There was an announcement on a friends’ group text recently. “We’re having a baby girl!!” gushed the mom-to-be.
What followed was a flurry of congratulatory messages.
“We’re so happy for you.”
“Can’t wait to meet your bundle of joy.”
“Get that baby registry going! I looove shopping for baby girls.”
Then came one that made me stop in my tracks: “Time for your husband to buy a shotgun.”
Sure, I’ve heard it a billion times. I’m sure I’ve said it myself, casually, like it was expected of me to perpetuate the idea of the overprotective father needing to shelter his helpless daughter from her bevy of suitors.
There’s nothing wrong with the idea of dads wanting to protect their kids. But there is something wrong with the idea that only girls need protecting, and that they need protection from boys who are going to be wooing them.
The gender stereotyping behind the statement didn’t really strike me until recently. Somehow, through repetition over the years, the comment has gained a certain credibility, as though it can’t be questioned.
But we should question things. Especially when it disenfranchises our young women.
First off, shouldn’t we be empowering girls to protect themselves? Maybe their weapon of choice won’t be a shotgun (at least, I hope not!).
Instead we should be inspiring our young women with weapons of self-confidence – knowing their own worth so they don’t settle, never being apologetic for saying no, developing the grit to pursue their goals and the resolve to set their own indisputable boundaries.
Instead, we’re inadvertently sending them the message that, when it comes to relationships, they fall squarely in the hapless category.
We’re sending an archaic message to our young men, too: You’re the one going to be winning her over. And you’re going to be met with resistance in the process.
We’re telling the next generation of young men that it’s somehow cool to be the bad boy chasing down the girl, circumventing the hovering dad looming large on the front porch. Just maybe it’s okay to entertain the idea that a young man is capable of winning the dad (and mom) over, too, with his politeness and hard work and commitment to their daughter.
Or, maybe, it’s the young lady who will be ringing his doorbell.
Then there’s the other line we dash off when we see a handsome little fella. Truth be told, I’ve typed out the cliché on Facebook more often than I’d like to acknowledge: “He’s going to be a real heartbreaker.”
I don’t know how that line has become a compliment. Like, really? We want someone’s kid to grow up and break hearts? And that’s going to happen because he’s good looking?
I don’t think we’re giving the next generation enough credit. Yes, young men will break hearts. So will young women. Hopefully, it won’t be because they’re eye candy, but because they’re in a loving relationship that happened to end.
Both these cultural clichés, one tailored to little girls and the other to little boys, have long outlived their “cuteness.” It’s time to build up our kids, whatever their gender, for things that truly count: their kind heartedness, not their ability to break hearts; their confidence, not their propensity to cower in the shadows.
The next time I’m tempted to recommend that a new dad purchase a shotgun, I’m going to hold that thought and dig a little deeper. I’m going to replace clichés with a genuine compliment about making the world a brighter, lovelier place with their new unique addition.