Please tell your daughter she’s pretty.

Powerful Ad Shows What a Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She’s Pretty” runs the headline on the Huffington Post, describing a new ad by Verizon.

Before we even watch the video or form an opinion, let’s remember one thing. The real, true, deep down message of this ad is that you, the viewer, should like Verizon. Whatever societal goals it may have, it’s an ad. It is trying to sell something, and so it’s a given that the message it’s sending is calculated to stroke the egos of the viewer. So there’s that.

Now for the actual message. The Huffiington Post sums it up like this:

The video depicts one girl’s development from toddler to teenager. She wanders curiously through nature, examines the plants and animals around her, creates an astronomy project, and builds a rocket with her older brother. But all along the way, she hears many all-too-common refrains from her parents: “Who’s my pretty girl?” “Don’t get your dress dirty,” “You don’t want to mess with that,” and “Be careful with that. Why don’t you hand that to your brother?” These statements are subtle, but the ad suggests that they can ultimately discourage girls from pursuing traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects in school.

Sure. If someone followed me around telling me “Knock it off!” every time I got interested in math or science, I would probably stop pursuing math and science. It’s a bad idea to thwart kids (boys and girls) and to discourage their curiosity and intelligence; and it’s especially absurd to tell girls, overtly or by omission, that their main job is to be pretty. I’m fairly sure Thomas More, Edith Stein, and Gianna Molla already knew that, without any help from Verizon.

But the ad ends this way: “Isn’t it time we told her she’s pretty brilliant, too?”*

Is that what we’re doing when we do say, “You’re so pretty”? When girls hear, “You’re pretty,” does that automatically mean they can’t hear anything else we say? Not that I’ve noticed. Here is what I have noticed:

  • When girls never hear their parents — especially their fathers — say that they are pretty, many of them will go find someone who will say it to them. And sometimes that turns out to be someone who wants to hurt or use them, and uses “pretty” as a hook.
  • When girls get no attention for dressing prettily and looking nice, they find other ways of getting attention with the way they look. A lot of those girls whose entire style is super sexy sexy sex all the time? They’re just trying to be pretty, and no one has taught them to recognize any other form of appeal besides sexiness.
  • If they want to be admired by men, but have been taught that that this desire is a sign of pettiness and lack of character, then many women will become so twisted inside that even marital sex is pure anxiety and guilt.

Why? Because women were made beautiful. They were designed that way. No, not every woman; no, not all the time; and no, not beauty above all other things. But the world is a machine, and one of its driving forces is the attraction between the sexes, where men delight in women and women delight in showing their beauty to men. This is not oppression; this is not sexism; this is not some manipulative societal construct — or at least it doesn’t have to be. It’s a gift from God that girls and women can cultivate and delight in beauty — the beauty around them, and the beauty in themselves. Yes, even their physical beauty. Yes, even from a very young age.

 

 

So no, don’t tell your daughters that they must be pretty because they can’t be anything else. But don’t make them think that beauty is petty, either. Beauty is one of the transcendentals, which means that beauty it is one of the paths to God. Even when that beauty resides in a little girl.

And one more thing: it is good for us, the beholders, to praise beauty when we see it. It is a good thing to see something beautiful and to let ourselves murmur, “Oh, how lovely you are!” We are made to receive it and to enjoy it. We are not made to quash and rein in everything that brings us delight. There is not much beautiful in the world. Why deny yourself what little there is? Parents, let yourself tell your girls they’re beautiful. She needs it, and so do you.

 

 

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*Actually, recent studies show that kids do worse when you praise them for being smart. If you want

Like a lark who is learning to pray

Yesterday, we went to another lovely concert at the public high school that my oldest two kids attend.  As usual, I was stunned at the variety of music presented:  old and new vocal and instrumental jazz, medieval hymns, funny arrangements of secular Christmas songs, even a Sephardic song about the sighting of a star at the birth of Abraham.  And they were good.  They opened with the entire band playing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and then the various choirs filed in, singing, from both sides.

When I was tried to sneak quietly back into the auditorium after taking the little guys for a bathroom break, the choir director, who was taking a break too, grinned and whispered, “Bless you!”  I don’t even know why.  For dragging little kids out at night in the freezing cold, I guess, just so they could hear some good music.

For the second song on the program, the stage cleared and six high school girls tottered out to the mics — every one of them wearing black or red dresses, some skin tight, some buttcheek-high, some of them constructed of evil-looking lace, straps, and bands.  One girl wore black booties with a stacked wedge, but the others were balancing atop black or red heels so high, it looked like a novelty act when they started to sing:  look, this girl can sustain a high C without breaking an ankle!

There’s no other word for it:  they looked awful.  Too young to look sexy, too sexy to look young.  You know what I mean.

PIC Bratz doll face

 

And what were they singing?  “The Sound of Music.”  They sounded good, sweet, young.  God help me, I cried.  Of course everything makes me cry, but I was just so glad, so glad that someone was teaching these girls music.  You could see what else they had learned about beauty.

To the choir director:  bless you, too.

Tweaking Sleeping Beauty

Here’s an enlightening though spoilerific commentary on the new Disney princess movie, Frozen.  Gina Dalfonzo liked the movie well enough (not everyone did), but thought the denouement of Prince Hans was unnecessarily cynical and harsh. She says (REMEMBER, I SAID SPOLERS):

The naïve and lonely Anna has fallen in love with and become engaged to Hans in the course of just one day. As her other love interest, Kristoff, tells her, this is not exactly indicative of good judgment.

However, there is something uniquely horrifying about finding out that a person—even a fictional person—who’s won you over is, in fact, rotten to the core. And it’s that much more traumatizing when you’re six or seven years old. Children will, in their lifetimes, necessarily learn that not everyone who looks or seems trustworthy is trustworthy—but Frozen’s big twist is a needlessly upsetting way to teach that lesson.

I haven’t seen the movie, but this article caught my interest because it’s about something that niggles at me:  how to tell lovely, romantic stories to the kids, without giving them dangerously stupid ideas about love?

Disney is doing penance for decades of promoting the idea that a kiss between a strange man and a vacant, helpless young woman can signify true love — and that is a worthy effort.  Maybe once upon a time, it was okay to show a princess who liked being macked on by strangers in her sleep, because everyone knew it was just a story, la di dah.

But today?  Listen, I’m no “rape here, rape there, rapey-rapey everywhere” anti-princess zealot, but people today are so clueless, so utterly innocent of a basic understanding of virtue, that we have to be really careful.  We can’t assume that mom and dad are teaching kids what love and marriage are really about.  I recently read an article by a teacher after the Steubenville rape.  She said that her students had learned that you’re not supposed to have sex with someone who says “no.”  But a sleeping girl isn’t saying no.  To them, this was a dilemma.  How are they supposed to know if she consents or not, if she’s not even conscious?  No one had told them (probably out of fear of imposing outmoded standards of morality) why it was important to gain consent. Consent, to them, was just a secret password to gain sex, and in its absence, that had no idea what they were supposed to think.

Anyway, you read enough things like this, and you can’t quite bring yourself to tell your four-year-old that a stranger and a sleeping girl just enjoyed “true love’s kiss.”

PIC Sleeping Beauty figurine with prince under skirt

But I think it’s stupid to tell girls, “Prettiness is slavery!  Romance is for suckers!  Love will always let you down!  Don’t you dare put on a sparkly crown!”  So I tell my daughters stories about beauty and love and caroling birds and shimmering gowns — but I tweak them.  Here is how I adjusted Sleeping Beauty:

The bad fairy, the curse, the spinning wheel, the 100 year’s sleep, blah blah blah.

Here’s the part where I started to improvise:  the prince is wandering around in the woods because all the princesses in his territory are boring, and just want to talk about shoes and hair and parties.  He sees the castle overgrown with roses, with no sound but the humming of bees, and hacks his way through out of sheer curiosity.  When he makes his way through the sleeping castle, he finds the princess at its center, fast asleep, and she is lovely.

Worn out from all that hacking, he sits down, and before he knows it, he starts to talk.  He talks and talks and talks, about all the things that he’s interested in, but nobody in his kingdom wants to hear about.  He pours his heart out to her, because he know she’s not going to spill the beans, because she’s asleep.  Then he goes back outside and, unable to make himself go home quite yet, he camps in the courtyard.

The next morning, he comes back, and talks some more.  At first, he was just thrilled to talk to someone who didn’t laugh at him or interrupt.  But gradually, he begins to wish with all his heart that she could answer back.  Her face is so intersting, even in sleep, that he wants to know what she thinks.

That night, when he lies down in the courtyard again, he dreams that she is awake, and tells him everything on her mind — and it is marvelous.  The next day, he comes back again, and so on and so on.

After a few weeks of this, he shakes himself and decides he can’t pursue this fantasy any longer.  Back to real life; time to face the petty and puerile girls in his own kingdom, and settle for one of them so he can further the royal line. Facts are facts:  better a third-rate reality than a gorgeous fantasy.   So he goes back one last time to say goodbye to her.  He leans over to take one final look at her lovely face, and her breath smells so nice that he can’t help himself:  he plants a chaste little kiss on her rosy lips.

And she wakes up. And says, “Oh, were you going somewhere?  We were having such a nice conversation!”  Bafflement ensues, and gradually it turns out that, just as he has been dreaming of her, she has been dreaming of him.  His words found their way past the enchantment and into her subconscious mind, and, in her dream, she answered him back. They feel like they know each other, and they do — because they are so perfectly suited for each other that their dreams conversations were identical.

So then they get married.  The princess wears a shimmering wedding gown, and then they have eleven children.  The end.

Now, I realize this is more or less the naked fantasy of a 38-year-old woman:  True love is someone who will sit there and listen to me talk!  So sue me.  I still think it’s better than “And as soon as their eyes met, they knew they were in love, and got married the next day.”  Bah.  I fell in love like that once, and it took me two years to realize that the guy just found me convenient, and treated me like poo.  I like my version because there is a romantic dream that really does come true — but they have to work their way up to it.  It preserves the idea that the kiss is a magical turning point, but the fellow has to earn it, and she has to have some reason to return his affections.

So, to sum up, I don’t  shriek and turn blue at the very mention of the word “princess,” and I am so done with the edgy new takes on princess culture.

PIC Snow White kids house husband nightmare

I think little girls need to hear about silvery ballgowns and falling in love while birds sing overhead, especially when the world tells them that you can either be pretty like this:

PIC Monster high dolls

or accomplished like this:

PIC Nancy Pelosi face

but nothing in between.  But I can’t quite swallow the “strangers–>kiss–>happily ever after” line, either.

How do you handle it in your house?  Does the whole princess thing bother you?  Do you make it work somehow?  Or what?

Barbie alternatives!

We are doing some Christmas shopping today, and I just discovered that Melissa and Doug make what look like very nice dolls for girls.  We’ve always had good luck with Melissa and Doug products.  They are sturdy and pleasant.  (Not a paid endorsement or anything. We just like Melissa and Doug.)

These dolls are 14″, so a few inches taller than Barbie – but Barbie clothes wouldn’t fit anyway, because the M&D dolls aren’t rail thin with giraffe legs. Don’t get me wrong. With seven daughters and steadily declining standards, we have collected approximately 3,487 Barbies, including mermaid Barbie, fairy Barbie, chef Barbie, vet Barbie, surfer Barbie, miscellaneous fashion Barbie, and of course several incarnations of that perennial favorite, Soulless Streetwalker Barbie.

So, no judging.  I would just rather see my kids playing with this:

 

Lindsay Bride Doll 

instead of this:

Barbie 2013 Collector Doll

Melissa and Doug have several 14″ dolls besides the bride:  ballerinas, princesses, etc.

Are you buying dolls this year?  Come across anything nice?

Don’t forget, if you shop Amazon, please consider going through my links above. There is also a blue Amazon ad on the right sidebar, and if you can’t see that, I’ve added a page called “Shop Amazon Here!” at the top of the blog.  Thanks so much!

Girls Cannot Give Consent

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Even if she puts on lipstick and arches her eyebrow.

In the third world, they stone a girl to death for being raped.  In the United States, we just give her rapist and de facto murderer a slap on the wrist, and reassure the world that she was asking for it.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Cherice Morales was fourteen when her 49-year-old teacher began to rape her.  Three years later, she killed herself. The reason her story is in the news is because her rapist, Stacey Rambold, got 30 days in jail for the rapes.

After Morales killed herself, Rambold was supposed to complete a sex offender treatment program, but he didn’t.  His case was revived when it was revealed that he was, among other offenses, having unsupervised visits with minors.  His sentencing judge, Judge G. Todd Baugh, who never met the victim, said that she was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold was, and that she was “older than her chronological age.”  “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape like you see in movies,” he said.  (What kind of movies are you watching, your honor?)

Yesterday, after there was an outcry, the judge apologized for his statements about Morales.  He says that he doesn’t know what he was trying to say, and that his statements are not relevant to the sentencing.  But he isn’t rescinding the sentencing, either.  Thirty days is what the man gets, minus one day already served.

In this raw and profane piece in xo jane, a woman who suffered repeated statutory rape starting at age 13, reminds us why there are laws about statutory rape in the first place:

The fact is, a 14-year-old girl may be capable of agreeing to sex with a 49-year-old man, but she doesn’t have the emotional and mental maturity to consent.  I was 25 before I realized that every man I’d slept with as a teenager was a pedophile. It seemed to me that since I’d courted the attention, that I was fully culpable. What teenager believes she is not mentally or emotionally capable of full consent? I thought I was an adult, although when I look at the picture of myself from the time period above, I see a child.

I thought I was the exception for these men, the girl so precocious and advanced that it superseded social norms. I thought that I was “older than my chronological age.”

Well, what do you expect from the modern, secular world, right?  What do you expect from a culture that simultaneously glorifies and degrades human sexuality?  Of course you’re going to have needy girls and lecherous men.  Of course there will be suffering and heartache, and innocents will suffer and predators will go free.

But surely we Catholics know better than that, yes?  Surely the Church on earth, imperfect as she is, is a safe haven for the young and vulnerable.

Well, just yesterday I ran afoul of a prominent Catholic writer, a professor who often works with college students.  The last time I talked to him when he said in public that the way to deal with a teen mom who’d given birth at age fourteen is to tell the “slut” to “keep her legs closed.”

No long ago, I was speaking to a Catholic priest about how difficult life seemed when I was a teenager, and he went into a long reverie about the teenage girls that cross his path.  “Those short skirts, that heavy eye makeup—” he said . . . “Ohh, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

Think rapists come from nowhere?  Think they would dare to do what they do, if it were not for men like these?  You don’t have to be a rapist to be part of the problem.  All you have to do is make sure we all remember that the girl is to blame.  No matter how young she is, the girl is always to blame.

  • It’s her fault because she knows how to look like a woman (even though she’s not).
  • It’s her fault because she wears padded bras and skanky clothing (even though her body is tender and unfinished on the inside).
  • It’s her fault because she knows all the moves (because she’s been trained since toddlerhood to writhe to a beat, because that’s what makes the adults in the house point the camera at them).
  • It’s her fault because she works hard to look sexy (even though she really only wants to look pretty, and sexy is the only pretty she’s ever been shown).
  • It’s her fault because she’s loud and dirty because she knows it gets her something (and she knows that something is better than nothing).

It’s her fault because she’s learned that she has power, and she does wield it (because the only time men speak to her is to say two things, “Do what I tell you to do” and “I want you.”  If you were a lonely girl, which would you rather hear?).

The xojane writer tells us,

[I]t doesn’t matter if a young girl is saying yes, it’s an adult man’s job to say no.

And she’s not just talking to Rambold and other men who happen to have a thing for young girls.  She’s talking to all adults who should know better:  the judge, the defense attorney, the professors, the priests, the therapists, the school principles, the combox snipers, men and women.  She’s speaking to us.  To me.

What do I say when I meet a young girl in trouble?  What do I see when a teenage girl sashays by in skintight jeans, made up like a porn star?  Do I see a girl?  Or do I grimace and avert my eyes from just another young slut who’s out to ruin the world?

What do we tell girls, besides, “Do what I tell you to do?”  Do we tell them, “You are still young”?  Do we tell them, “Stand behind me, and I will protect you”?  Do we tell them that there is still hope, there is a way to get love and attention without being used?  Or do we tell the girls that it’s their fault, always their fault?

I don’t want to be the background music for the song and dance of the likes of Rambold and Judge Baugh, who say that there is no such thing as innocence.  Keep on saying it, and it will come true.

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photo credit: Cat Eyes via photopin (license)

This post originally ran in 2013. I’m reposting it in light of recent conversations about Maria Goretti.