For those of you who don’t know, David Beckham is a super sports soccer star. He and his wife Victoria (ex Spice Girl) have just had a baby girl – Harper Seven – after 3 boys and David posted some rather beautiful pictures on his FaceBook page. One of him with Harper and one of Harper and Victoria. So far so good.
Then he said in an interview how everything they have is pink for her. It reminded me of when I had first daughter and my husband went out to buy a dummy/soother for her. The shopkeeper asked him if it was for a boy or a girl (meaning should he give him pink one or a blue one). My husband said “Why – do they have different shaped mouths?” Ha ha. He bought a yellow one. Now the pink and the blue thing is not really an issue – all to do with personal taste and preference. It was what David said next that really concerned me. He said “You have to be more delicate with girls”.
My heart sank. This is how it starts. Let’s be delicate with girls and robust with boys. Now let’s see where that leads us. More importantly let’s see where that will get Harper.
How we are perceived as women begins when we are babies and little girls. There are many studies and pieces of research on the different messages that boys and girls get. Here are two of them.
The first piece of research concerned babies in a nursery and women who were assigned to look after them. The interesting thing that happened was that the women who thought they had baby boys treated them differently than the women who thought they had baby girls. So in the case of the women who thought they had baby boys – if the baby cried the first thing the woman did was to loosen the blankets and let the baby kick. If the baby boy (as she thought) carried on crying the woman would show it some keys or coloured objects and try to distract its attention. If the baby continued to cry the woman would pick him up and take him round the room and show him different things in the room to grab his attention. And if the baby continued to cry the woman would take the baby to meet other babies so they could touch hands and make eye contact with each other etc.
Now, in contrast, the women who thought they had baby girls treated them very
differently. If the baby cried what the woman did was to turn the baby over and tuck her in more tightly and try to rock her to sleep. If the baby continued to cry the woman would pick the baby up, put her face down on her shoulder and rock her. And if the baby continued to cry she would take her to a corner of the room where it was quiet and dark and she could shush her and rock her back to sleep. So the baby girls would be treated ‘delicately’.
So the messages that are being given to boys from such an early age are be expansive and identify and interact with the external world and others in it. And the messages being given to girls are be quiet and be invisible in the external world.
The second example is from research done observing how fathers interacted with their babies…. David Beckham take note.
With their baby girls the fathers would sit the baby usually on his hip – which seems to be a preferred position for a father to carry his baby girl – so she is looking up into his eyes. Maybe this is where women first learn to look up to men – from their daddies’ hips. And he would interact with her by saying things like ‘Well don’t you look pretty. And what have you been doing today? Have you been a good girl for mummy?’ Now fathers with baby boys apparently treated them differently. They would sit the baby boy on their knees in front of them so they have direct eye contact and then they tended to bounce the baby up and down on their knees. Thus would begin the rough-and-tumble that fathers share with their sons. And the interaction would be along the lines of ‘Well look at you. What a fine big boy you are. And what have you been doing today? No doubt getting up to mischief’.
So the messages little girls are likely to get are:
– be quiet
– be good
– be nice
– be pretty
and if we get rewarded for being pretty and compliant then that’s how we will learn to be. We will not be comfortable rocking the boat, we will want people to like us, we will hate conflict and we will not want to be seen as pushy. And we are likely to be afraid of
success because of the power it brings. There is much research done now on the affect of gender conditioning on girls – and it starts when they are babies.
Don’t do this to Harper, David. She will have SO many well-intentioned but unhelpful messages from so many people and sources just because she is female and she will have to spend years in the future overturning them. So teach her to be strong. Teach her that she can be successful whatever she does. Teach her to speak her mind. Teach her to be beautiful from the inside. Teach her that she is a wonderful human being. Teach her to be independent. Teach her that she is worthy.
Right now she is new born. Of course be delicate with her but because she is a tiny baby – NOT because she is a girl baby.