Suddenly, my child who was wearing a 4T, this time last year, is fitting well into a child’s size medium t-shirt.  This time last year, he wore an extra-small, and that was roomy.  This time last year, he was still wearing some of his old 3T shorts without issue.  Those toddler days are long gone.  By the time the school year rolls around, he’s going to be 6 feet tall!  And speaking of school…

Today, I read something that amounted to this:  Boys are better at solving problems/taking on learning challenges than girls because boys are encouraged to “try” whereas girls are encouraged to “be”.  That is, girls more often receive encouragement and praise for innate qualities (like prettiness, or goodness, or sweetness), whereas boys more often receive encouragement and praise for qualities that require practice and learning (like thinking, or physical activity).  While the crux of my personal experience does not support the article, that has a lot to do with having had a largely non-coed education.

Until 7th grade, I was either in all-girls school, or my classes were segregated by gender.  Through 5th grade, the boys and girls at my school were taught in separate classrooms.  We might have passed each other in the hallways, but the only time we mixed were for field trips or the class play.  Thus and so, I never experienced the grade school phenomenon of being treated differently because of my gender.  If there was competition to be had it was strictly based on ability, or potential ability.

Then again, I wasn’t a “good” girl in school.  I was a talker, and a balker, and a doodler, daydreamer, eyeball roller.  I wasn’t praised for my goodness because it just didn’t exist.  I wasn’t praised at school for prettiness–there were plenty of prettier girls in my grade anyway.  I wasn’t praised at school for sweetness.  Quite the contrary. 

When I received praise at school, it was for completing tasks ahead of expectation, for excelling at writing or singing, or for giving it my all even when success wasn’t an option (that was phys ed, and that’s pretty much what one of my phys ed teachers wrote in a grade school yearbook!)  But my school and my class were filled with extraordinary girls.

Sarah was an accomplished dancer by the time we were 3rd graders.  Lena could draw with amazing talent.  Helen was on her way to Junior Wimbledon.  Danielle was a violin virtuoso.  Laurel, a few grades ahead, hadn’t even started dancing before 7th grade, and ended up a principle dancer in a ballet company.  My classmates were all girls who did things.  And, I really can’t remember any of my teachers, though 6th grade, who gave us kudos for being quiet*, or nice, or anything other than for being the type of students they thought we should be.

I went to mixed schools for 7th and 8th grades, and 11th and 12th grades.  I think I had been well enough insulated from gender discrimination that when it happened, I didn’t recognize it for what it was.  When I was passed over, or ignored in favor of boys (and I was), I figured it was because I hadn’t asserted myself well enough, or proved myself–that just made me go into overdrive in the classroom. 

Then, I had teachers in those grades tell me to be more ladylike.  Teachers in those grades suggested that I was way too assertive, and two of them (both male coaches, one in 7th and one in 11th grade, who were teaching regular classes) told me that I needed to dial it back a notch because I was making a few of the boys feel bad (and in one case it led to a period in the gym, allowing the students to make grade points with free throws, and the coach asking me how it felt to be bad at something.  ???  Yeah, my mother had a field day with that one.  –Fortunately, I’d already had 6 years of knowing I was pathetic at sports to support me.)  I wasn’t the smartest girl, but I was apparently the most obnoxious! 

I never felt bad when I wasn’t the prettiest or the sweetest.  I knew I wasn’t the prettiest!  Or the sweetest.  I was horrified, though, when I felt I wasn’t smart enough, or able enough.  And I was mystified when my ability was confused with my lack of adorability, and I was penalized for not being a darling.

I had the great fortune to be educated by strong women, and educated to be a strong woman.  It wasn’t until I was in public school that the question of whether or not I would be a “good” woman came into play.

“Good” women, like the Proverbs 31 woman, literally do it all while their husbands reap all the benefit of praise at the city gates.  And “good” women smile beatifically at the fact that their husband is considered rich for their woman’s work.  I can’t even type that without my right eyebrow inching higher and my nostrils flaring.  BS!  I’ll do it all, but ain’t nobody gonna take the credit for it but me!

And if I’m working as hard as that Proverbs 31 woman?  My husband better be busting his chops, too.  Hanging around at the city wall telling his friends how great my garden grows won’t cut it.  I expect an equal partner, who is just as willing to weed and rake as I am**.

I will never be a “good” girl, and I’m proud of that.  Pretty fades into oblivion.  Sweet is overrated.  Praise your girls for being great thinkers, great problem solvers, great challenge over-comers, for having good reasoning abilities, and common sense, AND for being pretty, and kind to others, and respectful, and considerate, AND for being true to themselves, and pursuing their dreams, and for striving to get what they want for themselves–if it’s reaching for the next A, or the newest Barbie–encourage them to dream, then put legs to those dreams and run toward them.  They’ll learn to run fast enough that the naysayers and sexist twerps will just be a blur in their peripheral vision.

*By quiet, I mean unassuming.  We were encouraged to be assertive, and even a little aggressive.  Field Hockey was a big deal, after all.

**And I have that equal partner.  I am extremely fortunate.