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At What Age Do Girls Start Receiving Limiting Messages?

By Grace Weaver on 04/04/2018 | General

Gender stereotyping begins before we are even born.

Not convinced? Just think about this:

At a gender reveal party, parents slice into a cake filled with pink buttercream—revealing that they’re expecting a baby girl. The sister of the expecting mother sends out pink baby shower invitations to female family members and friends. After the baby girl is born, she is seen leaving the hospital wearing a pink headband. While there is nothing wrong with pink, overloading girls on the hue can give girls the impression they’re required to like pastels just because of their gender.

On her first birthday, her dad puts her in a pair of leggings with tiny hearts with a matching t-shirt laced with tiny bows and scalloped edges. Flash-forward two years and her mom is shopping for 3T clothing that mimics that of female adults. The fabric is flimsier and the outfit is smaller in size than 3T boys clothing, teaching girls their clothing should prioritize fashion over function, even at a young age. Later that afternoon, the family of three settles down on the couch to watch a movie where the princess is saved by her prince.

One day, after preschool, her mom loads up the car with a group of girls for a playdate. In anticipation of an exciting afternoon, where the girls will play “house” and make necklaces, the girls giggle, laugh, and scream with excitement. Her mom cries out, “Girls, you need to calm down!” as she drives off, not realizing she’s further encouraging the standard of girls being quiet and polite.

Meanwhile, another mom loads up her car with her son and a group of boys on their way to playdate consisting of toy trucks, scooters and skateboards. As the car pulls out of the parking lot, the boys yell loudly in anticipation of the fun ahead. The boy’s mom lets out a heavy sigh and mutters, “Boys will be boys.”

Flash-forward eight years. She is 11 and has a little brother who is seven. The duo play outside one summer afternoon as their mom comes to collect her for their grandfather’s birthday party later that night. She asks why her brother doesn’t yet have to go inside and her mom responds, “You have to get ready and find a dress to wear. Your brother just needs to wash his face and put on a nice pair of pants. It will only take him five minutes,” subtly reminding the girl that society expects her to spend more time on her physical appearance than it does of boys. 

As the school year approaches, she is signed up for arts and crafts afterschool program while her brother is signed up for one that teaches wilderness skills, showing her girls are supposed to like creating things for homes and boys are supposed to like adventuring in the outdoors. Halfway through the school year, a note is sent home to her parents saying that a skirt she wore to school was inappropriate because it is “distracting,” a reminder that while she’s still a child, her body is already being overly sexualized.

Now, she is 12 years old. In her 12 years of life, through the implicit and explicit actions of the world, she has been told, both implicitly and explicitly:

Girls like pink.

Girls wear frilly headbands and bows.

Girls assume the role of a damsel in distress, not a superhero.

Girls are not messy.

Girls should be quiet.

Girls play inside with dollhouses, not outside with skateboards.

Girls like to look pretty.

Girls aren’t as tough as boys.

Girls like to read and do crafts.

Girls don’t need wilderness or survival skills.

Girls should be careful that their clothes don’t distract boys.

Girls are vulnerable targets.

It’s a lot to take in. Every day, girls sort through these type of limiting messages from men, women and media alike. Even the word “girl” is often used in an insulting and degrading manner.

What is a girl supposed to think when she hears these things? That being a girl is inherently bad or makes her inferior? The danger of these messages confine her to certain attributes, telling her what she should be, how she should act, what she should do, what she should enjoy and more.

While we can’t shield girls from every stereotype about women or negative comment, we can tell them they are full of power and potential, teach them to think critically about the messages they receive each day, and support them as they navigate their way through adolescence and adulthood.

At Girls on the Run, we envision a world where every girls knows and activates her limitless potential. You can be a part of changing the way girls see themselves in the world. Join the Girls on the Run movement today.

Grace Weaver

Author

I am grateful to be a team member at Girls on the Run and value the program’s ability to empower girls to be bold, strong and confident. It is a joy to collaborate with a talented group of women who truly care about the mission and values of the organization.

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