I’ve had this conversation dozens of time & it always goes something like this:
Other person: “If you could only have a son or a daughter, which would you prefer?”
Me: “A daughter”
Other person: “But girls are so much more trouble. And they’re so expensive!”
One of the most common themes I hear parents discuss is how much more difficult & expensive it is to raise girls as compared to boys. I for one have always taken issue with this argument, probably largely because I am a girl. Even as a kid I remember hearing people say this & finding it offensive. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank both of my parents for never once making such comments around me. I am so grateful that neither of my parents ever intentionally or unintentionally made me feel like a burden to them, particularly on the basis of something so fundamental as gender which is obviously something none of us gets to choose anyway. In fact I specifically remember my mom always responding to comments such as these by saying “Girls don’t HAVE to be more difficult or expensive. It’s all about how you raise them.” I firmly believe she was 100% correct in saying this. Now I know I am not yet a parent & there is a possibility I may eat these words someday, & in some people’s opinions I’m sure I’m not even qualified to speak on this subject at all because of that. But I’m going to speak on it anyway because it’s an issue that I believe has a lot of unintended consequences & reveals some serious issues our society needs to confront. So let’s examine some of the reasons people say raising girls is “more trouble” than raising boys.
First, a lot of people complain that girls are more expensive. Well, I’m going to side with my mother here & argue that they don’t have to be. For example, you don’t HAVE to spend $300 on your daughter’s prom dress. No one is forcing you to do that. Is it possible your teenage daughter might be annoyed if you are the “only mom” who isn’t willing to shell out hundreds of dollars on this one-night event? Maybe. But if more moms were willing to say no to this ridiculous debacle, maybe there wouldn’t be such an expectation for it. I’m not saying not to let your daughter go to prom. But find ways to make it less expensive. Buy a dress during an off-season or go to a thrift store. Borrow one from a slightly older friend. No one needs their hair or makeup professionally done for a high school prom. Do it yourself or have your daughter do it with her friends. Not only will you save money but you will make good memories together. These are all things my mom did to save money & guess what: I had a great time at prom both years. And I was never mad at her for “cutting corners” on such things. This is just one example of how the common argument that girls are more expensive does not have to be true.
Then there’s the issue of clothes. Nowadays in particular parents worry about girls wanting to wear all kinds of provocative clothing, even at a very young age. This is a real concern & I’m not about to say it isn’t a big deal. However, I for one am tired of certain segments of the population using this issue as a way to hold all the responsibility for sex over girls’ heads. For example, I distinctly remember that every spring at my church growing up the pastor’s wife would take all the teen girls aside as a group & remind us not to dress in a way that might tempt the boys. At a Christian summer camp our youth group used to attend, girls were forced to abide by an insanely strict dress-code including shorts that had to reach the knees (hello, we were all wearing boys’ shorts in order to meet this requirement). I distinctly remember one of the parent chaperones getting “in trouble” because her t-shirt when wet became just the tiniest bit “see-through” & God forbid some man might be tempted by glimpsing that one-piece bathing suit she had on underneath it. (Of course we were only allowed to swim with other girls anyway which makes the entire situation even more ludicrous.)
In & of themselves these things might all seem harmless, but what message does all of this send? “If a boy looks at you & thinks something dirty, it’s your fault. If he touches you inappropriately, you made him do it because you tempted him by wearing that ungodly outfit.” Furthermore, I have even read accounts of Christian colleges such as Patrick Henry College & Bob Jones University discouraging female students from reporting rape & providing “counseling” to rape/sexual assault victims that included teaching them how to be more modest . . . again implying that whatever horrible thing happened to them was their fault. (If you don’t believe me, read this: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116623/sexual-assault-patrick-henry-college-gods-harvard.)
I am by no means encouraging little girls or teenagers to wear obviously revealing or overtly sexy clothing. Absolutely not. If you don’t want to be treated like a sex object, don’t dress like one, although context of course is always very key on this subject. But the point is that even if a girl is dressed in a provocative manner, we should be raising our boys to know that they still have to show that girl respect. Besides, there is no such thing as girls “asking for rape” because of how they are dressed. Even hormonal teenage boys are not uncivilized animals who cannot show a little self-control. End of story.
This leads into my last point. I strongly believe that the greatest reason people think daughters are more trouble is because they worry about them getting pregnant. I’m not stupid so I realize this is a legitimate concern. Therefore, why don’t we raise girls with an awareness of actual birth control including how to use it & where to get it? Additionally, why not hold boys accountable for such things too? Why is it that the onus for the prevention of pregnancy always falls on JUST the girls? I’ve got a crazy idea: why don’t we raise boys with the understanding that they should never, ever have sex with a girl unless at the BARE MINIMUM they are using a condom (unless of course both parties are absolutely prepared to be parents which, frankly, teens are not)? Radical, I know, but really this is a simple concept. Over & over studies have shown that teens who are provided with true comprehensive sex education actually have sex at a LATER age. Conservatives eschew this information but facts are facts. Frankly it makes sense. The more kids know about something, the less likely they’re going to “do it” just to “see what it’s like.” And if they do decide to have sex, they’re more likely to actually use appropriate birth control (& to use it correctly). The statistics have borne this out time & time again.
Of course the problem here is that most parents aren’t comfortable talking to their kids, regardless of their age, about sex. I know. It must be difficult. But if your kids don’t learn about sex from you, you can be sure they will learn about it everywhere else: movies, TV, the internet, their friends, school, etc, many of which are far from reliable sources of information. I’ve written before about the strange paradox in American culture in which we are constantly bombarded with sexual imagery & yet in real life most Americans are not comfortable actually talking about sex. (I’ve even read articles that suggest ways to be more comfortable talking about sex WITH YOUR PARTNER. This never ceases to amaze me. If you’re comfortable enough to have sex with someone, how can you not be comfortable enough to talk about it?) But we have to get over this if we want to make headway on such serious issues as teen pregnancy.
A couple years ago I watched a documentary by James Houston entitled Let’s Talk About Sex. The film explored some of the reasons why teen pregnancy & STI rates in the US are far greater than in basically every other “developed” nation, particularly those in Western Europe (here’s just one of many websites that touch on these shocking statistics: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us) . One segment of the film showed interviews in which teens, both guys & girls, were asked what they would think about someone of the opposite gender if they knew that person carried condoms on a regular basis. The answers weren’t too shocking but are very revealing about some of the problems we face in our society. Almost without fail the Americans, both guys & girls, responded by saying “Oh, that sends a bad message. That means he’s only out for sex” or “She must be a slut. Carrying condoms makes a girl seem easy.” On the other hand, teens in other countries often responded by saying “That shows me he/she is responsible & planning ahead & cares enough about me to want to be safe.” I have actually heard real life conversations very much like these. I have heard guys say they are afraid to carry condoms around for fear that girls will think they’re only after sex & I’ve heard girls say they are afraid to carry condoms for fear of looking “too easy.” What this inevitably leads to of course is people having unprotected sex because they weren’t prepared. How absurd. Is it any wonder our teenage pregnancy rate (& abortion rate for that matter) are much higher than those in basically every other developed country?
The film additionally explored the phenomenon that many teenage girls in the US are raised with the idea that being on birth control makes them “slutty.” No one explicitly teaches them this of course, but it’s implied quite often. The idea is that if you’re on birth control you must be PLANNING to have sex & therefore you’re slutty. But if you aren’t on birth control & just “end up” having sex with someone & then consequently get pregnant . . . well, it “just happened.” You weren’t planning on it, so you’re not really a slut. Having grown up in a small, conservative, religious town I can bear witness that this phenomenon is very real. What’s sad is that so many girls end up as teen moms because of it. [Of course the religious right would rather that happen than girls be “liberated” and actually take birth control. God forbid we should not suffer the consequences of our “sins” (pre-marital sex).]
What I’m trying to get at here is that if parents taught their children, both boys & girls, how to be safe & responsible with sex, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry so much about our daughters getting pregnant.
The reason I care so much about people viewing daughters as more difficult than sons is that I truly believe when girls hear such messages growing up it can affect the way they view themselves. Low self-esteem has actually been linked to earlier initiation of sex for girls & thus higher risk of teen pregnancy. When you tell girls they’re more work than boys, you’re clearly letting their self-esteem take a hit, thus making them more likely to look for “confirmation” elsewhere. The world isn’t an easy place to grow up in for either gender. But let’s not make it more difficult than it has to be. There are still countries in the world where female babies are routinely aborted simply for being the “wrong gender.” This is heart-breaking to me. But how can we call ourselves more civilized when we still hold the attitude that boys are in some way better or at least easier to raise? Please, people, let’s be real. No child is ever easy to raise. But they are all immeasurably valuable so let’s not compromise that value by telling our precious daughters that they’re essentially a burden.
What do you guys think? Am I “making a mountain out of a molehill?” (If it turns out that’s a countrified phrase & some of you don’t know it, it means making a big deal out of nothing.) Or am I onto something here?