A couple of years ago I wrote about how I had a bit of a parental freak-out moment when my daughter turned 9 and I realized she was halfway to moving out and going to college. So like any lunatic person, I began giving her regular advice sermons at every possible juncture. Poor, poor child. I even named it Project 9 and made it a diary/journal of sorts for her to have. Well now we’re in Project 1o (Egad! Eight years left!) and I thought I’d share one of the more frequent soapbox sermons I’ve imparted to her this year. I’m probably going overboard (me? really?) but I figure it’s good vaccination for middle school. Better to hammer it home now before it becomes an issue. It usually sounds like this:
Here’s the thing you need to know about culture and media. They may or may not mean to do this, but if you start watching carefully enough, you’ll notice that TV shows and songs on the radio and books and movies will portray girls fighting- fighting over boys, or popularity, or who is prettier. And then often what happens is that girls like you see this, and then start to copy it because they think it’s the way they are supposed to act. They start believing this is just how girls are and what girls do.
The message all of these things send- the message I want you to recognize and reject- is that you are in competition with other girls. It is a lie. Girls are not your enemy. And the vast majority of the time, it’s probably NOT a competition. Obviously, there will be times when you will have issues or problems with other girls. That’s because people are different, and you can’t get along with everybody all of the time. It is not because you are destined to make enemies with other girls. There is absolutely no reason in the world for you to spend your energy or your time fueling fights with other girls. Don’t start it, and if someone else starts it, don’t join in. And if there is a girl who is trying to compete with you, smile and compliment her on something, and move along. There will always be someone smarter or prettier or funnier or more popular than you. It’s no reason to go to war. It’s no reason to make an enemy. Be confident in who you are, and be confident enough to notice the good things in others. It doesn’t cost you a thing.
Sadly, a lot of girls- and women- have wasted I don’t know how much of their time on this kind of thing. To be honest, it can seem like half of middle school is run on the engine of female competition. I have a theory that this is because middle school is also the time when girls often talk most about boys, clothes, and looks. And when you allow those things to become your focus, you’re sticking yourself in shallow territory where it just seems easier to be a worse version of yourself.
But you DO have a choice, even if it’s a difficult one that seems completely uphill. You can choose not to fight. You can choose to reject the myth that other girls are your enemy. You can choose to stay out of it. You can choose to have friends who are interested in talking not just about boys or clothes but also about family and what book you’re reading and what you want to do or be when you grow up.
Sometimes I wonder what could happen if all the passion and energy spent competing with other girls was channeled toward changing the world instead. Maybe your generation can be better at that. Maybe your generation can see the lie of female competition and reject it. Maybe the next time you see a show or movie where two girls are fighting over a boy, you can turn to your friend and roll your eyes and say, “Honestly.” I feel this would greatly enhance the sanity level of our world.
And look- this does not mean you have to be best friends with every single girl. And it doesn’t mean you need to pretend like you agree with them when you don’t. Because when it isn’t a competition, it’s no big deal if you honestly say you disagree. You’re not on different sides. You are just two girls talking about your ideas. And you can walk away knowing you’re just fine, and you may even be able to be friends. Rejecting competition doesn’t mean faking nice. It means not faking mean. It means not creating a drama when there isn’t one just because that’s what the girls on TV do.
What I’m trying to say is this: when media and society tell you as a girl to compete with other girls, listen instead to your community of faith, which reminds you that the world is a place where we are all connected by God’s love, where we all have value, and where we don’t all have to be the same/act the same to get along. Live bigger than the little, petty story of female competition. Live the story of love instead. It’s infinitely more satisfying.