Recently, Tampa Bay Bucs’ Quarterback, Jameis Winston, spoke to students at a Florida elementary school. In what was supposed to be a motivational speech, he told the male students to “stand up,” “be strong,” and that they could do anything they put their mind to. On the other hand, when addressing the female students, he suggested that they needed to be “silent, polite, gentle.” Then, my feminist parent brain exploded.
Back from the moment I found out I was having a girl, the weight of what that meant has rested heavily on me. I worry constantly about her on levels both big and small, obvious and subtle. From America’s sexual assault epidemic to whether my daily makeup routine sends her the wrong message, it feels like the world is a minefield.
Next year, my daughter starts kindergarten. As I read excerpts of Winston’s speech, it’s just a shameful reminder of what she’s already facing.
Since his talk went viral, Winston has apologized for the “poor word choice.” But this would suggest he didn’t actually mean what he said, that he just used the wrong phrasing. I don’t believe that’s true. I think he really does want women to be silent, polite, and gentle. I may be predisposed to think this about him because of his shaky track record, but I also think that he is not alone in this belief.
Am I overreacting in thinking that there’s a good section of America that feels this way? Let’s take a look at recent evidence:
Time and time again, women are reminded that they should be “silent, polite, gentle.”
Here comes the challenge . . . when you have a high-energy, independent daughter and a full-time exhausting job, there are times you may want her to be silent, polite, and gentle — simply for your own sanity. It can be hard to balance your personal needs with the need to instill confidence in her spirit. I have to check myself; am I doing this so I can get through the day or for her? And sometimes the former is more important than the latter. But I’m trying my best.
From too early an age, there are ingrained ideas put on young girls in all aspects of their lives. While boys may be encouraged by sports stars like Winston to “be strong,” and their rambunctiousness considered normal, girls are not allotted the same expectations. Studies show that parents are four times likelier to tell their daughters to “be careful,” versus their sons. I don’t have anything to personally compare this to. I’m unsure whether the constant refrain of “be careful” coming out of my mouth is gender-based or because my daughter seems to think she’s competing on “American Ninja Warrior” at all times. But I’m trying to curb the instinct whenever possible.
The concept of “quiet” seems to extend to children’s television. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender, only 30% of characters on children’s shows are female and 20% are narrators. I’m currently launching an anti-“Paw Patrol” campaign in my house. Everest and Skye do not make up for the patriarchal puppy dynamic of the series. Plus, the female mayor is portrayed as an idiot who can’t run her town without the help of a boy and his dogs. We can do better. Don’t mind me over here, running “Moana” on repeat.
The toy aisle has, until recently, been just as guilty of gender bias. Hasbro announced this month that it would stop releasing revenues categorized by gender because it’s no longer relevant. It took a while, and some viral requests for blue Easy Bake Ovens or search parties being sent for Rey toys, but they’re starting to recognize what’s appropriate in regards to gender. Labeling toys by gender only leads to more bias. In the last few years, stores have begun removing their boys vs. girls divided toy aisles. Trying to navigate a store with a four-year-old is challenging enough, without adding the patriarchal messages hidden inside pink rows of princesses.
These expectations reach the classrooms too, and not just when Jameis Winston stops by to give a speech. For example, research shows teachers (often unintentionally) rate female students as lower performing at math than the male students, even if they have identical testing scores. This bias can ultimately dissuade female students away from pursuing careers in mathematics. I personally wonder if my own math phobia is based on lacking abilities or a lack of confidence. I always received good grades in the classes, but never felt confident and my math SAT scores reflect that. One thing’s for certain, I won’t tell my daughter “I hate math” or “I was never good at math.” It’s just a small way I can curb one bias.
Not all the requests for “silent, polite, and gentle” girls come from such obviously misguided sources as Jameis Winston. These damaging sentiments won’t all be reported on by countless news organizations or become a feminist rallying cry on twitter. It is crucial to keep a critical eye on everything, including my own treatment of my daughter. This means examining the offhand comments I might make in front of her, the small day-to-day actions by those in our lives including family members and teachers, and being wary of the sneaky ways in which the world sends her messages.
My daughter will stand up, be strong, and accomplish anything she puts her mind to.