This Girl Stuff Is Going to Kill Me

This week, The Girl went off to sleep away camp for the first time. I chose a Girl Scouts camp for her, while her big brother went to YMCA camp. I did this for several reasons, but the most important of these were (1) because it was shorter and less expensive than the YMCA camp, and (2) because the camp came highly recommended among Girl Scout leaders in our area.

That it was a Girl Scout camp is of no small importance. As a child, I loved visiting Juliette Gordon Low’s Savannah home. In theory, Juliette Gordon Low was one of the first feminist role models for girls, basing her version of scouting on the idea that girls are not inherently neater, cleaner, prissier, or more careful than boys, however much society would like to make it so. I always got the impression that JGL thought that girls can and should enjoy similar pursuits as those of boys. As a girl, this appealed to me. As a woman, as a feminist, and most importantly, as the mother of a girl, this is of critical importance.
My hope is that GS will help reinforce what I try to teach my daughter (and my sons): that a girl’s self-worth should have less to do with what she looks like, what she wears, and the grades she earns in school and more to do with who she is as a person.
I will readily confess that as The Girl spent 5.5 days at camp, I enjoyed a wee vacation from my middle child. It’s a break I really needed as The Girl is super smart, fiercely analytical, somewhat attention-seeking, extremely perceptive, and often overwhelmed by her own emotions.
It is exhausting.
I recognize that it’s part of my job as a mother to listen to her and help her to navigate those emotions. But it may surprise everyone (or no one, depending on your view of blogging) to learn that I struggle to maintain my voice and authentic self. This adds another layer of work–and another source of fatigue–to the process of mothering a girl.
Because, really, our society sends such mixed messages to girls and women. We are bombarded with often conflicting information about how to act, how to dress, what and who to like, what to say and how to say it, and what defines femininity, beauty, popularity, and intelligence.
And the messaging starts early. In the 18 months since I last wrote about this, my girl has spent the intervening time struggling–and failing–to come to terms with the idea that she is “not popular.” As her mother, I see both the positive and negative sides of her behavior and interactions with her peers. She feels excluded and she reacts by pouting. But as her mother, I wonder how an 8-year-old comes to feel regularly excluded by her peers?
As a friend pointed out recently, how are such concepts introduced to 7- and 8-year-olds? And how is popularity determined at this age? Is it self-selection or self-declaration?
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