This article makes me so mad I could spit.
For the third time in two weeks, the Taliban has been accused of poisoning little girls, spraying down their schoolrooms with toxic chemicals to discourage the education of women. This time, 160 girls were admitted to the hospital after experiencing headaches, dizziness and vomiting.
As horrible as that is, that’s not what makes me really mad. There will always be crazies out there doing horrendous things. No, what really infuriates me about this story is the response some Afghan officials have issued about the incident, attributing the symptoms not to poisoning, but to “mass hysteria among schoolgirls.”
Yes, that’s the problem–mass hysteria among schoolgirls. (Did you know the word “hysteria” actually comes from the Greek word for uterus, “hystera”? How’s that for sexist?) The problem isn’t that evil men are spraying the inside of their schoolrooms down with toxic chemicals. The problem isn’t that these girls are struggling to make headway in a patriarchal culture that is diametrically opposed to them having any level of freedom, autonomy, or success. No, the problem is that these poor, delicate creatures just aren’t cut out for the stress of school. Look what we are doing to them, with our unreasonable demands on their intellectual and emotional resources. Let’s just pat them on the head and send them home, where they belong.
We do this in America, too. The “porcelain doll” phenomenon is nothing new, and while society’s view of what girls are capable of has changed drastically in the last half a century (in fact, boys seem to be the ones we don’t expect much of nowadays), the “princess syndrome” has enjoyed a resurgence of late. We prey on women’s insecurities, vanities, cultural conditioning and cherished fantasies (Sleeping Beauty, anyone?) to press them into molds that may be comfortingly familiar, but don’t leave much room for a woman to grow and develop her God-given gifts, gifts that were given for a strategic kingdom purpose. Flattered into believing they are being idolized and protected by the adoring males in their lives, these porcelain princesses allow themselves to be effectively shelved, locked away behind glass to protect them from the sullying influences of the world.
The worst part is, we don’t even realize we are doing it. The knight in shining armor defending the fair maiden in distress is so deeply embedded in our collective European mythology that both men and women have been conditioned to desire it, to consider it romantic. We never stop to think about why so many princesses were locked away in towers in the first place, or the fact that their “rescue” simply transferred them from one tower to another. We never stop to think about the good that these strong, intelligent daughters of The King might do if they were equipped, empowered, and unleashed on the world in their full strength, fearlessly going forth to slay dragons and reclaim Kingdom territory on their Father’s behalf.
I am not saying that proponents of the porcelain doll complex have nefarious motives. They’re not the ones out spraying girls’ schools down with poison–for the most part, they’re just looking out for people they consider to be more vulnerable than themselves. But the consequences of this well-meaning “sheltering” can be devastating, promoting an arrested development in women that keeps them immature and dependent, and depriving the world of their full strength. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, as women who were not given sufficient opportunities to develop mental toughness and stamina are perceived as being “weak” or “emotional,” and sheltered even more, held back from opportunities that would help them grow. It reminds me of Colin, a character in one of my favorite children’s books, the “The Secret Garden.” There was nothing at all wrong with him, but he had been treated like an invalid his entire life, and was weak, peevish, and unable to walk–until some friends came alongside him, sprung him from the dark, luxurious room he had been locked away in, and pushed him to develop his strength, even when he cried and screamed and fussed about it.
The Afghan officials who blamed poisoning symptoms on feminine hysteria were perpetuating their culture’s mythology about women, a mythology designed to keep girls “in their place,” whether they knew what they were doing or not. The men who sprayed the girls’ schoolrooms with poison took a more direct (and dare I say honest) approach.
All in all, I would say that the officials have the more dangerous, and effective, strategy.
What do you think?