14 May 2013

A Girl! In All her Resplendent Glory

I spotted this post this morning, linked from a few friends on my facebook newsfeed. The pictures are beautiful and the project is creative. 

I was immediately drawn to it; I try to keep up with issues of The Woman, especially as related to The Little Girl.  I have one of those - little girls, that is -  and I remain concerned with the images we project onto our daughters.  [This week we're seeing the inability of Disney to let strong, real girls remain apart from sexual objectification, as seen with the reformatting of Merida, the atypical princess from the movie Brave.]   These images we continue to project, post sexual-revolution, have resulted in a culture of pornography and eating disorders, not to mention continuing the culture of unhappy marriages, divorce, and abuse. 

The second reason to be drawn to this post is that the photography is excellent.  I know not Jaime Moore, but she can sure take a picture. 

And the third reason (and it's entirely self-centered): I did a report on Amelia Earhart in second grade and have a treasured picture of myself dressed in my leather flight jacket and some sort of goggles on my head. 

So, I love these ladies - Especially Amelia, Helen, and Susan B, who are personal faves of mine.  And the little girl being photographed, well, she looks happy and to be enjoying the exercise.  And her mother's motivations are good:  stay away from the prostitutes-disguised-as-heroes in most of pop culture today.


I have a few objections to this type of thing being the key to alternative, fix-the-bad-feminine-images strategy.  Please don't read this as a criticism of Jaime Moore.  She seems an earnest, excellent type who aside from taking great pictures, is being thoughtful about how to rescue her little one from the false images of sexuality that pervade and prevail.  I'm just reluctant to join the bandwagon of "isn't this cool" linking up to this project.  It is cool.  But, I fear it is not the complete answer. 

So, to the However. 


'Not just a girl' -  The title of the post is unhelpful.  Owning the just a girl language is where the problems begin.  Reject the language that denigrates the feminine.  The feminine, like the masculine, is a great and powerful force, and you can argue from a secular, Jungian-archetype place or a religious, God-created-distinct-genders-on-purpose place.  God or Jung - either way - Just a Girl is heresy.  And fighting against "Just a Girl" does not begin with negating it.  Negating a statement legitimizes the existence of the thing referenced in the statement. ["Peter is not bald" means that there is such a thing as "bald";  "I'm not just a girl" means that there is such thing as "just a girl"].

 So, fighting this does not begin with "Not Just a Girl" - it begins with, "Pardon me, I do not understand this "just a girl" of which you speak."  I think I'd rather my own daughter learn to say "Just...just....just my bee-hind" than "I'm not just a girl - look - I can be a doctor too."  Of course you can, and you should if that's where your gifts meet the world's needs, but the idea that your femininity needs apologizing for or, worse, improving upon, is horrific; that, because I don't have a penis, I probably need to do something to prove that I'm not just a girl, well, that is the very problem. 


We don't need to replace our idols of sexualized princesses with different idols.  We need to do away with the idolatry.  Yes, there are biographies of women our daughters need to read - and sons too - but there are other and more realistic role models around.  Because, famous prostitutes are bad, but famous folks who are successful on the merits of their public achievements are still what?  Famous.  Fame is the great idol of our times.  Sandra Day O'Connor is better, role model wise, than Kim Kardashian.  But, your daughter and my daughter are not likely to be either.

Sweet little Emma in these pictures is being told a better story than those being dressed and photographed as Jasmine or encouraged to be a Justin Beiber groupie.  Much better.  Kudos to her mother.  However, she is still being told that becoming a person who will have articles written about her and pictures taken of her is superior to one who doesn't.  She is being told that being a person of note makes her of more value.  And, in the last picture, she is being told that the penultimate is the Presidency of the United States.  Perhaps Emma will be President in 2044, but, well, probably she won't be.  And going ahead and telling her that now will serve some great good in her life, I think.  There are 300 million people in America; there are very few Katie Courics, Mia Hamms, etc. living among us.  Let them know that early and often and without regret.  Famous isn't better.  It's mostly an accident, and it often times brings with it enough problems to make it a bad thing.  Likely the folks whose lives our children will affect will be those in their immediate, every-day worlds. Teach them how to change the lives of the people in the neighborhood, at church, at work, at school, at the park, and, most acutely, the people with whom they share a roof.  Tell them the stories of women who have changed your own life.  Likely, they are nurses, teachers, mothers, doctors, librarians, friends.  Being famous, or more pitifully, mimicking the famous is not the key to being of value or of use. 


Ms. Moore, in this post, uses the adjectives "Strong" and "Real" to describe women.  And, let me tell you, I am on her team.  Those are two of the top goals we have for our daughter and sons.  Paul once told me that I was terrifying in all of my strength and reality - back when he was smitten and poetic and had time for such things.  Good.  We want our daughters, as well as our sons, to have such gravitas, that, as people know them well, they are affected by them.  I feel this way about my dearest friends - men and women - they are forces in my life. They are like the grass in Lewis's Great Divorce - so real it hurts your feet a bit to walk upon it. 

Vapid is the least attractive quality one can discover in a woman, and our culture loves it like no other.  Vapid women, and their male counterparts, make it all easy.  They hold us to no standards; they require of us nothing.  We want our daughters to sometimes make folks uncomfortable.  (And then to offer comfort.  Joyfully, cheerfully, pleasantly.  With good smells and good food.) 
But, let's be very careful here about defining strength and reality around professions.  It is dangerous to equate "a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President" with "strong and real" -  A doctor is no stronger a person and no less typifying of "just a girl" than a part-time librarian.  A doctor may be as weak, vapid, and girlie as they come.  Or, she may have eschewed the feminine entirely.  One girl wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.  Her best friend wants to be a preschool teacher.  Is one stronger or more real than the other?  Of course not. 

So, what makes strong and real, and therefore what should we encourage in our daughters? 

Strong women are capable and competent; they change tires, provide meals, offer help of many kinds, follow maps and hopefully compasses.  And when they lack at these things, they do not squeal with ineptitude; they are comfortable and able to find assistance.  Real women are kind and honest; they have relationships which are beneficial, encouraging, truthful.  A strong woman does not need to fight every battle, and so she is not fingernails on a chalkboard.  A strong woman is not bound by social norms, but neither is she bound to rail against them.  She is comfortable with who she is, and who her friends are, whether that be in the kitchen or the courtroom.  And she has a realistic enough view of life to know that she is just as likely to affect the world with a pie as with a closing argument.  She knows she is no more important than anyone else, and yet she is of utmost importance to her family, friends, people and to her creator.  A strong woman is educated; she knows her history, her language, her numbers, and she is never scared to engage an argument.  A real woman loves her friends, her family, her spouse; she cares for her people.  She is fierce and a force with whom to be reckoned.  And she smiles, because smiling shows forth her inner strength more than scowling ever can. 

Let's surround our daughters with real women. Women who live real, normal, everyday lives.  Women whose batteries on their cars die, gardens have bugs, and whose greatest accomplishments are often hidden from the public eye.
Strength is a mark of character, not of role in the economy.  Reality is a goal of being, not of title.  


Amelia Earhart is super cool.  And I'm for studying her.  But she had an affair with a married man whilst engaged to another.  It's not that this nullifies any inspiration she may give; it's that it should give us pause when holding her up as the ideal.  Helen Keller - now there is a strong woman; let's read about her.  But, my children are blessed with sight and hearing, and aren't we glad, even if no one ever writes their life stories. 

Famous is not better than regular ol'; femininity is beautiful on its own and needs no dressing up; real and strong do not equate with professionally successful. 
Let's take care to fight the vapid, oversexed princesses with more than just professional women.  Let's fight them with the good, the happy, the cheerful.  Professions and fame are incidental; laughter and service are at the core of what we want. 

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