The controversy over these t-shirt messages is about one month old right now and is just the latest example of the risky messages that pop culture is sending to our youth – both girls and boys. Coupled with this is the difficulty any parent has in finding age appropriate clothing for girls as young as kindergarten age. Most of the clothing choices that I see are geared to sexualizing and/or “dumbing down” our girls from very young ages.
Slogans like these are all examples of telling girls – and indirectly boys – that they are valued for their looks, rather than for their brains or what they can accomplish. They tell girls that they don’t have the brains that boys do, so much so that they can’t even do their own homework after being instructed in the lesson all day at school.
I’ve read several blogs on this topic, and they have included remarks about freedom of speech to “Just don’t buy them!” to “Lighten up! Where’s your sense of humor?” Frankly, I’m concerned about the negative messages that girls are receiving and the impact these attitudes have on shaping young minds.
Being pretty, dressing up, and being able to take a joke are all good things when aligned with values that also prioritize being intelligent, promoting positive stereotypes, and having a healthy sense of humor. It is also good to be able to laugh at oneself.
All that aside, I’m concerned that we are looking at this issue through an adult lens. Young girls do not have the life experience or maturity to have any context for these “jokes.” Children do not understand irony until a later age. In the meantime, they pretty much take things literally. Knowing this, we should take these messages seriously because they are basically saying to girls that they can’t do something. The message they should be getting is that anything is possible; that anything is within their reach … especially being smart.
Girls at a young age still look to their parents and listen to them. What we say to them is important. They listen to our affirmations and opinions. We should ask ourselves, “Why is it considered funny to promote being stupid?” Words like this are another factor that can lead to undermining a girl’s desire to achieve in school and in life.
As the saying goes, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Our girls need to be told that they can be pretty and smart, too!
Donna J. Byrne, AWP Executive Director
(Letter to the Editor, Intelligencer – 9/23/11)