Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Girl Guilt

I recently re-read Lisa Bloom's article on how to talk to little girls ( find it here
to realise that it had been festering in the back of my mind for quite some time.

Of late I've been writing dialogue for a younger  boy in my book and had been troubled by the fact that I wasn't finding it quite as taxing as other aspects of my writing. Was this because I was doing it wrong?  I reasoned that maybe this was because I have experience working with just this group, or that I have a younger brother not far off this age. Neither sentiment sums up my instinctive reaction to the difference between the sexes however. 

People often ask me how teaching boys differs from teaching girls. I usually respond that kids are kids. Enlightening,no?! What I mean by that is that kids in these age brackets don't differ as much as they do at an older age. 

And yet. I have spent years toiling with (delightful) pupils, straining to teach them that a compliment did not always have to be reflective of outer appearances. That to tell someone they were pretty, had shiny hair, were stylish, or wore lovely shoes was kind but not the only, and by no means the most meaningful way give a compliment or show affection. Don't even start me on ten year old girls complementing your skinniness. It's a strange thing which begins so early; girls want to be good. And why would anyone want to get in the way of such kind motivation? I do wonder though, does the pressure of being good stop them from being great?

Ambition just isn't fostered in girls the way it is in boys. Teaching a mixed infant class, the girls (for the most part) want you to like them, to praise them for holding their pencil the right way, sharing a toy that they really wanted to play with themselves or tidying up discarded ham from a neighbour's floor after lunch. The boys carry on regardless, uninhibited by social expectations in the way that any  five year old should be.

And so it happens that the boys (who I must say I love teaching) careen around the place, all boundless enthusiasm and eager to go. They are praised to high heavens for actions that the girls have mastered since day one. Neither group has wronged the other however I would love to see my little girls hang on to their innate ambition, fight for what they want, be a bit selfish and not see it as such. 

Articles like this make me glad to be a teacher. I'm not righting any global wrongs in my classroom but I can ensure that they know that they are worthy of reaching for more than the sum of their outer appearances. They don't need to be damsels in distress. More than anything I would like them to live up to Nora Ephron's maxim “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” 

For much of the world to be a girl is to have your self-worth tied in having to perform in a certain way, in having to conform to social norms. Even though women live longer than men their lives are often more rushed, more pressured. Girls exist in a sand-timer, in a constant struggle to beat the clock.

Ever met a girl without guilt issues? They're a rare breed. Parents worry about them growing up too quickly,  staying out too late,clothing themselves inappropriately, having inappropriate friends, dating inappropriate boys. And girls respond to this. They struggle to be "appropriate". It's a lot of guilt to bear and not one that we put on boys. 

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