Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Help

When my friend Amy passed along this book to me I knew I was in for a treat. Her mother had already raved to me about it and how she took it everywhere she went until she finished it, raking in every word. Then Amy read it and did nothing else until she too had absorbed each and every page in a record amount of time. So I put aside the 3 library books I had checked out and the 2 books I had bought at the used book sale and dove right in.

I knew it was about the 60s and about civil rights. But what I didn't realize is how much more there was to it. This book is about social status. About hierarchy. About women. About relationships and about friendship. It's about how hard we are/were on each other to maintain what is right and proper. About how we strive to be part of the "in crowd" or the "clique." And it is about why that is all so unimportant.

This comes after reading the book Odd Girl Out - The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. A book that was recommended to me as being required reading for all mothers of girls who are about to enter tween-hood. It was a book that made me wonder why girls and women have to treat each other so poorly.

From an early age our daughters are taught about what is cool and not cool. They love Hannah Montana when they are 5 and that makes them "cool." But if they still like Hannah by the age or 7 or 8, they are laughed at, made fun of and teased. But you go to a Hannah Montana movie or concert and it's filled with pre-teens who do still love the music and story, but who would never admit that to the "cool" kids.

They all think they have to have Uggs, North Face and Abercrombie to fit in. Their parents are holding them back if they don't. The girls who don't know anything about these fashions are the ones who are whispered about or excluded.

It may be subtle. "You can't sit there." Or, "No, I don't want you in my group." Simple statements that are hurtful and set the tone of who exactly is in charge. Eye rolling, whispering, dirty looks, turning a back - they are all subtle signs of quiet bullying that occur everyday in our schools. They are statements like, "If you don't give me your eraser then I will tell three boys that you like them." Or how about this conversation:

P: Throw that away for me.
Q: No. Throw it away yourself.
P: Ugh. If you don't throw it away I won't invite you to my birthday party.
Q: Fine.

All real conversations and occurences that have happened just this past week in my daughter's 4th grade class among different girls, witnessed by my daughter. Or how about the girl in another class who is handing out treats at lunch and purposely skips over one girl who says, "Can I have one?" The answer was a sharp "no" as the girl walked on. The witness to this situation knows that girl is always excluded, but has no idea why.

And it continues through the teenage years. We all remember the fear of missing out on a party or gathering that everyone knows about but you. We all know what it feels like to have girls whispering something, but then stop talking when you enter a room. We all have been there. Even the cool kids. In fact the popular kids are the ones who worry the most. Because their fear is that they will walk into school someday and there will be someone else there who has taken their place at the top. The two worst, most stressful positions in the school? Those who are at the top and those who strive to get there.

So why do we as women treat each other this way? With all the women's rights movements we have had in this country and we look back at history and see how far women have come, it would seem like we would stick together. It would seem like we would have a central bond with one another. We are women. We understand one another. We are the best companions we will ever have in our lifetime. And we need to be teaching our daughters. It doesn't matter if we have the cool clothes, or the cool house or if our parents let us stay up till 10:00 and watch rated PG-13 movies. It doesn't matter if we have a cell phone, email address, facebook or an iTouch. What we need to be teaching our children is that what matters is what is inside - it's what is going to be with us forever. Our gadgets will stop working, our bedtime can get taken away, but what is with us forever is who we are and how we treat one another. It will be the basis for our futures and our lives.

Do your children know who they are? Do they know kindness and respect? If they do and they are true to themselves, they will be fine. They will grow up to be strong and independent. They won't have any reason to worry about whether or not they have all the right "stuff" to fit in because they will have a deeper understanding of what is important in life. And they will have friendships with other women that nothing will compare to because the women who have a deep understanding of themselves will attract and befriend other like-minded women. And those bonds can never be broken.

Some important messages from The Help:

"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people? Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought."

And this (possible spoiler alert if you haven't read it):

"Baby Girl," I say. "I need you to remember everthing I told you. Do you remember what I told you?"
She still crying steady, but the hiccps is gone. "To wipe my bottom good when I'm done?"
"No baby, the other. About what you are."
I look deep into her rich brown eyes and she look into mind. Law, she got old-soul eyes, like she done lived a thousand years. And I swear I see down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be. A flash from the future. She is tall and straight. She is proud. She got a better haircut. And she is remembering the words I put in her head. Remembering as a full-grown woman.
And then she say it, just like I need her to. "You is kind," she say, "you is smart. You is important."

Do your girls know they are kind, smart and important?

I'm going to stop blogging now and go tell mine. Then I'm going to tell them again tomorrow and the next day and the next. . .


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