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"Girl Power!" Offends Boys, Excludes Friends

Will playful gender antagonism among kids affect their future relationships?

The gender war began in first grade.

My daughter came home on Monday irritated by the boys' slogan, "Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider, boys go to college to get more knowledge." Tuesday, she came home giggling about, "Girls rule, boys drool."

And so it has gone, one little barb after another thrown around as the girls and boys tease each other. I've always viewed this as inevitable and, for the most part, harmless, but maybe I'm wrong?

It has been made known to me that saying things like "Girl Power!" is unsettling to the boys. The existence of clubs such as raises the hackles of boys and their parents who are upset that there is no official Boys on the Run program.

An unintended side effect of this movement toward female empowerment is that it seems to be making young boys angry at young girls, because they have some opportunity that the boys do not. My kneejerk reaction was to think, "Welcome to a girls' life." The crux of the conflict is the illusion that self-esteem is a zero-sum game: that if girls become empowered, then by necessity boys are losing something. 

Young boys and girls today are blissfully ignorant recipients of the fruits of previous women's labor toward equality.

American women began organized fighting for the right to vote before 1878, but were not granted this right until 1920. Obviously, social change takes a long time. Let's not forget that the Equal Rights Amendment, originating in 1923, has yet to be ratified.

Women in science, such as Rosalind Franklin, struggled against the good ol' boys of politics that reinforced a notion that women are intellectually weaker than men. Social norms kept smart women out of the cocktail hours and high-level meetings where brainstorming and professional alliances are made.

So whatever happened to this woman, who produced the beautiful X-ray data that revealed the structure of DNA? She died in 1958 from ovarian cancer, likely due to her laboratory work with radiation. In 1962, her colleagues James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA. She did not.

Today, a top male player in the NBA makes $15-25 million dollars per man, per year. The maximum salary for a woman in the WNBA is mandatorily capped at $101,500. A woman with a Ph.D. doctorate earns an income roughly the equivalent to a man with a B.A. bachelor's degree. What a depressing reality for hard-working girls!

To believe that girls and boys today have a completely equal and level playing field offered to them in life is inaccurate. Men still dominate the sexes with regard to income, and recognition for excellence or leadership. So, I think my kneejerk reaction is still valid: If mantras like "Girl Power!" are changing young girls' psyches today in order to enable more equality in the future, I'm all for that. What do you think?

However, we need to be careful in the ways in which we teach our daughters to wield their powers, or to revel in their liberation.

Does it really benefit any girl to antagonize her male friends with a T-shirt that reads, "Friends are Forever, Boys are Whatever"? That statement is exclusionary, and it offends all boys, not just the ones raised to be male chauvinists.

We shouldn't forget that there are lots of boys (and men) out there who are intelligent, gentle and inclusive to their female colleagues. They are friends and allies, and women shoot themselves in the foot by painting such good guys as the enemy.

mormit September 19, 2011 at 04:59 AM
Wow. Decades later the "Girls go to Jupiter" and the associated comebacks are still out there. Yeah it's phase we all went through. Surely they know the diarrhea song by now. The girl germs/boy germs thing is something that passes in the early grade school years. Thankfully that phase ends and these days my wife tolerates me most of the time. When my daughter says she wants to be a princess. That is fine. I want her to be one like Hedy Lamarr. Hollywood actress who made todays cell phone communications possible through frequency-hopping spread-spectrum communication.
Karen October 13, 2011 at 04:45 PM
I really enjoy your articles Victoria. Please keep them coming.

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