One of the most fun (and least scary) parts of preparing for my daughter’s upcoming birth has been designing her nursery. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and so I’ve fully embraced the “woodland nursery” fad! I was recently perusing Pinterest for woodland nursery ideas when I came across a little sign so adorable that I was almost brought to tears (though admittedly these days it doesn’t take much to get me there!). It read, “From little seeds grow mighty trees.”
I excitedly followed the link to order the product and was surprised to find that the sign had been tagged on the vendor’s website under “boy nursery”. Perhaps the green coloring or the unfinished wooden frame give off a masculine vibe, though at a first glance the style doesn’t strike me as clearly gendered. I suspect that it is not the actual aesthetic of the sign that has marked it as male, but rather the word “mighty”.
Intrigued by this surprisingly gendered sign, I conducted a very casual (and highly unscientific) survey of nursery signs on Pinterest. I searched “nursery signs for girls” and “nursery signs for boys” to see if there were themes that emerged along gendered lines. I found that many girl nursery signs emphasized the traits of uniqueness, beauty, and lovability. Signs for boys tended to appeal to their sense of adventure, bravery, and potential.
None of these messages are inherently bad – in fact, I think it’s important that girls feel unique, beautiful and loved and that boys feel adventurous, brave, and limitless. The problem, however, is that girls are consistently sent messages that convey a sense of passiveness – they are to be admired for being a certain way, while boys are praised for doing certain things. This type of gendered messaging can condition girls to consistently underestimate their abilities and can ultimately stifle their ambitions.
Although my 20-minute Pinterest research is hardly generalizable or conclusive, it did get me thinking about the kinds of messages I want my daughter to receive starting from the first day of her life. After a lot of thought, I have come up with a list of four things that I want my daughter to know. Though my lack of artistic ability prevents me from crafting something aesthetically pleasing to hang in her room, perhaps I can simply remind her of this list every day:
- Try everything
Your life is one of endless possibilities! There are so many activities, subjects, hobbies and paths for you to explore. There will be people and influences around you that will try to tell you what you should be interested in because of your gender. Don’t listen to them! Give those traditionally “female” activities and subjects a try AND do the same for areas that have been typically reserved for boys. If you let others dictate your interests to you, you may miss out on discovering the things that you’re most passionate about.
- Treat yourself the way you would treat others
Treating others with kindness, dignity, and respect is vital to creating a tolerable society and the “Golden Rule” is a helpful way to remind people of that. However, I think that the inverse of the “Golden Rule” is equally important. Because of the immense societal pressure that is placed on women to be a certain way, I think it is common for us to hold ourselves to different standards than we do other people. Based on my own experience, this can lead to instances of harmful self-deprecation. Would you ever tell someone else that she was fat, ugly, or stupid? I certainly hope not! But sadly, I think there will be times in your life where you will be tempted to believe these things about yourself. Cut it out! You are just as deserving of your own kindness, dignity, and respect as anyone else. If it’s something you would never say to someone else, never say it about yourself.
- Give yourself credit and take a compliment
Even though I don’t know you very well yet, I know that you are going to be amazing in many ways and that you will do some extraordinary things. I never want you to be arrogant or condescending, but when you do these extraordinary things, take credit for them! Don’t be afraid to share your accomplishments with others. And when people compliment you for being awesome, don’t deflect or try to tell them that they’re wrong – just say thank you. It’s ok to take a compliment!
- Don’t be afraid to grow
In her groundbreaking book, Carol Dweck describes two kinds of mindsets – what she calls the “fixed” mindset and the “growth” mindset. People who have a fixed mindset believe that their talents, abilities, and personality are static and unchangeable. They fear failure because it would mean that they themselves are failures. People who exhibit a growth mindset, on the other hand, embrace failure. They see it as an opportunity to learn and improve. They respond well to criticism and they persist even when things are challenging.
Our society preaches the doctrine of the fixed mindset. People will try to make you believe that you were born with a definitive list of talents, abilities, and skills and that some things are simply “not for you”. Don’t listen to them! Choose to adopt the growth mindset and work to become who you want to become.
You are going to hear a lot of messages throughout your life – from your family, from your peers, and from our society at large. Some of them will be positive and truthful, and others will be harmful lies. Ultimately you will be the one who gets to choose which messages you will listen to and internalize and which you will ignore.
So be judicious and wise as you listen to the messages you hear every day.
And remember – from little seeds grow mighty trees!
Dweck, Carol. 2007. Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.