Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Glamour-vs-Greatness: What’s a girl to do?

Cover of "The Daring Book for Girls"

Cover of The Daring Book for Girls

From the Archives: A post examining the gender stereotypes that are often presented to children. Girls are promoted glamour while boys are sold on greatness.

So I was shopping with my daughters today at a large store. We ended up in the book section, and I saw two books sitting next to each other that made my blood boil.  One book had a red cover and a picture of a girl in a bubble bath, it was titled The Girls Book of Glamour: A guide to being a goddess. The other had a blue cover and a picture of a boy playing a sport. It was titled The Boys Book of Greatness: Even more ways to be the best at everything. On the back cover of the girls book, it said “be confident, be glamorous, be gorgeous” and then listed things you could learn in this book, like how to put on a fashion show, give yourself a mini-facial, and get the hair you really want. On the back of the boy’s book it said, “You can be the best at even more things (apparently this is the second edition)” and listed things you could learn in the book such as how to: tell a good joke, hypnotize someone, and break-dance.

As the mother of three daughters, this break down of interests by gender made me angry. What if my daughters want to learn to break dance or tell a good joke? At their ages (7-11), why on earth would they be interested in giving themselves a facial? This is a perfect example of what we call “premature sophistication” where the market for particular products and services is pushed downward to younger and younger children and they begin to think it’s desirable to be involved in activities that aren’t really appropriate for their age.

Now, I’m sure that some girls would like the Glamour Book for Girls.  I like glamour as much as the next person, but, why market such specific ideas to each gender? Isn’t one of the great things about the time in which we’re living the fact that both boys and girls are allowed to have  interests and skills that aren’t so gender specific? A woman won second place in the Indi 500, for goodness sake!

What bothers me about this type of gender-specific marketing is that it sends the message to girls that if they’re not interested in things like having a fashion show or giving themselves a facial, then there’s something wrong with them. If they’d rather learn to break dance, that’s a problem. You may think I’m overreacting, but I’ve been working with kids for many years, and I live with three of them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a girl look longingly at a race car, dinosaur, football, or microscope, and then say, “But that’s for boys…” That breaks my heart. I want all girls to know that no matter what their interests are, if they like it, it’s not just for boys! My favorite line at this point is, “Well, you like it and  you’re a girl,  so it’s for girls too.” The same is true for boys, but that’s a whole other post! Yes, I promise I’ll come back to that.

If your daughter is interested in one of these kinds of books that teaches you lots of different things, I suggest The Daring Book for Girls. It has tons of interesting things to teach, such as how to learn Morse code, or how to whistle with your fingers. The things that it focuses on aren’t so gender specific as to put your daughter in a glamorized straight jacket! Check it out.

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8 comments on “Glamour-vs-Greatness: What’s a girl to do?

  1. Phillip Page
    June 11, 2010

    Well said! I can’t wait for the boys version of this post! …I feel like society is over reliant on the idea of gender specific activities, it is extremely frustrating! …I too could go on for days about the subject!

  2. Abby Vassallo
    June 11, 2010

    This gets me as well. I’m also concerned about the way that young girls have the opportunity (sometimes, depending on their parents/surroundings) to be a ‘tomboy’ and enjoy sports, being dirty, and the outdoors, yet young boys only have the chance to be labeled ‘gay’ (particularly by their fathers) if they enjoy anything considered feminine. When is gender-typing going to be reigned in???

  3. drshew
    June 11, 2010

    Great point, Abby. In October I’m
    speaking at a conference about same sex attraction, and I plan to discuss these very issues. I’d love to arrive at a place where we can allow our children to embrace their intetests and talents, regardless of gender.

    • Phillip Page
      June 15, 2010

      What conference are you going to be speaking at? I am REALLY looking forward to TASP and Temple Grandin!

  4. oolalang
    July 16, 2011

    When I was a little girl, my parents were so awesome at teaching me the value of education and practical skills, that when I saw books about how to be “glamorous” I viewed them as supplements, as if beauty were just one extra thing that girls had to be good at too that boys couldn’t handle. I assumed that boys were just slower and needed books to get better at all that other stuff and were just incurably smelly (not a viewpoint fair to boys admittedly, but that was corrected later on once I was a monster of self-esteem). It never occurred to me that there was a glaring double-standard, or that most people didn’t think that way until much much later. I guess what I’m saying is that empowering parenting can override a lot of social ills while we try to encourage society to CATCH UP with girls!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 16, 2011

      I agree that parents play a HUGE part in helping kids process the messages they get from media,school, and so forth. Your viewpoint reminds me of Ginger Rogers quote about how she did everything her male partner did but backwards and in heels!

  5. Julia
    July 27, 2011

    Im so glad you mentioned a little about the boys. I have a son, I have never encouraged him to but also never discouraged and he loves pink, ballet and colourful nail polish (I, as his mum have never painted her nails or let him paint his as he is three and Im sceptical that it is healthy, but he loves looking at other peoples!). I agree whole heartedly about the girl thing, but I also want to fight for my boys right to be however glam he likes without getting punched, called names or belittled. I need to fight myself, because sometimes I find myself wishing for his sake he didnt like these things. Anyway thankyou and I am looking forward to your exploration of the other side too.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      July 27, 2011

      Thanks, Julia. I hope you enjoy the post today on boys. Please let me know your thoughts, I’d love to keep exploring this topic together.

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