I confess....I feel kind of like the people who claim to have known a band before they went big, but I actually got into this topic well before it blew up the internet world a couple months back. I simply noticed that I often greeted little girls by telling them they were cute and it began to bug me. An internet post (HuffPo) on talking to little girls brought the issue to the forefront for a while, but I was SO there first.
I can't imagine meeting a woman in the grocery store line and cooing about her being cute. I might compliment funky earrings that I like but would never have the guts to run, but "Aren't you adorable/cute/pretty?" isn't going to be uttered. That said, I very well might call a little boy "handsome" or "cute" (or praise his eyelashes...what it is up with little boys having the world longest lashes???).
There's an ad lately aimed at little girls for a DVD about Barbie going to charm school and learning "there's a princess in every girl"...well, if she learns to curtsy. This drives me NUTS. I am not totally oppose to all things Barbie, but can't there be a future research scientist in every girl...if she works hard in school and applies herself?!? Or even a future star soccer player? I get mad. But then I go back to wondering if I'm adding to that culture.
I've debated how to remedy this. It really isn't easy to give a little girl more concrete praise on being smart or kind or strong since these are pretty fleeting moments. I could, of course, say nothing at all, but I seem to be innately unable to do that. I at least need to wave or wink. I've praised a cute top but I'm not sure that's any better. I have actively tried to find roundabout alternates...."Wow, you must be a pretty special girl for Mommy/whomever to be buying you such a great toy!"...."'You are getting lots of yummy veggies!"...but that's not always an option. I've even gone for "Wow, you must have been really good and sat still while you got such pretty braids"....though I'm less certain that's an improvement.
And I do think it is good for little girls to feel pretty. ALL of them. My concern is making that the number one trait for which they are recognized. Then again, like it or not, it IS pretty realistic. We ARE defined by our outward appearance. Especially by strangers. I'm treated differently than I was 30lbs heavier.
I don't see myself totally ignoring the cute tyke (of either gender) sitting in the cart behind me at the store. I can commit to trying to avoid the appearance fallback. But, despite good intentions and doubts about messaging, I doubt I'll ever totally be able to "quit" the cute remarks....at least cold turkey. I have committed to at least trying...and to complimenting other traits when I can see them. But now I'm thinking of traits to remark on...is complimenting a girl for being patient and quiet any better if it plays into gender roles? My head is going to hurt if I keep going down that route.