When faced with a question as divisive as “is it harder to grow up male or female in America?” the tendency of most people is to protect their own. A man will more than likely state that it is more difficult growing up male while a woman will state the same in regards to growing up female. The simple explanation for this is that, whether you’re a male or a female, you can only truly see things through your own specific set of eyes. You don’t pay too much attention to what someone else is going through since you have so much going on in your own life. This is especially true in the formative years for both sexes.
So, with that being said, as a boy growing up I always felt like boys got the short end of the stick whenever it came down to anything at all concerning girls. Parents always seemed to side with the girls in any argument, and the teachers in school clearly favored the girls in class. While it may seem like this is an exaggerated account seen through my ‘specific set of eyes’ as I stated above, there have actually been studies done, and articles written on the subject of gender bias against boys in the American educational system. Writer Valerie Hegwood – a contributor to Yahoo.com – writes about the blatant differences in how her daughter is treated in school when compared to the treatment her son receives. Still, a boy is fully capable of gaining a quality education whether or not he will face certain biases within the educational system.
It wasn’t until I was blessed with my beautiful daughters that I was able to see the world through a set of different eyes. As a male, I will never be able to know exactly what my daughters are seeing, interpreting, or feeling. However, when I became a father – and my eyes were opened a bit wider in regards to gender differences – it became absolutely impossible to miss the fact that girls are inundated with unfair imagery and expectations at every turn. The fact that girls have to face near impossible expectations in terms of body image and sexuality from a very young age is why I believe it is much harder to grow up female in America.
Being pressured by these unhealthy expectations fuels not only low self-esteem, but all of the disorders that may come along with a negative self-image, such as eating disorders, depression, and even suicide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, between 5% and 10% of females in this country suffer from a variety of eating disorders. This equates to between roughly 5 million and 10 million girls and women that are currently suffering through these disorders. By the time young women reach college, nearly 10% of them will suffer from clinical or sub-clinical eating disorders. And, while it’s nearly impossible to calculate mortality rates for these disorders based on the fact that many who suffer from them also suffer from co-occurring medical conditions, general estimates point towards 10% to 15% of eating disorders proving to be fatal to those affected.
Popular media goes a long way towards contributing to the objectifying of women. Television has become particularly absurd with the onslaught of “reality” shows that hit the airwaves season after season. In 2004, FOX unveiled its latest “reality” effort, The Swan. Each week there were two women who were deemed “ugly” enough to be cast on the show. Throughout each one-hour episode, each “ugly duckling” was transformed – via make-up, wardrobe, and even surgery – into a more “beautiful version” of herself. One woman per episode was chosen to go on to the season-ending pageant whose winner would no longer be considered ugly, but instead a Swan.
As disgusting as I found The Swan, I was appalled by a promotional spot I saw this past September for a new “reality” show on the E! network. The show, which was called Bridalplasty, was set to feature brides-to-be who would compete in numerous wedding-related challenges. That sounds normal enough by today’s “reality” TV standards. However, the brides-to-be in this show would be competing all the while with the goal of winning the ultimate prize of plastic surgery to transform them into the “perfect bride” in time for their wedding day. The fact that this show, which would offer dangerous surgical procedures as its top prize, was actually going to air was proof enough – for me – that society had sunk to a low that we would probably never be able to get out of. Sadly, our daughters will bear much of the brunt of this type of exploitative programming.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that this problem will get dramatically better in the near future. The most logical way of thinking is to hope that women – with an influx of leadership opportunities available to them in every industry across the country – will take a stand against the unrealistic portrayal of their own sex. Sadly, women have been in prominent leadership positions in Hollywood for generations and the movie, television, and music industries have not changed the way they do business. In fact, things have continued to get worse year after year. Take a hard look at some of the examples I’ve given above for proof of that.
Everywhere you look these days there is a half-naked woman pitching some nondescript product to the masses. Many times the product that is being advertised is either buried in the background of the ad or not visible at all. The message is clear; beautiful women with perfect bodies want you to buy something, so buy it. Believe me, as a man – before I became a father to little girls – seeing half-naked women plastered on every magazine cover, television commercial, or billboard didn’t bother me in the least. Now, though, every time I see something so blatantly exploitative I immediately think of my daughters and the unfortunate possibility that they may grow up feeling like they have to compete with that half-naked woman if they want to succeed in life.
One thing that I believe can be effective in combating this perception is actually talking to our youth. Just as there are classes and speeches given regularly at schools across the country about the dangers of domestic abuse, eating disorders, drug addiction, and suicide, there should also be accompanying classes and speeches given to underline the fact that society – and the things that we view as “entertainment” in it – can help to encourage these disorders and tragedies. Hopefully, by opening the eyes of young people, things will change for the better. For the sake of my daughters, I truly hope so.
Also posted on ‘The Altered States of Munley’