When I first found out I was having a son—I was disappointed.
After coming to terms with being pregnant, I immediately began thinking of what I’d name my daughter. Even though I hate pink, for weeks I’d stroll the girl’s baby section whenever I was in a department store, and resist the urge to buy a whole slew of “princess” onsies. The only thing that gave me pause about having a daughter—doing her hair. Unlike many other Black women, I can’t cornrow to save my life, but I figured, even this would get better because I’d practice on my daughter.
So when my partner and I went for our sonogram and found out that our baby was a boy, he was (predictably) ecstatic, while I was let down. However, five years later, I’m thankful that my son is here, not only because I love him and can’t imagine my life without him, but also because raising girls seems to be so much more difficult and complicated than raising boys.
Let’s be clear, parenting—period—is tough. Raising a confident, respectful, intelligent, happy child is definitely not easy and we all know the challenges young Black boys face in America. Black boys are overwhelming pushed into Special Education classes whenever they show the first signs of hyperactivity, they are not always given the space to be emotional and express themselves, and they are often held to hyper-masculine standards of manhood. While the challenges of raising Black boys are many, raising girls, especially Black girls, requires a different set of skills and the ability to not only guard against racism, but also brace against a society that is working overtime to sexualize little girls.
These days, when I’m shopping for my son, I’m reminded, again, of why I’m thankful my child is a boy. The girl’s clothing section is still filled with frilly pink dresses, but over the years I’ve noticed that most of the clothes have become far more sexual. From pink miniskirts to flowered halter-tops, the girl’s clothing sections looks like most of its outfits are just miniature versions of the junior’s sections.
Recently, several retailers have been garnering negative press for selling clothing more suitable for adults to children. A few months ago, Abercrombie & Fitch came under fire for advertising padded bikini tops for its line targeting girls ages 7-14. Many were rightly upset that Abercrombie & Fitch would market such an overtly sexy item to small children. Parenting blog Babble, wondered:
“The push up bra is, effectively, a sex tool, designed to push the breasts up and out, putting them front and center where they’re more accessible to the eye (and everything else). How is this okay for a second-grader? “
Another egregious example of over-sexualizing children occurred a few weeks ago when news broke that a California woman was allegedly giving her eight-year-old daughter Botox injections. Although the woman has since claimed that she was paid to fabricate the story, initially the mom, Sheena Upton, said she gave her daughter the injections to prevent her third grader from getting wrinkles.
ABC News reported:
“Upton said her daughter, Britney, had complained about wrinkles and her daughter explained how she first noticed wrinkles when she looked at her face in the mirror and ‘just didn’t like it.’
“’I just, like, don’t think wrinkles are nice on little girls,” the 8-year-old said in the May 12 “GMA” report.’”
These examples are just more in a long line in which girls have been sexualized over the years. From popular musical artists whose fan base consists mostly of teenagers and young girls, to clothing lines that promote hypersexual styles, young women have consistently been sent the message that they should adhere to a certain standard of beauty in order to be seen as attractive.
These days it seems like playing with dolls, braiding each other’s hair, and jumping double-dutch has been replaced with putting on make-up, dressing up in body skimming clothes, and practicing the moves to the latest Ciara video.
But what happened to girlhood?
What happened to the precious period when we were less concerned with looking good and more concerned with beating all the boys in our neighborhood in a relay race?
As our culture becomes more and more interested with turning children into mini adults, young girls have lost much of what innocence they may have had left. While some of us lament the actions of some young girls, labeling them “fast,” their supposed manish ways are not completely their fault.
Although we are all somewhat complicit in the loss of innocence of our girls, being aware of this gives us the opportunity to make it right. By setting positive examples for young girls and giving them opportunities to see women being powerful and positive in a non-sexual way, we can help them see that the a woman’s worth lies in more than just how she looks or what she can do for the opposite sex.