Ask Little Girls What They Think, Not What They Wear

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More times than I’d care to count, I’ve watched grownups approach kids with two different approaches to understanding them. Little boys are asked what they like to do, what kinds of subjects they’re learning in school (if they’re old enough), and what their plans are for summer/Christmas/Thanksgiving/Fourth of July — fill in the blank. Said grownup then turns to the little girl and, with the sweetest of intentions, immediately compliments or questions her outfit, her hair, her eyes, without posing any similar questions about activities or school. As harmless as this approach may seem, what grownups are unintentionally conveying to daughters is that because they’re female, all of the aforementioned takes precedence over developing interests and skills.

Lisa Bloom writes that while researching for her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, she learned that 15% to 18% of girls under 12 years old currently  wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly. A whopping 25% of young American ladies would rather win America’s Next Top Model than walk away with the Nobel Peace Prize.

In her piece entitled  “How to Talk to Little Girls,” she recounts her experiences speaking to a young girl without any questions about appearance. She encourages readers to make the same efforts when speaking to girls:

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

Small endeavors like these seek to engage girls in other subjects besides what they look like. By asking them for their opinion, their take, their contribution, you send the message that their observations matter. That their ideas, no matter how underdeveloped, are worth sharing, discussing, and even maintaining.