Another barrier down

Pretty cool that the U.S. Secret Service is now headed by a woman, Julia A. Pierson, for the first time. She worked there for 30 years and worked her way up from the bottom. Not exactly a female-friendly job or culture, so it will be interesting to see how this leads to changes. Probably no more hooker visits while on trips, I am guessing.

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Happy Wife, Happy Life isn’t so hard after all

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A new study in Journal of Family Issues highlights another way gender stereotypes screw us up. The researchers were looking at what predicted happy marriages (in straight couples). It seems having a wife who is happy with the marriage makes everyone happier. That old saying “happy wife, happy life” seems to be true for men. But what makes wives happier? Having  husbands who does chores with them, side-by-side. Liking cleaning the kitchen together, one rinses the dishes off and one loads the dishwasher kind of thing. Also, even more important than doing chores together, is having a husband who spends quality time with the kids. Things like reading a bedtime book or talking to them about their day.

It seems that doing those activities that are often relegated to women (housework and childcare) is the best way for men to have happier marriages. Plus, they get a clean house and close relationships with their kids to boot. A pretty good argument for ditching the idea of “women’s work”.

 

Ode to Billie Jean, and thanks to 40 years of girls in cleats

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Softball season for Maya ends tomorrow. Tomorrow night, they play their “Championship Game.” Really, she is in a learning league where the goal is to help kids improve their softball skills. In other words, the really good players are there, but few in number. This is a good fit for Maya, as the poor girl was thrown into the shallow end of the athletic gene pool. But she has fun and I think it is important to play something. The importance of athletics for girls, even a non-athletic girl, has been reinforced lately in the news. The reason for the news stories: the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Times have changed so much since Title IX was passed in 1972. Back  then, about the time I was born, phones were barbarically attached to the wall by a cord. Gas station attendants waited by your car window while you told them to “Fill it up, unleaded.” Our massive console television, with the 2 knobs that got 5 channels (the 3 networks plus PBS and the local UHF channel) took up an entire wall of our wood paneled living room. Computers were something you might see at work but never imagined holding on your lap while sitting on your couch. And, only 7 percent of all high school athletes were girls. That has changed tenfold in 40 years. Girls now make up 41 percent of high school athletes.

It isn’t just a numbers thing. Even the cultural thinking about girls in sports has changed in 40 years. Back then, only hardcore athletic girls played sports (and were presumed to be lesbians). About this time, a 55-year-old former tennis player, Bobby Riggs, was so convinced that only men were really athletes that he challenged the top female tennis player in the world to a match. Luckily, Billie Jean King kicked his ass, a victory that meant far more than the prize money she won. Our own research shows this cultural shift. When my graduate student, Jenna (who happens to be Maya’s softball coach), asked middle school kids to describe a popular girl, a lot of kids, both boys and girls, described a girl who is good at sports. That would not have happened even 15 years ago.

Things aren’t perfect yet. Twenty percent of the public does not support Title IX. They think it “takes away” from the “real sports,” like football and basketball. And, the most popular female athletes are the ones who happen to be attractive and who like to pose in their underwear on mens‘ magazine covers.

But regardless of how far girls in sports have come, and how far they still have to go, playing sports is simply good for girls. When they play sports, they are less likely to drink, smoke, be depressed or anxious, get pregnant, or think poorly about their bodies. Think this doesn’t relate to your kids?

Keep in mind that recent studies show that 12 percent of 10- and 11-year old girls want to be thinner, 27 percent of 11- to 16-year old girls have drunk so much that they have been sick or out of control, and more than 35 percent of 16- to 21-year old girls admit to having unprotected sex. Playing sports reduces these numbers.

No one really knows why sports are so good for girls. Maybe it is focusing on their bodies being strong and powerful (rather than skinny and simply something for boys to ogle) that helps girls feel empowered, maybe it is relying on teammates that helps girls feel part of something bigger than themselves, maybe it is having a group of adults literally and figuratively cheering them on that boosts their self-esteem. Whatever the reason, sports are good for all girls, not just the athletic ones. So thanks to the 40 years of girls who played sports even when it wasn’t cool. And even though my girl likes to play in the dirt instead of watch for pop flies, and has been hit by a pitch more than once this season, she will always play something, whatever something she finds the most fun, regardless of the scoreboard.

Rush for conformity

(Some of these blogs come out of season because I am transferring from my old website)

The week before college starts in the fall, hundreds of women vie for the coveted spots in a sorority. During this week, I begin to feel like Jane Goodall. Groups of college women all dressed alike walk around campus in herds. The same dress, the same shoes, the same hair. Some are better than others at navigating the high heels, but I think I would have an easier time distinguishing a group of chimps. The craziest type of individuality any of them showed was picking a different color purse.

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I must admit, I never did any of this as a college student. I went to a small school that (I think) had one sorority. But I have lots of students who are in sororities, so I understand the social value of the organization. I don’t judge the sorority. I just think this stuff i crazy. At Kentucky, the girls also dress identically for football games. Same blue, black, and white dress and same brown boots. What is difficult to understand is the extreme conformity. They all work so hard to look like the other girls. It must be exhausting. They drank some powerful Kool-Aid.

​Social psychology has taught us about the irony of individuals and groups. We desperately want to fit in, but at the same time, we desperately want to be perceived as unique. That’s a tough line to walk.

Considering how much women at this age are objectified, it is particularly disturbing to see conformity beat out individuality so strongly. It isn’t even a close match. It is clearly much better to fit an ideal image of a sorority girl than be thought of as an actual individualized person. I know this isn’t the message I want 19 year old girls to leave with. Just doing something because your friends are doing it is particularly dangerous in a college atmosphere of alcohol binge drinking and unprotected sex.

So, bring on the girls in the non-matching dress, the comfortable shoes, and the curly hair. Because I want to celebrate the girls who say, “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all!” ​

Accidental Parenting

I am writing the last two chapters of my book (that is due at the publishers May 1). Here is my favorite excerpt from today:

“The power of parenting is in the little moments, usually the moments we don’t mean to be “parenting.” In my own opinion, this is what makes parenting so hard. It would be easy if kids eagerly approached you on your best day, the days you felt rested and relaxed, saying “Mom, Dad, teach me something important so I can live a happy and productive life.” They would soak up your jewels of wisdom. Then they would ignore all the times you were overwhelmed and snapped at your husband for no reason, or the time you yelled at the driver who cut you off on the highway, or the time you were overly anxious when your boss came over, or the time you commented about feeling fat in your jeans in front of your mid-puberty daughter. It would be much easier if kids only paid attention when you wore your “parenting hat” and not when your own worse traits popped up. But, alas, they don’t. They pay attention to it all­ – the intentional and the accidental. ”

It makes me wish someone would invent a parenting hat I could wear. When I am wearing it, the kids would pay attention. When I take it off, they should ignore me. This would ensure they would pay attention when I wanted them to (which would be impressive by itself), but also they would ignore me when I wanted to steal candy from the candy jar or have a general end-of-week meltdown.

Girls choose pretty over smart…Argh!!!!

My headache-inducing fact of the day: Researchers interviewed gifted 3rd-6th grade girls. The girls talked about downplaying their intelligence because they wanted to appear pretty. They also didn’t want to look like they were bragging or being competitive by getting good grades. I hope my own gifted 3rd grader never downplays anything. I wish that intelligence and pretty weren’t seen as mutually exclusive.

 

New Psychology Today post

Check out my newest Psychology Today post. I have been shocked that people are shocked by the Steubenville rape trial. We sexually objectify girls so much in our culture that these situations seem inevitable to me. Don’t believe me? Check out a Hardee’s commercial. Both boys and girls buy into this mindset, one in which girls are dehumanized sexual objects for men’s and boys’ pleasure. That is the first step, rape doesn’t follow far behind. Lots of research studies have long shown this link, we just don’t seem to care enough.

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The power of dad

A new study in Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that teen girls whose parents “get in their business” are more likely to delay having sex compared to teen girls whose parents “mind their own business.”  This adds to the piles of research showing that parents who monitor and nose their way into their teens’ lives end up with kids who avoid some really risky behavior (like having sex at 14 and getting drunk at 15).

But what is one of the biggest predictors of young teen girls delaying having sex? Having a dad around. This fact has been shown again and again. Dads being present really helps girls make some wiser decisions (on the flip side, a girl having sex at 14 is anything BUT a wise decision).  Maybe having a dad around helps with the whole monitoring thing. One more person present to nose into the teen’s personal life. Maybe it’s something about getting positive male attention that helps girls not seek it elsewhere. It is hard to know exactly what dads are bringing to the table, but it is something.

What I always find interesting, in these studies showing the importance of a dad being present, is that it doesn’t much matter what exactly the dad does. Maybe he is cranky when the house gets loud, or he is strict, or he is lenient, or he likes to complain about everyone leaving the lights on all the time. It doesn’t matter. Just being there, being engaged, paying attention, doing the dirty work. That’s what seems to matter.

Past research has shown that dads who do the nitty-gritty work when their kids are babies – the diapers, the baths, the 2am feedings – have children who are more securely attached to them.  They grow into teens who know they can depend on their dads when things go wrong. They also know dad is there to help them make better decisions, and to come down on them when they make bad decisions. Both actions help kids navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.    ​

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The bumper sticker I saw at day care today really does sum up research on fathers. Men who change diapers change the world.  The bumper sticker was probably referring to a broader point about gender equality. But a lot of world-changing also happens one kid at a time.  ​