So, it’s Valentine’s Day. Did you know? If you have any contact with any form of social, real world or media, you know. Personally, I don’t really care. I’ve never been particularly excited nor particularly resentful about the day. I just don’t care.
But this year, I’m reflecting on some things and this “holiday” seems the time to share. (And “holiday” absolutely demands quotes because if I’m not getting the day off because of you, then you don’t get to use the title “holiday.”)
After starting Heart & Sole coaching with middle school girls this week and researching topics on girls and juvenile justice these last few months, I’m seeing some patterns that manifest in different ways based on several factors. Those factors have much to do with race and income and environment. But there are commonalities among our girls that are damaging. And they demand our attention.
But just like telling kids to value education over popularity and expecting them to automatically buy in is largely unrealistic, telling teenage girls not to have a boyfriend is equally ridiculous.
I think the message we WANT to send and should do a better job of sending, is that it’s normal to want a boyfriend (or girlfriend or whatever). That feeling really never goes away. Even at 43, I kinda want a boyfriend (but also not really … but yes I would like that, but only if he really brings some exceptional value to my life). It’s nice to have someone that likes you and tells you you’re pretty. The problem is, girls often value whatever a boy is telling them above what they used to value about themselves. And we have to get to, say, our forties before we are ready to say, whoa. No. I decide what makes me amazing and you can either buy into that or not. It won’t change who I am. If you’re not adding value to my life, then you can’t be in my life.
On a harsher scale, while reading Pushout: The Crimininalization of Black Girls in Schools, I’m learning about the numbers of poor young girls, mostly black, that are involved in the sex industry, referring to their pimps as their boyfriends. These girls are controlled by these grown men. They’re missing out on an education and handing their control over to men that see them as a commodity, and a very cheap commodity, rather than a human being. They are actually losing their humanity, trading it in for a few quick dollars and the precarious protection of a man.
In her book, Monique Morris quotes one 14-year old girl on the topic.
When you’re a prostitute, cause I have been one for a couple of months now, like, when you’re a prostitute, you gotta stop going to school because it’s something that you have to do all day. And if you don’t do it all day, you gotta hang out with your boyfriend all day, or like your pimp all day. You have to. You have to. All day. And if you don’t … you could still get your education … that’s if he lets you. But usually, the girls that’s in the sex industry stop going to school.
That’s just so powerfully mind-boggling to me. That is a 14-year old child saying those things. And yet, I’m also completely aware of how and why it happens. To get into that would be to get into a wealth of research on socioeconomic status, Strain Theory, Labeling Theory, countless other theories, a history of dehumanization and marginalization, … more factors than I’m prepared to address in this post. I encourage anyone that has any interest in our children or the future of our society to get the book. Read it. It’s full of truths that you may or may not be aware of. We have GOT to start shifting the narrative of how we engage with young girls.
And I think there are steps that all of us can take to begin to change this.
In her work, Brene’ Brown talks about fitting in versus belonging. And this is where we can really begin to help our young girls, by teaching them the difference.
When we try to fit in, which is what so many of us are trying to do, we’re sacrificing who we are to try to be accepted. We’re creating an image of what we think the world expects us to be. Maybe that’s pretty and popular. Maybe it’s violent and boisterous. Maybe it’s submissive and compliant. None of those things are authentic, in and of themselves. And so we are more susceptible to doing things that are outside of our character. We are more likely to devalue ourselves, placing our value in what the world says about us.
When we seek belonging, however, we are presenting our authentic selves to the world and, in so doing, finding our true place. We’re attracting people that will recognize the amazing in us. This is an enormous challenge for young girls, particularly in middle and high school.
Here’s one easy way I think we can help.
Girls on the Run and its middle school program, Heart & Sole, teaches girls about belonging. They learn to identify the things about themselves that make them unique. They learn to value that in others. And they begin to establish that tribe of girls that will support them. They begin the shift from seeing other girls as competition to seeing other girls as a source of empowerment. And that is the place where life gets really amazing.
So, this Valentine’s Day, I really couldn’t care less that I have no “man” in my life. Because I have a whole tribe of powerful, uplifting, phenomenal, hilarious, amazing women that allow me to be my authentic self. And that level of belonging is far more rewarding than any “Oh, I think he likes me” feeling I’ve ever had. That’s still a good feeling. But it’s fleeting and usually followed by some form of disappointment. The feeling of empowerment my tribe brings me is my source of strength and inspiration and it continues to thrive. And there are men in that tribe, too. Men that are able to see our true amazing because we see it in ourselves.
(Plus? My son and his girlfriend left this at my house today. Really, what man is going to get me a perfect man made entirely of chocolate? Psht. Who needs a man? I’ve got amazing kids.)
And I’ve got girl power.
So, here’s what I’m calling you to do.
Let’s get more of our girls involved with programs like Girls on the Run. Want an easy step you can take right now? Donate. Go to the top of this page and click on Learn More About Girls on the Run. You can donate to your local council or to my efforts to raise $1,000 for Girls on the Run.
Tell people about the program. Encourage elementary and middle school girls to get involved. Encourage elementary and middle schools to get involved. Sign up to coach. Sign up to help at the end of season Celebration 5k.
And maybe stop telling girls how pretty they are and start telling them how smart, strong, funny, engaging, and powerful they are. Tell them the things that matter so they can value those things in themselves.