This afternoon I was driving my kids to their first day of gymnastics class and I had one of those moments when you want to throat punch the universe. Some days, it feels like you can’t win for trying when it comes to raising strong girls. Let me explain.
My daughter was so excited for today. She finally had a *real* gymnastics outfit and looked like a pro. She’d been talking about this for weeks. I looked at her in the review mirror, the late afternoon sun shining behind her as brightly as the smile she flashed back at me. I was excited for her to learn new ways her body could be strong, to see how powerful her muscles could be.
But oh, the irony….
When we stopped at the first red light, to our immediate right was a “gentlemen’s” club. The sign out front said, “Girls! Start those college savings. Dancers Wanted.” My daughter read it, speaking quietly as she tried to make sense of the message behind the words. And then she went silent. She has a nine-year-old’s understanding of what goes on in those places thanks to an over-informed classmate. I said nothing, giving her time to process and knowing her questions would begin any minute.
We made it a mile or two down the road and came to a second red light. This time, to our immediate left was a girl in the tiniest bikini and highest stilettos you can imagine teetering by a fence for what looked like a commercial photo shoot. For yard sheds, the kind you throw in your back yard to hold lawn mowers and patio furniture. Her nearly naked body was being used to market and sell yard sheds, and my daughter was figuring this out as she gazed out the window on her way to gymnastics class where she was so excited to wear her new uniform and learn to do a cartwheel.
And I started to feel the hot rage you get behind your eyeballs when you are just so sick and tired of the fuckery your daughters have to experience as girls growing up in this world.
This is everywhere. All. the. Time. Everywhere the objectification of women, the turning them into objects for sex and nothing more. Mind you, I live in the Heartland. We weren’t driving down The Strip in Vegas. We were on the 51 in Beloit, Wisconsin.
No matter how I try to raise my kids – my daughter to be a strong woman and my son to be a man who respects all women – it is stuff like this afternoon’s drive that make me feel like I needed Joan of Arc battle armor at my baby shower instead of a diaper genie.
Because I’ll will never stop fighting for my daughter’s heart to be free and unburdened by messages she gets from so many places that her sex is her worth. To hell with that.
I will never stop fighting for my son to know that all girls and women have worth simply by being. Neither of my children will fall victim to a society that treats women like disposable objects.
I feel rage because the offer to strip for college cash isn’t offered to boys. It isn’t a choice they have to make. Why are there not billboards up and down the highway offering these same girls internships in the business world? As a mother to a daughter I feel like a mother to all daughters, and I am angry for them. These girls are barely 18 years old and they are immediately being pulled into the sex trade.
The messages about the value of a woman’s body that my daughter got on the way to class are the exact opposite to those I hoped she would get in class.
Her body is strong. Capable. Graceful. Powerful. Her body has value because it houses HER. She is nobody’s object. Full stop.
We arrive at the YMCA for class and we have to pass through the gym to get the the gymnastics room. In the gym are a dozen high school girls playing volleyball. They are all different sizes, they are sweating, and they are playing hard.
I thought about pausing with Amelia in the gym and giving her some kind of pep talk like: “You know that sign about college we passed at that club and that girl in the bikini….you don’t have to do those things to make money for college. You can get all kinds of jobs or start a business or do an internship. You can earn academic scholarships. And see these girls playing volleyball? They could go to college on an athletic scholarship. Just like your swim teacher.”
I didn’t say any of that. I didn’t have time.
Because as my daughter walked through the gym and saw the volleyball players her mouth briefly dropped open in awe of all the teenagerness around her and then she turned to me and said, “Oh, and by the way, THAT is how you get to college using your body. Yes, I read the sign on the road and saw Ms. Bikini and what a bunch of bullshit.”
Friends, we live to fight another day.
Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.