With the turn of the new century, American girls can look forward to creating self-directed lives that were unimagined in past generations. Social, academic and professional opportunities have opened up in ways that would be shocking or unbelievable for those who ushered in the 20th century. But even loving and supportive parents can unknowingly influence their daughters’ self-perceptions on “appropriate” career paths, girl’s body image, sports pursuits, and even color preferences.
Case in point: Over 65% of American 4th grade girls say they like science and math, yet only 18% of college engineering students are female. In the field of computer science, the statistics even show some backsliding, with the number of female computers science graduates going down from 37% to 12% in the last 20 years. Where does this disconnect begin, when modern American parents are very open to their children, regardless of sex, choosing their own academic and professional pursuits from archaeologist to soldier, chef to scientist. And how do messages affect how young girls and women see themselves in terms of physical attributes and size, as well abilities.
Making the Message Clearer
As part of a national campaign to draw more young girls into the fields of science, Verizon created a high-impact video that shows how very subtle the influences of caring parents can be on the daughters that they deeply care about. It’s an interesting study in how words can unwittingly define a young girl’s body image and self-perception in a way that was never intended. Each parental phrase expressed in this video was loving and caring, but each had an unintended side-effect. Many adults watching this video are caught off-guard, since these phrases are often used with completely good intentions by parents, friends, and other adults.
Increasing positive self-perception of talents and skills, or a girl’s body image, is often best communicated in messages that show that “ideal” or “real” or “best” is person-dependent, and not media-dependent or sex-dependent. Helping kids explore a wide range of interests, and reducing pre-packaged expectations that really shouldn’t have anything to do with gender, is a great way to start.