Conversations

Yesterday

Kid gets off bus buzzing and happy.

K. N says I’m her friend and she gave me this friendship ring. It’s because we’re friends!

M. Cool.

K. She also says I should wash my hair and conditioner it, because she said she could smell a funny smell and she thought it was me. She said I would look heaps better with shiny hair.

M. Well, you have a shower every day, and you’ve been swimming a lot, so I doubt you’re stinky. But OK, you can use conditioner if you want.

This morning

K. Mum, can I wear talcum powder today?

M. No, we’re walking out the door, it’s too late for that conversation Wait, is this cos N said you smelled bad yesterday?

K. Yeah, she said I should wear perfume, but I told her that my Mum only lets me wear talcum powder, and that’s only sometimes.

M. Ok, let’s get this straight. Sometimes girls tell one another that they should change something about how they look so they look prettier, or that they should smell different. They seem like they’re being nice and being your friend, but it’s actually called; ‘Being a bitch’.

[perhaps could have toned this down a bit, but the kid is used to this kind of straight talk chances are she’ll survive]

M. It’s a bit like bullying where someone tries to make you feel bad, but in this case they’re not necessarily trying to make you feel bad. It’s just a thing that girls learn to do to make other girls feel like they’re inadequate and that they need to do something to themselves to improve themselves.

K. But why do they do it at all?

M. There are a couple of main reasons. The first is that it makes money. Companies do this thing where they tell you there is something wrong with you when there isn’t. But then they make you think there is, and then they tell you they have a product that solves the problem. But there wasn’t a problem in the first place.

Have you got two legs? Are you tired of having two perfectly operational legs? Are the bottoms of your legs always in shoes? Yes! Well, we’ve got the solution, the new Suzuki 1000!

K. I don’t know what you’re on about Mum [exasperated but increasingly common look]

M. Look, companies tell you that something normal about your body isn’t normal. And then they sell a product that will change it. And then they become rich, by solving a problem that wasn’t a problem in the first place. That kind of thinking has become quite normal, so that’s one reason that girls think it’s OK to tell other girls that there is something wrong with them when there isn’t. Make sense?

K. Yep

The other reason is a thing called sexism. Have you heard of sexism?

K. No.

M. It sounds like sex, but it’s really just the old fashioned idea that girls should be pretty and smell nice, and play with dollies, and that’s all they can do. No science. No Operation Ouch. No maths. 

K. No maths? Whaaaat? But we all do maths at school.

M. Yeah, but with sexism girls think it’s OK to not be good at maths, because what’s really important is that they look pretty and smell nice. Imagine if you couldn’t go to the Physics Learning Labs because you were a girl.

[Look of abject horror as this freaky alternate reality sinks in]

M. Yeah, so that’s sexism. The important thing to remember is that N probably isn’t trying to be horrible when she tells you there’s something wrong with how you look or smell. It’s just something some girls are trained to do. So you can still be friends with her, but just be aware that you’ll hear this kind of stuff from time to time. What’s important is that you are aware that there is nothing wrong with you, and you get to decide if you want to change something about yourself. 

A good thing to ask yourself is; would this friend still say this stuff to me if I was a boy? Would N tell a boy that he smelled bad or should use conditioner in his hair?

K. No, I don’t think so.  

M. Ok, that’s sexism, consumerism and body politics covered. Now, try to remember to get your jumper out of your tote tray please, and have a look for missing containers. Here comes the bus.

 

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