The concept of child rearing and sexual identity transformed during the 1970s from boys are boys and girls are girls naturally at birth, to individual sexuality is not strictly biological but according to an individual’s social norms and preferences. Boys and girls were made and not born. Spar features this idea from French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir,
“Because if girls were indeed made and not born, then they could just as easily be made, and unmade, into all sorts of things that had never been deemed possible before. They could be tomboys or surrogate males; they could be hunters and warriors rather than nurturers and protectors. They could learn to build houses rather than pose dolls in them and could don the pants in the family as easily as the apron.” (36)
Beauvoir’s theory of gender plasticity encouraged parents to defy traditional sex differences and raise their children without gender stereotypes. He encouraged buying children gender-neutral toys, having Dad change the diapers and Mom throw the football around with the kids, and accustoming children to mixed gender play groups.
Spar recollects that Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be…You and Me, the album featuring writers such as Shel Silverstein and Judy Blume and voices including Diana Ross and Michael Jackson had her hooked on the sexual revolution. She and her friends often sang songs about how mothers could be ranchers, poetry makers, doctors, teachers etc. However, she concludes that the sexual revolution only confused young girls.
Females of the era were told they were equal, but when evaluating the real world politicians, lawyers, sports heroes, and newscasters were all male.
“…Girls of the 1970s labored under a subtle set of dual expectations. To be smart and pretty. Equal to the boys but not in competition with them. Drop-dead gorgeous in clothes we stitched ourselves.” (38)
By the 1980’s and 1990s mothers had made a U-turn from the sexual revolution. Barbie and playing Disney princess dress up was back in style for their young daughters. Spar comments Barbie and Disney princesses were so popular because they visually contradicted what girls of this generation were promised to become.
“Be a surgeon!” we say to young women. “But get out of your pumpkin and dress like a queen!” Cinderella tosses back. “Work hard and do well!” we urge girls (in schools and Brownie troops and soccer leagues across the country) “Just remember to find your prince!” the mermaid Ariel (who gave up her voice to catch her man) giggles back. It is a cultural contradiction that girls experience before they even hit kindergarten, a dilemma we give them no way to navigate.” (41)
During the spring of 2007 the New York Times published an article featuring young girls at one of America’s top ranked public high schools. The girls were standout students in philosophy and Latin, they ran track, participated in theater, sang in the choir and were philanthropists. The article raved that they were amazing young women who could do anything men could do. Interestingly, they were experiencing difficulties with college acceptance and managing their own competing desires.
“Your supposed to do have all these extracurriculars, to play sports and do theater,” confessed Julie, an aspiring doctor. “You’re supposed to do well in your classes and still have time to go out. You’re supposed to do all these things and not go insane.” (44).
Spar believes that older expectations of women were more realistic. Today, parents raise their children to be smart and successful, while the magazines and television pressure them to be beautiful, physically fit, and have a man by their side. Spar concludes with feminisms influence on these expectations,
“Feminism gave my generation of girls a dream. It gave us open doors and equal opportunity, a chance to run as fast as the wind and choose the lives we wanted…Somehow-without meaning to- we became convinced, and then convinced them, that having it all meant doing it all…And that being good meant being perfect” (50)
1) What is your opinion of parents raising children with gender stereotypes? Are girls supposed to play with Barbie and boys with Legos or is it better for the child to decide which they prefer?
2) Compare and contrast your family and culture’s expectations of you. Do you feel pressured to attain these expectations?
3) What do you believe are some solutions to your personal perfection or “having it all” syndrome?