Being fair with the fairer sex

“The moment that I step outside
So many reasons for me to run and hide
I can’t do the little things I hold so dear
‘Cause it’s all those little things that I fear”
“Just A Girl” - No Doubt

No Doubt had played together for nearly a decade already when they released their third studio album Tragic Kingdom. The album’s third single “Don’t Speak” blew up, spending 16 weeks in the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, propelling the album to diamond status.

While the third single rocketed the album’s success, the first single from the album is that one that has been called “the most popular critic’s choice” among the songs on the release. “Just A Girl” peaked at 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it was a key introductory song for an album written primarily by lead singer Gwen Stefani.

The song, Stefani’s first solo writing attempt, reviews a woman’s feelings on the rules and restrictions placed on her by the world. Taking some shots at common phrases used to minimize the impact of women in society, each chorus has biting lyrics examining the irony of the patriarchal subjugation of women while also expecting women to be strong and independent.

This song hit a nerve recently as my daughters heard the song and begin giggling at Stefani’s pouty, even whiny, vocal tone as she spews the irony of the content of the song. However, when I sat down with them with the lyrics, they had a different appreciation for the song - at nine years old.

A frequently cited quote paraphrased from Matthew Henry’s famous early-18th century Biblical commentary is one regarding the creation of the first woman, Eve.

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

Henry was not the first to have a published thought along this line, with 17th-century Biblical scholar Matthew Poole also making a similar observation.

“The woman was taken out of this part (i.e. the side), not out of the higher or lower parts, to show that she is neither to be her husband’s mistress, to usurp authority over him, nor yet to be his slave to be abused, despised, or trampled under his feet, but to be kindly treated, and used like a companion, with moderation, respect, and affection.”

I’ve always found it intriguing that so few could name Poole for the same sentiments that Henry put forth roughly a half-century later and has become oft-quoted for producing.

Until you re-read both quotes…

In Poole’s writing, there is not room for a woman to be beloved yet still held in a secondary position within the household nor society. His writing states that women are to be a companion, treated with respect.

Pretty straight forward.

Henry has another angle added that likely explains why so many men appreciate his view more. One sentence in particular stands out, “…under his arm to be protected.”

As any father of young girls should feel, I have protective instincts that kick in. In evaluating why those feelings are present recently, I wrote out a number of things to examine my own views on the women in my life.

My daughters are all minority race, with each having indigenous blood. One of the girls is also Latin in her background.

The simple facts are that the cost of resources dedicated to a missing woman or a woman who reports a sexual assault that is white in America is roughly two and a half times the resources that are expended on a missing woman or reported assault of a woman who is a minority - and that’s for all minorities. Indigenous women will see even less resources expended in their case.

My daughters hear as often as I can think to say it that I love them, that I am proud of their accomplishments in whatever areas they find success, and that I’m interested in knowing what really enthuses them in life.

In some of those discussions, I’ve already heard my daughters echo comments made by young men in their school that they won’t ever do a particular career or achieve a particular goal because they’re “just a girl.”

Other discussions have been around being called a “Taco Bell girl” because of race.

Often the discussion of aggression and debasing comes from young men. That begs the question - what exactly are we teaching our men?

While the father in me wants to protect, I protect each of my children. The best way I can show an example for my daughters of what to expect from a future partner or from men in the world is to partner with my wife, to treat her more as Poole states, as an equal, a companion, not subservient to me within the household.

Luckily, I was blessed to experience a tremendous example in my home growing up of a father and mother who displayed a balanced household. Not everyone is as blessed, so where do we get that example?

Certainly, popular media and outspoken political figures are not the answer as the consistent message within both avenues presents “fragile” woman, both emotionally and physically. Many of the biggest arguments against prominent female political leaders, such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Representative Nancy Pelosi, or even South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem surround the fact that they’re a female with power. Get into a discussion on the state’s governor with an average person, and her politics are often mentioned as equal in importance to her physical appearance. What man is judged in a similar manner?

While Riley Gaines lies about opportunities removed from her by trans female athletes (she finished tied for fifth with a trans female athlete, not denied any championships as is portrayed by Gaines and her media team - including our own Governor's office who recently released an article talking about Gaines being stripped of a championship!) in order to make money from uber-conservative groups, trans men have participated in male sports without anywhere near the same controversy. In fact, the first openly trans male athlete, swimmer Schuyler Bailar of Harvard, was among the top 15% of all male swimmers in the breaststroke in his final year for the Crimson.

Yet, no one is making the same noise about trans male athletes - only saying how trans female athletes are going to make it impossible for women to succeed in sports.

Unlike Gaines, the young woman who won the 200-meter freestyle race that stirred up Riley’s speaking career, Taylor Ruck, was excited to race her best, though the two-time Olympian finished a full second off her personal best in winning the race.

“Coming into this, I was just thinking, ‘Competition is competition,’” Ruck stated after the race. “I was just excited to race someone who’s really fast.”

That sounds like a young woman who has never been told that she can’t do better than anyone, male or female, in her pursuits. Rather than focusing on telling her that she’s “just a girl” in her life, people around Ruck have told her that she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Our girls deserve to hear and experience the same, not excuses or blame for why they don’t succeed, but encouragement and celebration for the success they achieve.

After all, they are already dealing with so many other voices calling them “just a girl” every day.

Encouraging them as an equally valuable member of society is the absolute minimum anyone can do.