The grandchildren aren't the only ones who will benefit from the calcium in America's …
In 1998, I wrote my book "Girls Seen and Heard" in response to Carol Gilligan's troubling research showing that girls lose their self-esteem and confidence during the teen years. Working in collaboration with the Ms. Foundation for Women and drawing on my own experience bringing up a daughter, I created a series of activities for mothers, grandmothers, and aunts to do with the girls they love who are on the cusp of adolescence.
I was thrilled when the Publisher's Weekly review pulled out this quote: "The importance of mentors is especially stressed because, as Forsyth says, 'being welcomed into the lives of real women shows girls what their own lives could be like in the future -- in spite of the fact that society, from TV and movies to billboards and toys, tells a vastly different story.' "
That's precisely the point I wanted to make. Now, almost 14 years to the day since the book was published, the theme of this 101 st anniversary of International Women's Day is "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures." I couldn't help but think about whether we've made any progress toward the very worthy goal of doing what that theme and my book encourage us to do.
On a personal level, I think we have. My adult daughter and those of my Boomer friends managed to successfully weather the maelstrom of adolescence and emerge as strong, spirited women with minds of their own. Some of them are SAHMs (translation: Stay at Home Moms), others have careers and no children, and still others are working mothers. None of them are apologizing for their choices. That in itself is progress.
Yet as one Boomer mother and grandmother said to me, "I worry about the granddaughters." What she meant was that the part about "society, from TV and movies to billboards and toys" telling "a vastly different story" regarding the reality of women's lives has not only failed to improve but has gotten worse. As a case in point, Catherine McCall, MS, LMFT, posting on the "Psychology Today" web site on March 4 th cited research done by a task force on healthy sexuality appointed by the American Psychological Association. Part of her summary of the salient points is as follows:
Women and girls are more likely than men and boys to be objectified and sexualized in a variety of media outlets;
Given the highly sexualized cultural milieu in which girls are immersed, their sexualizing choices about clothing, hair, and makeup and the sexually precocious acting out that some teens get into may be the result of modeling;
In magazine advertisements there is evidence that sexual objectification occurs more frequently for women than for men and that women are 3x more likely than men to be dressed in a sexually provocative manner.
Beyond that, we have the influence of such TV shows as "Toddlers & Tiaras" and "Dance Moms" as well as the catty and downright cruel female behavior that's become acceptable on reality shows and seems to be seeping into the culture at large.
But enough handwringing. This is supposed to be a day of celebration about the possibility of connecting with our girls and inspiring their futures. That much we can still do. One on one, as the actual role models the girls are watching, I believe we can effectively counteract society's negative influences. I hope I'm right, because as author and child advocate Neil Postman once wrote, "Children are living messages we send to a time we will never see."
May you and I, and women the world over, take Postman's thought to heart so that the girls of today will be all that they can be when they become the women of tomorrow.
Sondra Forsyth is a Senior Editor at ThirdAge.com
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