Celebrating Girls: Nurturing and Empowering Our Daughters

Celebrating Girls: Nurturing and Empowering Our Daughters

by Virginia Beane Rutter

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Jungian psychologist Virginia Beane Rutter offers a wide variety of everyday things women can do to strengthen a girl's sense of self and ensure confidence and healthy self-esteem throughout her lifetime. Each chapter highlights an aspect of the passage from infancy to adolescence a practical response to Reviving Ophelia.  See more details below


Jungian psychologist Virginia Beane Rutter offers a wide variety of everyday things women can do to strengthen a girl's sense of self and ensure confidence and healthy self-esteem throughout her lifetime. Each chapter highlights an aspect of the passage from infancy to adolescence a practical response to Reviving Ophelia.

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"Women will find in these inspired pages guidance to help girls develop a sense of deep pride at being female." -Isabel Allende

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Red Wheel/Weiser
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Celebrating GIRLS

Nurturing and Empowering Our Daughters

By Virginia Beane Rutter

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1996 Virginia Beane Rutter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-337-0


Celebrating Girls

The word celebrate comes from the ancient Greek word melpo—meaning to sing, to dance, to praise! I offer this book in praise of girls, to help nurture and empower them. It addresses the question of what we can do to enhance our daughters' feminine self-worth.

Thanks to groundbreaking books such as In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan and Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, we are all aware of the severe pressures and dangers that diminish girls' self-esteem as they approach adolescence. Girls who are free-thinking and expressive, who speak their minds and their hearts, suddenly begin to lose their voices and become silent. They reject their individuality for a cultural norm about the way girls "should" look ("thin") and behave ("good"). As Peggy Orenstein concluded in Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap, girls still view their gender as a liability. "By sixth grade, it is clear that both girls and boys have learned to equate maleness with opportunity and femininity with constraint." In short, girls begin early in life to stop believing in themselves.

As concerned mothers, we read all this depressing news and wonder if there is anything we can do about it. I believe the answer is a decided yes: Mothers and other adult women in girls' lives can raise girls with vital, intact feminine spirits through cherishing care and healthy challenges celebrated in meaningful ways. Anything that we do to enhance the self-esteem of a girl in our lives will have positive consequences toward increasing the self-esteem of other girls and women. As Gloria Steinem once said, "Women's history is about human beings, women and men, and for all days. But even one month of looking at the world as if women mattered can change the rest of your life."

Affirming femininity can be done as a natural extension of the normal things we do every day with and for our daughters. Nurturing and empowering our daughters begins with celebrating their female bodies from birth. The earliest intimacies—bathing, hairwashing, and haircombing—are opportunities to give a young girl the valued sense of herself that she needs to counteract the negative messages she will receive her whole life about being female. These elements from everyday life that are part of most girls' initiation ceremonies in other cultures have disappeared from ours. Our task is to invest our daughters' everyday care with purpose, intention, and awareness of their feminine value, and then to create celebrations to mark the passages in their lives. Broadly speaking, I use the word celebration to mean a conscious attention to making the girls in your life feel that they matter—to you, to the family, to the community, to the world.

An Overview

Celebrating Girls explores stories and celebrations for mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and other women in intimate relationships with girls to daily support their femininity and celebrate meaningful passages in their lives. Each chapter addresses girls' development from birth to puberty. (A girl may have her first period as early as age nine or as late as age sixteen.) Many of the child-raising principles in this book also apply to boys, but here the focus is on girls. Each chapter highlights a positive aspect of intimate relationship with girls that has significance for feminine identity and self-esteem.

The theme of each chapter correlates with an aspect of a girl's development. For example, the theme of chapter 3 is "Bathing," and this chapter discusses water as a feminine element, the waters of the womb, and bathing as a purifying, renewing ritual. Water is associated with emotions, so chapter 3 also deals with emotional integrity in girls and suggests ways in which you can help nourish a deep, honest emotional life in your daughter. The themes of chapter 4, "Holding," chapter 9, "Strengthening Her Body," and chapter 10, "Walking into Beauty," which honor her body's uniqueness and encourage sports and a healthy relationship to menstruation, are linked with assuring her physical selfconfidence and developing a positive body image. Chapter 5, "Haircombing," discusses the everyday ritual of combing and doing her hair. Symbolically, hair is related to a woman's thoughts, so this chapter deals with empowering a girl's mind. Chapter 6, "Dressing," talks about clothing and relates it to her social development with peers, family, and community. Chapter 7, "Adorning," takes up the ancient symbolism of jewelry as feminine value as well as girls' fascination with cosmetics and their containers. It discusses a girl's involvement in the arts—drama, music, singing, painting—as another avenue for self-expression. This chapter also addresses making meaning of life and touches on a girl's spiritual development. In chapter 8, "Storytelling," telling stories and reading to your daughter are presented as valuable for both bonding with her and for teaching her about feminine history.

In every chapter, I have included some significant motifs from girls' rites of passage around the world that honor a girl's femininity and enhance her sense of self-worth, while eliminating those which serve to repress or degrade girls and women. These motifs are simply points of departure to help you nurture and empower your daughters. Use your imagination and what you know about your own daughter, granddaughter, niece, or "little sister" to create your own celebrations for her. If you are a girl reading this book, you may have creative ideas to suggest to your mother. At the back of the book, in addition to the bibliography, is a resource guide that lists reference books and organizations that are working to promote self-esteem and health for girls (and women) in our society.

I have also taken into account that most traditional tribal ceremonies assume a girl is marriageable and ready for childbirth once her first menstruation ceremony is accomplished. In those cultures, a woman's identity will revolve around being a mother, wife, and homemaker. In our culture, the pivotal moment of first menstruation marks and ushers in a period of adolescence. The multiple identities that a woman lives today require a delicate balancing, not only between her feminine and masculine sides, but also between her inner and outer worlds. Therefore, I have tried to answer the question of what kind of upbringing would best suit the emerging feminine identity of a menstruating adolescent that includes her inner moon cycle, her developing sexuality, and her probable progression toward being a woman functioning in the world of work outside the home.

At the end of Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher seems to share the collective intuition of women I know when she says, "As a culture, we could use more wholesome rituals for coming of age. Too many of our current rituals involve sex, drugs, alcohol, and rebellion. We need more positive ways to acknowledge growth, more ceremonies and graduations. It's good to have toasts, celebrations and markers for teens that tell them, 'You are growing up and we're proud of you.'"

Shepherding girls through the difficult preteen to teenage time requires a firm and loving attitude on the part of parents. We have to monitor their world closely, but we also have to accept that their world is very challenging. It is good if we begin celebrations before our daughters become teenagers and start to slip away into their peer culture. This will give us a strong foundation for a relationship with them, and they will already know how to make wise choices.

Having been praised as young girls, with our faith in them demonstrated, they will move into preteen and adolescent waters with a solid base for increasing independence, social responsibility, and self-confidence. They will feel empowered by their mothers, who let them test their capabilities, and then celebrate them at every stage of their development. They will be strong enough to choose healthy rites of passage over unhealthy ones. And they will be centered enough to feel the stirrings of their sexuality and to get to know those desires without falling into desperate attachments to boys, or feeling themselves worthless without a boy's attention.

This book is dedicated to showing how we can bring our feminine wisdom to bear on giving every girl in our lives a multitude of reasons to celebrate who she is.


Raising a Daughter

My eleven-year-old daughter, Lia, and I are sitting at the kitchen counter drinking tea. As she adds spoonfuls of sugar to her cup, she is recounting to me the play of the day's events in her sixth-grade class. She tells me what happened between her girlfriends, "the boys," and her teachers. She shares her personal joys and difficulties: her relay race time (only one second off from the highest fitness award), her A on an Egyptian project (a total preoccupation for the past month), her newly beaded necklace breaking and spilling all over the classroom floor (spoiling several hours of concentrated work). I respond in quick succession with praise, delight, and sympathy. We giggle together at a teacher's rude remark, overheard by chance in the corridor, and exchange knowing glances over a boy's disruptive antics in Spanish class. Sometimes I am reminded of a similar experience of my own when I was her age and tell her that story. She, in turn, asks about my day, and I recount my small satisfactions and frustrations about home, work, or writing. This is the fabric of our mother-daughter relationship, a weaving back and forth out of which our mutual understanding is daily renewed.

One fall day, when Lia asked, "How was your day, Mom?" I told her my idea for this book. A friend and I had had a long discussion about a question that women often ask me when I lecture on girls' rites of passage in other cultures: "Where are the modern ceremonies with which to raise my daughter, celebrate her femininity, enhance her self-esteem, and help her with all the transitions from infancy to girlhood and adolescence?" I told Lia that I wanted to write a book celebrating girls, for all women—mothers, friends, aunts, grandmothers—who wish to have close relationships with the next generation of girls in their lives. Lia perked up and said excitedly, "Oh, do write about it, Mom! I'll help. Can I be in it? I want to choose a name for the book."

I felt my own creativity stirred by Lia's enthusiastic response and began to think about all the conversations I have with women friends, patients, and colleagues, voicing our concerns about our daughters. In the midst of our busy lives, it often seems difficult for us to mother our daughters in a deep way. We organize our households, see that our families are clothed and fed, and try to keep up with our children's over-full schedules, as well as our own. But mothering a daughter in order to nurture and empower her femininity seems to elude many of us. I thought about distressed adolescent girls in therapy, who often burst into tears when asked, "Who are you as a woman?" They have no idea what it means to be a woman or to be feminine. No one has taught them about their feminine history, their female bodies, their female minds, or their feminine souls.

As I began to write, Celebrating Girls became a wonderful mother-daughter collaboration. Lia read each chapter as it was written and gave me valuable responses, questioning words and phrases that were unclear to her and offering suggestions from her own life. As the book developed, friends of ours contributed their own experiences of being mothers, stepmothers, daughters, aunts, cousins, or teachers to girl children. Child therapists offered stories from their work with girls. And Lia polled her friends for their favorite ways of being celebrated by the women in their lives. The result is the book you are holding in your hands—a book designed to help you nurture and empower the girls in your life.

Empowering the Mother-Daughter Relationship

I strongly believe that the mother-daughter relationship is the ground for teaching, talking, and sharing the feminine experience and that the more we empower that experience, the healthier our girls will be. We need to secure our daughters' sense of selfworth, in their minds and their bodies, so that they will not turn away from us and from themselves. When male authority dominates, girls lose touch with central parts of themselves and with their mothers in attempts to identify with men. That is why girls radically shift their attention to boys at adolescence, influenced by school socialization and being treated in increasingly trivialized or denigrating ways as they approach puberty. They become the objects of boys' lives instead of being the subjects of their own lives.

Putting the male at the center often continues long past puberty. Many women I have seen in psychotherapy who realize that they have always felt they were "nothing without a man" have said to me: "I rejected my mother and in so doing, I rejected myself." But when the mother-daughter bond is a strong, supportive one, a young girl can feel proud of being female and validated in her femininity.

With attention, interest, and empathy for your daughter, you can use your feminine power to empower her. Your relationship will foster her growth emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually, and, in turn, nurture you too. You will both feel more joyous, healthy, energized, and free. You will learn from each other. When a girl's mother is absent, this role can be taken on by a grandmother, aunt, or a close female friend of the family. But a girl does need a primary girl-to-woman relationship in her life: to be able to see and hear women talk about femininity and what it means to be a woman. If her mother or other trusted woman has modeled femininity in her life, a girl will see herself mirrored. She has someone to emulate. Her father or other men cannot mirror her femininity in this way. Female role models are the most important factor in her developing a high sense of self-efficacy, that is, her belief that she is competent to succeed at a particular task.

If you are the mother of a daughter, encourage her also to have close relationships with grandmothers, godmothers, and your friends, who may each have something different to offer her as she matures. A girl may be drawn to a particular woman, for example, a teacher, therapist, stepmother, or special friend, who can also guide her with informal long talks and celebrations of femininity. Such a mentor can also fill in for an absent mother. Single-parent fathers can help facilitate the presence of such mentors in their daughters' lives.

What Happens in Her Body Happens in Her Mind

Such empowerment is crucial for girls, because our essential female biology forms the base of a psychological, emotional, and social identity that is quite different from men. Each one of us has an individual mix of so-called masculine and feminine traits in body chemistry as well as in behavior. Modern women have learned to work and compete with men on men's terms and have very developed masculine sides. But now it is time for women to reclaim themselves, their feminine identities, their feminine intuition, and to teach their daughters to honor their femininity. Girls' differences from boys need to be acknowledged so our daughters will be strong in who they are.

We need to teach our daughters that what happens in their bodies also happens in their minds. From the beginning of history, cultures have created ceremonies to mark our passage from one stage of life to another; ceremony serves an emotional and developmental need for the individual, a cultural need for the group. Each transition in a girl's or woman's life—from puberty to menopause—is a dramatic physical event that affects her mind and soul. It makes sense then, that each step of healthy feminine development or change calls for a response that acknowledges its meaning. Ceremonies define meaning, and celebrating a girl's femininity enhances her self-esteem.

To feel whole and to live from a place of wholeness in herself, a girl needs to be in touch with her femininity. This is a subtle yet critical process that ceremonies help reinforce. Then her feminine consciousness will function in the world in a grounded, centered, and productive way. This includes an understanding of our female bodies and our cycles, an understanding of women as potential vessels of life, and of female psychology mirroring our bodies' potential.

Such inner awareness may be at odds with a girl's peers' attitudes toward their bodies and feelings. But if the adult women in a girl's life gently persist in supporting her life-giving femininity, she is able to mature with deep strength.

Excerpted from Celebrating GIRLS by Virginia Beane Rutter. Copyright © 1996 Virginia Beane Rutter. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Virginia Beane Rutter is a psychotherapist and Jungian analyst on the faculty of the C.G. Jung Institute in San Francisco. She is married and the mother of two children, and has a private practice in Mill Valley, California. Her previous books are Woman Changing Woman and Celebrating Girls.

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