The Race to Turn Our Girls Into Women

Pink vs. Blue. Doll vs. Truck. Strong vs. Beautiful. “Heartbreaker” vs. “Sweetheart.”

 

How did we all reach the mutual implicit bias to assign each one of those categories to a young boy versus a young girl? Furthermore, what do these implications mean for the futures of our children?

 

I remember the shift. The cold transformation in late elementary school from being a happy-go-lucky child to a newfound “young lady.” Phrases such as “ladylike”, “polite” and “sweet girl” were stamped across my forehead at the early ages of late elementary school. Gone were the days of playing in the dirt, climbing trees and wearing my brother’s old sports uniforms. Recess went from creating our own games on the playground to picking out boys we may have crushes on. Now was the time for maturing into a young woman as my body quickly became sexualized as dance costumes and bikinis became far too promiscuous for my childlike 4-foot-7, 65-pound stature that truly resembled my gangly 11-year-old self.

 

Little did I know, I was simply experiencing the expectations and paths that our society sets upon our young girls, and this had been happening all of my life. The question was, why weren't the boys feeling the same way?

 

The stark differences in how we raise our boys versus girls is detrimental to healthy development and identity formation. We rush our young girls into womanhood at or even before the onset of puberty, while boys are encouraged to extend their childhood as long as they possibly can. We teach our girls to wait on boys to “earn” them to some degree, only perpetuating the cycle of unhealthy relationship patterns. We sexualize our young girl’s bodies far before any true pubescent development, while boys very rarely feel those pressures. We prioritize the domestication of young girls rather than their education. These impacts develop tenfold as men versus women experience palpable maturity differences as they age, leading to turmoil in friendships, relationships and the workplace. When we force our young boys and girls to fit the molds of heteronormative masculinity and feminity we are stunting their childhood joy and curiosity with the crushing expectations of the adult world. 

 

When we rush our girls to become women, we are giving them a compromised childhood and restricting young girls to meet the responsibilities of adults. We brush off immaturity from males with sayings such as “boys will be boys,” however hold our girls to the unattainable standard of being poised, trustworthy and responsible for boys actions. I can distinctly remember my teachers placing misbehaved male students next to the “good girls”, therefore making it her responsibility to teach him to be a respectful classmate. Instead of teaching our boys to be responsible for their actions and behavior towards others, we censor our girls thoughts, actions and even clothing to avoid any crude and callous reactions from men.

 

The question is, where does this all begin?

 

As early as infancy, children interpret messages from family and society about basic appearances, activities and behaviors between men and women.  According to developmental psychologists K.M. Zosuls and D.N. Ruble, at the ages of 18-24 months, toddlers understand patterns of gender identity from their peers and homes in order to develop an early sense of self. At the ages of 3-4, gender identity takes precedence as children begin to learn the anatomical and social differences between boys and girls. This is the age of superheroes vs. princesses and “boy vs. girl” attributes. By the ages of 5-6, gender identity takes a rigid form over a child, far before they have ever developed the understanding of how boys and girls compare and contrast.

 

As development continues, these early formed beliefs turn into behavioral patterns. Young boys are given loud, highly stimulating toys to mimic adventure and destruction, while young girls are given quiet activities such as crafts and dolls to mimic motherhood and art. As children enter adolescence, development is brought upon by both physical and social factors. Females typically begin puberty at the ages of 8-13, while males begin at age 11-15. Physical puberty are the classic signs we all remember with a bit of awkwardness: acne, hair growth, bodily changes and growth spurts. However, the vastly underlooked is the social, emotional and psychological development of puberty. Self-image and self-esteem plummets especially for girls; between the ages of 8-14 girls confidence levels plummet by 30%. At age 14, boys are 27% more confident than girls, reports Time Magazine. When we force this transformation with the expectations of adulthood for our young girls and experience early puberty, this change is linked to depressive symptoms, eating disorders and delinquency says a study cited in the journal "Developmental Psychology." The turmoil and deterioration of adolescence and puberty demands a supportive, kind and gentle environment for our young girls, free from pressures of womanhood and male acceptance.

 

The problem of nature versus nurture remains an eternal problem that has fascinated scientists for centuries, however one answer remains the same: in order to instill our girls with as much confidence and freedom as boys, we must allow them to grow at their own pace and lift the burden of womanhood off their shoulders. Young girls deserve a long and fulfilling childhood within a loving and accepting environment. Our words, behaviors, actions and societal upbringings are crucial to the development of confident, strong girls. A change of gender reconstruction demands that the ancient pillars of heteronormative gender roles must be destroyed, and rebuilt to prove that both males and females can be strong, emotional, loving and ambitious. This begins as early as infancy, such as illustrating nontraditional family structures, exposure to gender progressive toys and books and highlighting modern career choices. It is a family’s responsibility to create an environment that nurtures a child to help them explore the fullest definition of who they can be. Soon enough, princesses and superheroes are available to every child, and pink and blue are simply just color choices. This change will manifest itself into strong and confident young women who understand the power of their choices, and who embody the principles of true femininity and grace within themselves.