The best ice-breakers for girls

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Dear Santa,

What I want for Christmas is for people to stop objectifying my daughter.

But after I took my four-year-old daughter Violet to visit you last week it seems that even YOU can’t deliver on this particular request.

You may recall that we walked into your little house for the family photo and you remarked on every item of clothing Violet was wearing — including her socks.

And then you told her she was the most beautiful and best-dressed person in the shopping center.

Couldn’t you have just stopped there? Hell no! You ploughed on to suggest that she takes up modelling when she grows up.

Now I don’t want to be too harsh on an old Commie doing his job. I know you were trying to build rapport with my preschooler the best way you knew how.

But I also know that you are capable of doing better. For example, when my friend took her four-year-old son to see you in a shopping center, you didn’t focus on the boy’s appearance to break the ice. Instead, you talked about your reindeer.

Reindeer! Violet’s enthusiasm for Rudolph is just as keen as any boys’. In fact, she loves your entire pack.

You could have bonded with Violet over your mutual regard for flying animals. You could have even talked about boring old non-flying deer. Violet would have been thrilled.

But, no, your only interest in Violet was a) her prettiness, b) her comparative prettiness to other girls and women in the store and c) whether she was interested in making a career out of being judged by, and valued for, her looks.

I’m over-reacting, surely. Well, no, I’m not.

I don’t mean to go all Piers-Akerman-weird-feminist on you, but if your comments were an isolated incident, then perhaps it would be an overreaction. But the thing is, this focus on girls’ beauty and appearance is a year-round phenomenon.

Like most girls, my daughter hears, ‘That’s a pretty dress, did you pick it yourself?’ or ‘What lovely hair you have’ or ‘You have the most amazing eyelashes’, or  ‘I like the bows on your shoes’, or ‘You are so cute’ almost every time somebody engages in conversation with her.

If family, friends, shop assistants, complete strangers and even Santa, only remark on how girls look, rather than what they think and do, how can we expect girls to believe that they have anything more to offer the world than their beauty?

It also further serves to widen the gender divide. We train girls to be objects, valued for how they look, and boys to be agents, valued for what they do and think. 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever comment on girls’ appearance. Little girls are cute so of course appearance-based compliments spring to mind when we see them.

But little boys are gorgeous too. Yet that’s not the first or only thing we ever say to them. Why can we think of creative ice-breakers for boys but yet when it comes to girls we always resort to commenting on their physical appearance?

This isn’t all your fault, Santa. The focus on girls’ appearance to the exclusion of everything else is so deeply entrenched in our culture that we often don’t know what else to say to them. Despite our best intentions, we have no frame of reference to engage with girls on any level other than the superficial.

So I’m going to help you out. Here’s a list of suggestions to break the ice with the next girl who comes to visit you.

-       Where have you been today? or Where are you going today?

-       How old are you?

-       What do you want to be when you grow up?

-       What’s your favourite book/toy/sport/animal/food/song?

-       Do you know any Christmas carols?

-       Check out your surroundings and remark on something such as a flowering plant, a truck, a picture on the wall,                Christmas decorations, even the weather.

-       Or just imagine what you would say to her if she were boy.

 

Meanwhile Santa, I’ll leave a copy of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth for you next to the milk and cookies. Merry Christmas.

 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

23 comments

  • "even the weather"

    ...really? the last thing a kid wants to hear from Santa is "gee, its rainy outside". This is the kind of boring dribble that adults who don't know each other spew out when they are grasping at straws for polite conversation.

    Now lets be -totally- honest. Little boys aren't commented on for their looks? What a load! I see it all the time with my nephews when I take them out. Women especially "Oh isn't he adorable" "aren't you a handsome young man" etc and so forth.

    This thing that you describe is not exclusive to little girls. Adults gush over kids. 

    This man was -not- objectifying your daughter. He was doing his job, a job that makes many MANY little kids happy. Let's cut Santa some slack eh.

    Commenter
    Adrian
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 18, 2013, 9:02AM
    • Adrian,
      Everyone's experience is different and this is what drives their opinions. I think you're right about laying off Santa so the column should be aimed at everyday adults who pass comments on kids. Whether it be family friends or strangers, the vast majority comment on my daughters appearance and my son's intelligence. I'm no feminist but I find that limiting for both of my kids.
      To combat this, we use a little phrase: "It's not how you look, it's how you behave" and all our kids understand and use it.
      Merry Christmas

      Commenter
      Nel
      Location
      near
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 12:59PM
    • I think you mean "drivel", Adrian. And I think if you read the article again you'll find the writer (a) never claimed that appearance-based comments are directed exclusively to girls, (b) said that "little boys are gorgeous too", and (c) was discussing the relative frequency of such comments. Until you have acquired some basic literacy and removed the chip from your shoulder, please refrain from further comment.

      Commenter
      Suzi
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 1:06PM
    • @Suzi - the premise of this article is based on the idea that comments/conversation made towards girls are often solely based on their attractiveness and/or appearance and that the opposite is true of young boys.

      Now, without any fact-based evidence provided to support such a sweeping statement I can only believe that this conclusion has been drawn from anecdotal experience.

      Well in my experience both as an uncle and having been a child - I do not see an accurate reflection of this -in reality- and I am challenging the validity of the claim. Such is my right do so as a reader and a free thinker.

      Lastly - I'm not sure why you think it's acceptable to make derogatory comments about my literacy skills, I assure you I am educated well beyond "basic literacy". You can disagree with me without making a completely offensive remark my choice of words as the person "Nel" did prior to you.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 2:33PM
    • Completely agree Adrian.

      Commenter
      Melinda
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 2:39PM
  • Bravo, Kasey :) And no, you are not overreacting!

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    December 18, 2013, 9:52AM
    • Bravo, Kasey, what the??? Kasey, you are overreacting my friend. Take it for what it is, a simple compliment!

      Commenter
      Pete
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 1:27PM
    • @Pete

      The problem is when it's the only compliment and it pushes the message that 'being pretty' is the most important thing you can be. It doesn't stop at childhood and we wonder why we have so many 'princesses'. A bit of balance is what's needed.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 3:33PM
  • Couldn't agree more with you! It's a sad state of affairs when so many girls grow up with their main aim in life is to be attractive.

    Commenter
    Budz
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 18, 2013, 10:29AM
    • Strangely enough, it's the parents of children who engineer that tough little soldier or delicate pink princess attitude, much more than an old bloke in a red suit. How many teeshirts, dresses, accessories etc have I seen with words like "Daddies little princess"
      How many little girls do I see in pink all the time or wearing tiaras and walking with their parents. The toys the kids are given or asked to choose, the dreadful children's books which emphasis femininity or masculinity.

      Commenter
      Gordie
      Location
      Melbourne.
      Date and time
      December 18, 2013, 3:21PM

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