By Dr. Jami Wilder
I watch her as she runs from one base to the next – all arms and legs and hope. Hoping that she won’t be tagged out this time; hoping that she won’t have to slide because she doesn’t know how; hoping that this time – this one time – she will be the hero of the game.
She is beauty unbridled.
As I watch her, I am filled with pride and joy and love. I see my amazing daughter who currently straddles a developmental line with one foot in childhood and one foot in adolescence and I …am …in …awe.
But something else is there lurking in the back of my heart. I feel it as she heads off to the bus stop alone every morning. It is present when I see her struggling to understand why the boys in her grade all play basketball at lunch while the girls sit in groups chattering about one another. It gnaws at me when relatives buy her books about “Hollywood’s Most Adorable Boys” or dolls smeared with too much makeup and not enough clothes.
What I feel is this nauseating mix of sadness and fear. As much as I celebrate her presence in this world, I am also aware that this world is a toxic place for her. I know all too well that this brilliant little girl who adores animals and science is growing in a culture that pollutes her.
The reality for my daughter and the millions of others around the world is frightening for me as a parent. The statistics are grim:
- One out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her life time. (RAINN)
- Seven percent of girls in grades 5-8 and 12 percent of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused. (RAINN)
- High prevalence of depression, eating disorders, self harming behaviors, and substance use have been noted in both girls and women.
- Sex trafficking has resulted in the rape, murder, and disappearance of millions of girls and women around the world.
In less extreme ways, girls and women carry girl-toxic waste around in everyday life. It permeates life. We strive for unattainable perfection that has been sold to us as ideal. We hate ourselves for never being enough. We emanate disdain for other women who “fall short” or who manage to be more than we are.
In many ways, the forces that make these statistics and experiences possible seem insurmountable. Misogyny and patriarchal social structures are not easily crumbled. Long-held and embraced gender norms take work to pry loose.
As a parent, some days I barely have time to brush my own hair; never mind finding the time to tackle the underlying gender socialization that creates the difference in lunchtime activities selected by my daughter’s classmates. How can I do ALL that when dinner needs to be made?
As a therapist, I sit with women (and men – stay tuned for future blogs) every day who bear the wounds of the toxic soil in which we are all grown. I am reminded daily that something has to change to heal the soil – to shift our culture. What I have learned from my clients, from parenting my daughter, and from my own journey is that healing is an active process that happens in a multitude of little moments along the way. For our daughters, it can happen in the millions of teachable moments that wrap around the softball games, hair-brushing and dinner-making.
So how do we help clean the soil and shift the culture? How do we as parents give our girls the opportunity to grow free – or at least start them on the path to grow – free of girl-toxic culture?
Check back tomorrow for Part Two – Cleaning the Soil
Jami Wilder, Psy.D., is co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness, located in Cranston, R.I. She is also a postdoctoral fellow at RWU Counseling Center.