We have two refrigerator pictures of the grandkid's visit to Santa. One is the before shot which Katie took while they were waiting in line, a very long line. Both Jude and Sophia look happy in their Christmas finery, though Sophia is scratching at the stiff fabric of her fancy dress. Fast forward an hour, and three and a half year old Jude is smiling like the proud and happy little man that he is and his just about to turn two year old sister is squealing and squirming while the man with the big white beard has his broad arm around her belly. Typical, huh? Yes, it is. (Now we have no pictures of our youngest child with Santa because the few years we attempted it, he screamed from his stroller. He was not going to sit on a giant red-clad bearded man's lap.)
I had both pictures on the refrigerator until one of my son's bandmates-- thank you, Rob-- commented that this was one unhappy little girl who didn't want to sit on the creepy man's lap. (I make no judgment on that man in the beard who puts up with all variety of children, some damp and smelly, some thrilled to be in the presence of the king of fairy tales.)
Rob's comment brought into sharper focus my initial reaction to the picture, that is, we need to respect when little girls and big girls do not want to sit on someone's lap, or however you would like to extend the metaphor. (Really, I am not leaving out little boys, but this piece is about girls. I have much to say about little boys and the broad 'taming' of them so they sit still in school, but that's a different piece.)
A few weeks ago I attended a GirlsRising/Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org) presentation of the conditions of half the world's population and their systematic abuse decreed by state, family, tribe and 'tradition'. Tradition. A term used to evoke a nostalgic feeling of the good old days where families were always warm and loving and, within the protective arms of 'the way we do things' peoples lives are safe and ordered. Ordered, perhaps, but safe has nothing to do with it.
Girls around the world are discarded, sold to pay family debts, married off as nine year old children to grown men who can use them any way they desire and are bearing children their tiny bodies are not designed to accommodate. Then, when they are broken in childbirth, they are exiled to live out their short lives where their problems present no offense to their families.
Many girls are taught to be docile, pretty, compliant, uncmplianing and illiterate. Then they are blamed if a man cannot control his sexual desires toward her for having these very qualities they are told will provide them with security.
Our little Sophia likes pink ribbons, pink shoes and pink polish on her tiny toenails. She is also fierce, fearless and ferocious. May those traits never be educated out of her.