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Everyone Has Something to Say About Girlhood

The Daring Book for Girls has been out for all of four weeks now, and over and again, the question comes up of whether it is a feminist book. We admit that the few critics we've had have been feminists (as well as a few folks who have taken our party games like Bloody Mary and Palm Reading too seriously and denounced them as demonic venture). And, feminists have loved our book, too. That makes sense, because feminism includes so many ways of being in the world. We've seen some women wince because we dared to remind the world of seeming female trivialities like handclap games and jacks, things we believe have their place as valid parts of American folk culture. We've seen other women thank us for helping them reclaim their memories of girlhood as part of the stories of their adult lives.

We didn't write the book as a statement on feminism, though. In fact, we didn't write it to conform to any kind of political ideology. We wrote The Daring Book for Girls because The Dangerous Book for Boys was a fast bestseller in the US, it was set to shape an entire cohort of boys, and as the mothers of girls (and Andi has a son, too), we wanted to make sure our girls had a similar cohort-shaping book. We didn't want girls to be left out, so we got to writing, and to writing fast.

Along the way, we discovered many things for the first time, and rediscovered insights we had learned before.

1. Girls come in many stripes. Girls change over time. Girls don't follow the often-rigid social tastes of a generation of women raised several decades ago. Once upon a time, say, in kindergarten and first grade, my older daughter admired pink, cheerleaders, and The Princess Diaries. I angsted. Two years later, she plays basketball, soccer, softball and she swims, she wears long athletic shorts, climbs trees, and attends sports camp in the summer and has found girls at her school who share her interests. She cringes at the memory that she once had a good time at a cheerleader party. She still likes The Princess Diaries. When people ask her if she's a "tomboy," her answer is that she's a girl, and that girls do lots of things.

2. Times and culture change, and we need to pay attention to our daughters and to younger women. We're often in the position of hearing women in their 40's and older decry handclap games, jacks, and friendship bracelets — the very girlhood games we grew up with, as if they are the source of everything that holds women back. A younger generation of women has found different ways. Many women in their 20's and 30's came of age assuming they can do whatever they want in life, and join a stitch-and-bitch, a coffee-shop knitting club, or a crafting group and find a fantastic group of women friends to help them through life. The question of what modern women do is ever-changing, and we need to pay careful attention. The answers of an older generation are not necessarily the answers for all.

3. One thing we find most fun about our book is that it mixes chapters on Abigail Adams and Modern Women Leaders with instructions for making a cloth-covered book, planting a secret garden, and how to put your hair up with a pencil. We enjoy this mixture. It reflects our real lives, that combination of physical activity, manual labor, and the privilege of doing thoughtful and reflective work too (that would be our writing.) We wanted a book in which all girls might see themselves, a book that all girls would love. That meant opening the umbrella wide, and letting go of any preconceived specific idea of what a girl should be. Lots of bloggers — and some of their daughters — have reviewed the book (a big thanks to all of them!). Each has a different list of favorite chapters, each sees herself reflected back in her own way. If anything, the holistic girl is our model, a girl of many interests and many skills. But above all, really, truly, we want girls to have lots of ideas and curiosities as they embark on life's journey, and we hope this book helps.

4. We learned when we wrote earlier books on motherhood that when it comes to writing about women, you can't win. There's too much anger out there and too much confusion, a result of several decades of active fighting over what it means to be a modern women, preceded by long centuries in which womanhood and manhood were nearly always equally unclear. These gender wars have affected us all. Instead of jumping into a battle, the range of The Daring Book for Girls — princesses to tools — presents something very positive for our girls.

As we wrote, we very aware of how we forged as girls and women. You should have heard our long conversations about that paragraph on how to wear high heels, included under the topic "A Daring Girl's Guide to Danger." But we were committed to writing a book for girls that tried to steer clear of the more obvious scars of the elders. We agree with Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer who recently wrote that "It isn't fair to the kids to drag them into the unresolved issues between the male and female grown-ups. On high heels, we decided to classify them with dangerous things like scary movies and huge roller coasters, and them demystify them and lighten up the topic. It is the rare woman who never has worn a high heel shoe, and honestly, the ankle that a girl can sprain trying out high heels without instruction can trouble her forever!

5. Much of popular culture is horrid and soul draining. We need to guide our girls and boys to the best parts of it, and to the life-giving alternatives. Instead of giving them gender rules, we need to offer them a gender history. Instead of forcefeeding or outlawing, tell your daughters — and sons — why you feel the way you do. Tell them what it was like to go to school in the 1970s, as I did, when girls didn't have the opportunity to play organized sports, as they do now. Tell them your specific stories, no matter your political ideology, no matter where you live or what you do.Those of us who are now adults have lived through an extraordinary amount of gender change in American culture. We bear the successes of that, and the scars too. In her New York Times blog "Domestic Disturbances," Judith Warner started that conversation, and the one-hundred-odd comments that ensued are a fascinating beginning to the process of sorting out what it meant to grow up in the '70s, and to raise children now, amid all that. More conversations like that will give us the wisdom we need to guide our own kids.

6. Okay, back to our usual talking points: Girlhood is fun, or should be. Girlhood disappears all too fast. Girls become jaded too quickly, and 9 is the new 17. Retrieve girlhood, extend the innocence of childhood for all our kids. Adulthood lasts for decades, and girlhood for only a few. Live each day in a mood of curiosity and adventure. The world is a big place, and girls should know that they have a place in the vastness that it offers.

÷ ÷ ÷

Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz are the authors of The Daring Book for Girls.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Daring Book for Girls
    Used Hardcover $5.95
  2. The Dangerous Book for Boys
    Used Hardcover $7.95
  3. Princess Diaries #01: The Princess... Used Mass Market $3.50

Miriam Peskowitz and Andi Buchanan is the author of The Daring Book for Girls

One Response to "Everyone Has Something to Say About Girlhood"

    carole November 28th, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    I loved how you included the spooky sleepover game "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board." Do girls even *do* this kind of thing at slumber parties anymore?

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