Raising up girls

There she was, a bundle of four-year-old emotion, sobbing on the floor. It was a textbook tantrum. The problem? She simply could not wear the clothes her mother – my sister – had set out for her. “These are not pink!” she bellowed.

This incident, coupled with the fact I’m raising my own little “princess,” plunged me into a perplexing pink predicament. Raising a girl in today’s culture is no easy task! As a mother, should I skip down the rose-coloured path, or try to provide a broader spectrum of options?

It’s challenging to decipher the mixed messages our culture sends about girls. Media encourages little girls to be strong and independent, yet feminine and alluring, and “pretty in pink.” This can lead to premature sexualization (we’ve all seen those “hot” outfits for toddlers!), materialism, narcissism, and confused young women.

Princeton University chaplain Tara Woodard-Lehman, in an interview in Christian Century, explains, “On the one hand, women are expected to be assertive and equal intellectually. On the other hand, they’re expected to be submissive and available sexually. Although Princeton women are confident and capable academically, often they’re insecure and uncertain relationally…. In many ways, women are alienated from their own bodies, even as they’re asked to display them in increasingly provocative and demeaning ways.”

Many look to sweet, frilly princesses as antidotes. “Princess play feels like proof of our daughters’ innocence…. It reassures us that, despite the pressure to be precocious, little girls are still – and ever will be – little girls. And that knowledge restores our faith not only in wonder but, quite possibly, in goodness itself,” writes author Peggy Orenstein in Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

However, some warn that this princess narrative carries disturbing undertones: an unhealthy portrait of beauty (i.e., all princesses are thin and fashionably dressed), a limited choice of careers, and a skewed sense of destiny (i.e., a girl’s ultimate goal is to find a husband).

Enter newer characters for girls, such as Dora the Explorer, Barbie and the Three Musketeers (“We came to protect the prince, not date him!”), and Disney’s Princess Sofia, who “gives little girls a royal role model whose singular goal in life isn’t to land the handsome prince.”

However, there’s a problem here, too. “Instead of pointing girls toward excellence, some shows promote ‘girl power’ [saying] that girls are stronger and smarter than boys,” notes Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine. “Their strength is contrasted with the glaring weaknesses of others, often male counterparts or authority figures, such as parents or teachers. As a result, girl power encourages comparison and rivalry in the quest for excellence and identity.”

Steps toward a biblical solution

What’s a Christian mom – or dad or mentor – to make of all this?

First, we must affirm girls’ intrinsic value and worth as God’s creation. The New Testament elevates women to a place unheard of in the first century, advocating mutual submission for all Christians (Ephesians 5:21), rather than male dominance or manipulation. In Galatians 3:28, Paul asserts “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As Christians, we’re all children of the King – true princes and princesses in his kingdom – with valuable gifts and insights. We all have something important to offer.

Second, we must teach our girls humility – to use their strengths to support and encourage others – a task fitting for all God’s people. Humility and propriety (in dress, speech, action) are commanded of all Christ followers (Philippians 2:3–11; Matthew 23:12; Titus 2:7–8).

Global care

Third, the church must stand up and advocate for all girls around the world, as we affirm the value of every human being (Genesis 1:27).

But this task may not be as simple as it sounds. A global crisis – where families selectively abort girl babies – has been brought to light, with particular thanks to Mara Hvistendahl’s book Unnatural Selection. Many blame this gendercide for a worldwide gender imbalance – and some 163 million women “missing” from Asia’s population. This has led to issues such as rampant sex trafficking and prostitution, violent and militant societies due to a “bachelor surplus,” and high suicide rates among women forced to abort their daughters.

Last summer, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) released a discussion paper on gendercide, asking whether sex-selective abortion had made its way to North America. “As a result of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Morgentaler in 1988, there are no legislative limitations on abortion in Canada and therefore gender-based abortion cannot be ruled out,” writes Faye Sonier, EFC legal counsel.

Around the globe, there’s also the problem of inadequate educational opportunities for girls, which affects the economy in many nations. “According to Plan International,” reported Sojourners magazine, “the economic cost to 65 low- and middle-income and transitional countries of failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys is a staggering $92 billion each year.

“Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues at the U.S. State Department, says, ‘No country can get ahead by leaving half of their population behind. Women and girls are the world’s greatest untapped resource, and investing in them is one of the most powerful forces for international development.’”

We have an incredible opportunity to support girls around the globe – whether they’re dressed in pink, purple, blue, or green – by raising our voices and speaking biblical truth, so all can reach their true and full potential in Christ!

—Laura Kalmar, Editor

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