Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy

Redefining GirlyRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween
by Melissa Atkins Wardy
Chicago Review Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1613745526
256 p.p.

In today’s media saturated world, Melissa Atkins Wardy provides parents with a handbook on how to protect and prepare children, especially young girls. Redefining Girly is about challenging the preconceived notions of what it means to be a girl. It is about allowing children to define themselves rather than letting marketers define them. Being girly is not just about pink, princesses, and barbie dolls; being girly can be about these things but it’s also about science, trains, and firefighters. Wardy provides parents with the tools to fight for their children, including how to talk to a doctor or a teacher about sexism and how to speak out against corporations. Her language and her message is persuasive and strong, but her approach is kind and thoughtful. In this way, Wardy is able to speak to parents as a parent herself and show them it is possible to enact change in their children’s lives.

Redefining Girly starts at home. First and foremost, parents must set the stage for how their children interpret and interact with the world around them. This is why, as Wardy argues, it is important to be an advocate for your child even before birth. This means redirecting the conversation when others refer to daughters as “little princesses” before they’ve even grown fingers in the womb. This also means avoiding terms like “cute” and “pretty” and instead using terms like “strong” and “healthy” when referencing a growing girl. Wardy expertly shows how to encourage this change without making others feel like you are criticizing them. She weaves in her own experiences with sample conversations you can have with others and while they may be simplistic at times, Wardy’s point is still made: be clear about your beliefs, but do not be critical of others.

Wardy provides sample conversations and activities to encourage girls to critically analyze the media around them and to keep them talking. Even when her daughter was two years old, Wardy was questioning the media that Amelia was engaging with. It is important for children to learn media literacy at home where they can have a dialogue with parents about what they see. Learning to question media early on allows girls to have the tools to question it later on in life when the media messages become much less about being cute and flirty and much more about being sexy. This book is a valuable resource for parents with young girls from 0-18 years old. Wardy also encourages parents to allow older girls to have independence but maintain that open dialogue of critical thinking with them. As subjects like fat talk and slut-shaming become bigger topics for young girls, it is important that parents are able to continue talking to them.

These conversations and tips with experience allow parents to take this advice and apply it to their own family. Wardy leaves the conversations open-ended enough that parents can apply them to whatever situation arises. She covers talking with others parents, teachers, doctors, and even other kids. In the beginning, parents need to advocate for their children, but later on, children will learn to stand up for themselves. This was the case for Wardy’s own daughter, who explained to her pediatrician that she did not, in fact, have a boyfriend at age four. Wardy shows that allowing children to learn to defend themselves as early as possible will give them the tools to defend themselves when they face real bullies. She maintains that it’s important to show children that they have a voice and they can use it to fight for change. While it’s important to advocate for children, parents sometimes forget that children can, and should, advocate for themselves as well. This encourages young girls to use their voice when the media, and sometimes their peers, are telling them that they should remain silent.

Another very helpful aspect of this text were the “Letters from the Experts” sections. Here, Wardy includes letters from women who have changed the world for other girls. These women serve as examples of what one voice can do and the simultaneous need to join together in the fight for equality. Here, Wardy shows that she is not a solitary voice. She has peers and mentors who influence her just as much as she influences others. Especially helpful are the links and references that Wardy provides to point parents in the direction of helpful blogs, shopping sites, and articles for raising healthy and happy girls. This book does not cover every aspect of a young girl’s life, but it is a launching point and a valuable reference. Wardy provides parents with the tools to begin a dialogue with their daughters and help make change happen for themselves.

***

Melissa Atkins WardyMelissa Atkins Wardy is the author of Redefining Girly, the co-founder of The Brave Girls Alliance, and the founder of the children’s toy/clothing company, Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies. On all of these platforms, she addresses gender equality and the sexualization of young girls. Wardy has been an advocate for toys that feature all colors of the rainbow (not just pink and blue) and an advocate for inclusive marketing (no princesses please). Wardy has used the Pigtail Pals website to provide guidance to parents and to sell gender equal clothing and toys. She also uses social media in order to call out brands that are putting girls in a box and congratulate those that celebrate girls for being their own version of girly. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, New York Daily News, Huffington Post, and Ms. Magazine, and she has appeared on CNN and Fox News. Wardy lives in Janesville, Wisconsin with her husband and two children.

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