I wasn't looking for a soapbox.
Just some school clothes for my kids. I took my girls shopping at Old Navy, Target and Children's Place, among other stores, where they were presented with an endless selection of graphic tees boasting slogans of female empowerment. "Girls Run the World," "The Future is Female," "Strong, Brave, Smart, Girl," etc.
Here are just a few examples - Shirts currently available at the aforementioned stores that I curated from their websites.
Adorable, right? The idea of empowering young girls this way. Catchy, glittering slogans that remind them and everyone they see of their strength and potential as females. These are certainly messages I hope my daughters will internalize. I mean, who can argue with shirts like this?
Well, me, actually.
In part, because another search of the same sites resulted in the following options for my two boys. These are very typical of what they've seen in stores.
Girls are the smartest and bravest! They are the future! They rule the world!
Boys? Eh. They chill, and play video games.
Now before anyone beats me to it, I think I understand the catalyst here. Girls today have been born into a society built on thousands of years of patriarchal dominance that has favored males in realms of eduction, politics and business. This has placed females at a obvious disadvantage, and left them underrepresented in Congress, among CEOs, soldiers, scientists, etc. Girls need extra encouragement!
A quick Google search reveals that girls are outperforming boys in elementary, middle and high school. There are more girls than boys serving in student government and as members of National Honor Society. College campuses are 60% female. Women make up the majority of the nation's law students, and in the last several years have been awarded more doctorates than men. Dropout rates, juvenile detention and prison statistics? Girl, please.
If the intention of girl power campaigns is to compensate for the privilege enjoyed by our boys, I have to wonder. Is this what privilege looks like?
My boys are 6 and 9. I can assure you they have no concept of historical patriarchal domination. They do however, understand clearly what they see at school and in stores - a barrage of slogans, on shirts, notebooks, backpacks etc., declaring that girls reign supreme. They see commercials on a loop reassuring girls that they can be anything, hear politicians announce that the future is female, and Beyonce sing, "Who run the world? Girls." OK, I lied. My boys don't actually listen to Beyonce.
Considered through the eyes of my daughters, I couldn't agree more. How fortunate are they to be born in a time and place that provides limitless possibilities, and the assurance that they can do anything boys can do? We should remind them often. I just wonder if perhaps by doing so we're overcompensating a bit?
Is it possible that in our crusade to empower our girls, we have marginalized our boys? Or at the least, encouraged them to compete. One of the most important things I've tried to teach our children is that men and women, boys and girls, are intended to complement one another's unique characteristics and cooperate as partners. Not to engage in a battle of the sexes.
Should we boycott these shirts? Of course not. In fact, my girls have a few of their own hanging in their closets. The only protest I would suggest is the next time you see your boy absorbing the message that girls are the best and the smartest and the future, remind them that they can be too.
Besides, who am I kidding. A shirt declaring that "The Future is Human" or "Girls Rule and PS Boys Also Have Great Potential" is going to end up on the clearance rack.