Sunday Reflections: Lies we tell girls about boys
If you search on Goodreads, this is the tag line for the book Some Boys by Patty Blount: Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.
There are things I really liked about this book, including an on point speech by the main character, Grace, about the ways our culture objectifies girls and defines them in relation to boys. Which is part of the reason why this tagline – one boy can make you whole – is so very problematic. Not just the words, but this idea that we keep selling girls over and over again.
The truth is, a boy can’t make a girl whole. Finding someone you like and you can spend time with in mutually fulfilling ways it awesome, but it won’t make you whole.
When we talk about girls, we talk often about them in terms of boys.
When administrators discuss school dress codes, the girls dress is often referred to in terms of boys: Girls have to dress modestly, because we worry it will distract boys from their education.
When we talk about virginity and sex, it also is often referred to in terms of boys: Girls should remain a virgin so they can give their husband their “flower” on their wedding night.
When we talk about getting or keeping our bodies in shape, it is often in terms of boys: You want to look good so that you can catch a husband. And we all know that girls need a husband.
The way we talk about girls is dangerous to girls. Our cultural dialogue continues to suggest that girls, who they are, their bodies, their well being, is all about boys. It’s as if being a girl is somehow so much lesser, we remind them that their primary goal is to find a boy. Girls have no worth to our culture in and of themselves, it is only in relation to a man that we give girls any worth.
Don’t get me wrong, I think finding someone you can share your life with is a beautiful thing. I have been married for 19 years now and I find it to be pretty awesome 92.3% of the time. But the thing is, my husband did not heal me or make me whole. In fact, it is only as I began to do that for myself that I became a better wife. Because once I could enter into our partnership as a healthier, happier individual, then the partnership became more mutually satisfying for us both.
In the bible, Jesus says the laws can be summed up as this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, the second part of this statement is a profound idea. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. What this means is that in order for us to truly love our neighbor, we must first love ourselves. What a gift these words are. They are permission – a reminder – that we must all take the time to make and keep ourselves healthy and whole so that we can love ourselves and in doing so, we will better love our neighbors.
We need to stop defining our girls in terms of boys. We need to change the language of our culture to recognize the full personhood of girls, of women, everywhere.
A girl’s sexuality is not about pleasing a man. It is about her. It is about making the choices for self that she is comfortable and healthy and yes, even satisfied, with. And in doing so, she can be a better partner (if she chooses to be a partner at all), because she is entering into that partnership from a place of health and well being.
A girl’s body is not about a boy. She should make choices that make her feel strong, confident and healthy in her body. And in doing so, in feeling good both emotionally and physically in her body, she can be a better partner, because she is entering into that partnership from a place of health and well being.
When we encourage our girls to be strong, independent, fully realized human beings and when we recognize them as such in our culture, what we are doing is allowing them to be in a place of health and well being. And when they navigate through life in a better place of health and well being, they are able to be better friends, better co-workers, and better partners. Because they have to love themselves in healthy ways before they can reach out and love others in healthy ways. Not just romantic love, but all love. The more at peace we find ourselves, the more comfortable we are in our own skin, the better our other relationships can be.
So the truth is, a boy can’t make a girl whole. A boy can’t fix or save a girl. Us girls have to figure out a way to do that for ourselves and in that wholeness we can then step into our world in more positive ways.
And the truth is, this is also true about boys. It is true for all people, however they choose to identify themselves. Broken people operate in the world in broken ways. So our goals should be the health and well being of all people, because it makes the world a better place for all. If we keep working on changing the dynamics of how we talk about and treat each other, we can work to create healthier spaces for people to develop healthier personhood. As we allow those around us to love themselves we are also allowing them to love us, to love their neighbor.
So let’s start with an important first step for our girls and drop the tag lines and story arcs that suggest that a boy can save or fix a girl. Show girls that they can save, fix, heal and love themselves and in doing so, then they can love abundantly.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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