I could not help but grapple with the question of “Now what?” after yet another heart-wrenching breakup. I was haunted by the usual questions: “Will I end up alone with dogs?” (Cats are not for me.) “Is it bad to watch the movie The Notebook again?” and “Can I really eat anymore Thai takeout?” Fast forward a few days: I sat at a dinner table with a group of girlfriends who I hadn’t seen in ages, ready for a distraction. To my dismay, the conversation rapidly changed from small talk to the last thing I wanted to discuss: MEN.
Disclaimer: What lies below is an utterly heterosexual anecdote, stemming solely from my personal experience. I’m intrigued to hear from LGBTQ+ on this topic.
I won’t bore you with the specifics, but this three-hour dinner conservation was unsettling. As my friends hashed out every detail from their recent dating-app matches to year-long relationships, I pretended to listen while fighting the urge to hide in the bathroom. When it was my turn to talk about “love interests” I tried to dodge the subject with the classic, “I don’t have time to think about that.” When that didn’t work, I tried to segue into my dreams of applying to law school and pursuing a career path related to human rights. My comment was met with utter silence.
Had I said something wrong?
Did I have an overtly pronounced piece of broccoli wedged between my front teeth?
I was met with bored smiles and half-hearted “That’s amazing’s,” but the conversation nonetheless reverted immediately back to romance. “Was I seeing anyone?”
On my way home that evening, I gave it a lot of thought. When I sit alongside a group of male friends or colleagues, romantic topics are rarely ever discussed. If dating does come up, it is nowhere near the length that I had just witnessed. In my experience, girls and women place so much weight on the “text back,” what he’s thinking or feeling, and if her own behaviors or actions will be affirmed by him.
Aren’t we handing over all our power?
I don’t know how this started but, we are doing a huge disservice to ourselves. The reason this pattern is so troublesome is that it has always given the man all the power to shape who we girls and women are as human beings. The what to text; how long to wait; am I skinny enough, am I smart but not too smart, looking sexy but not too revealing, (I could go on), bubbles that women try to squeeze themselves into for a guy’s approval are problematic for numerous, blatant reasons.
I’m not the first or last to mention that we females are raised on a diet of media (books, movies, TV shows) that teach us that nothing is more important than our romantic dreams. Getting a guy to think we’re “hot” is thought to be more interesting than our hopes, concerns, fears, aspirations, dreams. Why did NONE of my friends want to hear about my desire to go to law school? Or my passion for fighting for human rights? Why don’t we obsess over lattes about our dream vacations or favorite books or hopes for the political future?
Helping girls to break the cycle
How do we get our girls to appreciate that we don’t need to wait for a guy (or girl) to validate us? How do we teach them to validate themselves? How do we help girls and young women grow together by sharing by our ideas, dreams, travels and experiences rather than fixating on who “ghosts” us or prefers to compliment our looks over our brains?
Sure, we can and should collectively push back against the media and demand varied storylines. Yes, good romantic stories are wonderful but can we please add in more storylines like “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” and “The Hate U Give” and “Hidden Figures”?
I’ll certainly do part in changing the conversations I have with the young girls in my life and trying to keep creating new conversations with my 20-something friends. And here’s what I think parents and the rest of can do when we speak to girls.
Three tips for parents, guardians and mentors:
Stop commenting on how pretty they look. We are intrinsically inclined to comment on girls’ appearances (clothes, hair, makeup, etc.) Society teaches them from a young age, that their value lies in their looks. Make a conscious effort to compliment ideas, schoolwork, achievements in hobbies, etc. to reinforce that young girls are valued for who they are, not who society expects them to be.
Teach others by example. If a relative or friend comments on a young girl’s appearance before all else, chime in with a, “Yes, and did you hear about her latest report card?” or “Did you see the way she crushed the soccer ball last weekend?” or even, “Did you hear about her new interest in making slime?” Even if they don’t change their behavior, you just showed the girl that YOU value her interests.
Pick your media wisely. Try to avoid consuming media with her that embodies the above qualities to your children (i.e., being “boy crazy” and obsessing over being attractive) However, ultimately, your child will be exposed to these behaviors so ask her questions to get her thinking critically, such as: “Do you and your friends tend to talk mostly about boys or other stuff?” “What (else) do you like to talk about together?” “Why do you think there is so much obsession around boys in movies and TV shows?” “How would life be different if girls spend far less time talking about guys and more time thinking about themselves?”
Bridget Gorham is bookworm, aspiring Human Rights lawyer, passionate feminist, and loves to travel. She graduated from Boston College in 2017, and now works and resides in Boston. In her spare time, she loves to Blog! She recently started her own blog: https://missindependent.net/ and you can follow her updates on Instagram: Missindependent521