Saturday, February 04, 2006

Confession Time

I'm in a position these days where I have contact with a number of young girls about to become young women. I have teenage nieces and close friends with pubescent and pre-pubescent daughters. It started me reflecting on my own childhood.

Growing up, there weren't many girls my age in our neighborhood, and I spent a lot of time hanging out and playing with the boys. I also had all those brothers, which helped me develop into a bit of a tomboy.

I gained a lot from spending time with the guys, learning to be intensely competitive, but to still work on a team for the good of all.

Junior high was a revelation to me. Suddenly I was in a larger pool surrounded by girls my own age, and I had more freedom to go outside my neighborhood to visit with friends. Unfortunately, I wasn't equipped for just how bitchy and manipulative teenage girls can be. Several of my peers wanted to be my "best friend" to get close to the guys I knew, and I just didn't recognize the dynamic. I got badly hurt a number of times before a kindly older girl clued me in on what was going on.

I may have been a slow starter, but I learned very quickly how to spot and respond to that "Me, me, me" behavior, which is so often not intentionally cruel, but can be incredibly destructive just the same.

Junior high was an "eat or be eaten" world. I watched as many girls who had been victims of cruelty turned into carbon copies of the very females who had tormented them. Fortunately for all of us, things got much better in high school as we learned to behave in a more civilized manner.

That early grounding with the guys helped me enormously in my career. I played very hard, but fair and did well. Before starting my writing career, I was one of two VPs reporting directly to my CEO. I was responsible for several hundred employees and was often the only female in a room filled with men. While I sought to promote and encourage women, I had absolutely no tolerance for feminine backbiting and whining.

I look at the young girls I know today. They are so beautiful and filled with such promise. I want to shelter them from all the nastiness I know they'll encounter down the road. I want to say, "Be kind and be supportive of your own gender. Don't assume that another's success will somehow detract from yours. It's okay to be competitive, but always, always play fair. Celebrate others in their good times, and they'll be there for you in your hard times. Try to avoid the 'me, me, me' types, but learn to deal with them when you have to."

I know it's wishful thinking and that they'll have to learn the hard way as we all did. But, just for today, I'm calling blessings down on each of their beautiful little heads. Lord, protect and cherish them.

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