ll discuss the boys next time). The video puts forth the idea that from infancy we begin inculcating girls to “know their place” and to be “delicate” and not “too smart.” It shows footage of girls and young women cavorting in child beauty pageants, being sexualized in advertising, and baking in the kitchen (because apparently, being skilled at cooking for your loved ones is demeaning). “These are the limiting narratives,” the video says, “we feed our children.”

Speak for yourself, Representation Project. “We” do no such thing. I have two daughters, ages four and one. It has never once occurred to me that they should “know their place” and be “delicate” and not “too smart,” to limit their career options to “sex object,” or to defer to boys in any arena – and I have no doubt that the majority of other dads today feel the same way. This isn’t the 1950s, and it’s not China. I know many fathers of girls and they couldn’t be prouder of them or happier about it if they had had boys. They have every hope and expectation, as I do of mine, that their daughters will grow up to be anything they want to be, not just Victoria’s Secret models (not that there’s anything wrong with that, just as there is nothing wrong with boys growing up to be pro football players). I praise both my girls every day for their beauty and brains and physical capabilities because, thank God, they’re both blessed with all three.

The “limiting narrative” that girls are valued only for their sexuality and beauty (we are deeply schizophrenic about female beauty, but that’s a topic for another day) doesn’t come, by and large, from parents in America today – unless they’re the worst sort of stage parents, like some of the mothers of Toddlers & Tiaras, or Billy Ray Cyrus.

Instead, what parents are up against is the subversive influence of various cultural sources. Among the most egregious offenders are today’s repugnant music business, which is a worse and more influential transgressor than Hollywood in terms of sexually objectifying girls; entertainment media such as tabloids that obsess over every percentage of body fat in the post-pregnancy bikini bodies of female celebrities, and “lads mags” like Maxim which reduce women to pinups; and the mainstreaming of violent porn, which warps both male and female teens with depictions of sex and intimacy that are practically indistinguishable from rape. Those and other media tributaries are to blame for these narratives, and that’s where the changes must come from (in all fairness, the Representation Project’s primary target is the media).

So let’s stop blaming parents who are doing their best to counter the media assault on our children. Let’s stop shaming parents who prefer not to treat their children as experiments in gender-blending social justice. Just because a mother dresses a newborn in pink doesn’t mean the little girl’s aspirations will be limited to gold-digging or twerking in a rap video.

The Upworthy blogger who posted the video wrote that we must “let go of the idea of what it means to be a girl or to be a boy.” But blurring gender lines is not the way to steer our daughters safely past limiting stereotypes. The answer lies in making sure that they are true to themselves and to their nature. It lies in freeing their minds from the bondage of the most degraded elements of our pop culture. Easier said than done, but the future of our sons and daughters depend on it.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 3/5/14)