11 y.o. girl loves Dr. Who and Hobbit -- friends make fun -- help?
January 27, 2013 2:31 PM   Subscribe

I know this question sounds like a very special episode of some teen show, but I really would appreciate some advice on dealing with this issue from those who have been there.

My darling girl loves Dr. Who/Tolkien/Terry Pratchett, etc., which is great. But she is still actually a very girly girl in her dress and behavior.

Result -- her friends who are girls say she is weird and have increasingly little in common with her, and the boys in her class laugh at her and say (very cruelly) that she can't like those things because she is too girly.
I know, I KNOW, all the things about how this builds character and how she is building her uniqueness and so on. Yes. I know.

But right NOW, she is humiliated and feels that she has to keep this part of her secret or risk being made fun of, which at her age IS the end of the world.

From women who have been there, I'd love some suggestions -- comebacks, ways to find a more congenial peer group, books to read, websites even, ways to keep sane and strong, etc.

From men, is the best thing to do with nasty boy comments really to ignore them? That's what we are all told as girls, but IMHO, that means you come home with a furious bubbling pool of bile in your gut and fantasize about ways to slice off testicles ears all night long.

posted by jfwlucy to Human Relations (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When i was a kid there were many different cliques. Maybe she just need to run with a different crowd? Changing friend groups is hard, but certainly doable.

There are certainly a bunch of kids into doctor who. A library near me just had an event where a bunch of younger(than I) folks went in costume, http://doctorwho.tumblr.com/post/41626114296/thetasrose-time-lord-bash-at-the-cherry-hill
posted by TheAdamist at 2:37 PM on January 27, 2013

I have been there! Luckily for me after a while I found my people. I really believe that she will too! And there is nothing you can do to expedite the process, it will be organic, and character building, and take time. Be patient!

I don't know what to do about the boys. With some confidence, eye rolling and making them feel stupid and immature for being unworldly and close minded can sometimes work.

In the meantime, I would direct your daughter to this article: How to not care what other people think of you which has helped me through rough patches even now as a grown ass woman. Furthermore, she might find support in the online tumblr community where Doctor Who is one of the main fandoms. However be warned, it can be a major time sink. Or maybe help her find Tolkien appreciation clubs in the community (inside or outside of school)? You sound like a really thoughtful attentive mom! Good luck! :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 2:40 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was like your daughter as a child (loved scifi) and I still do. My solution as a child was to keep it to myself, but .... As an adult I heard and read how Ray Bradbury dealt with the same thing when he was a child; maybe there is a solution there for your daughter.
posted by Wolfster at 2:53 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was a lot like her at her age. I found my people in band, theater, and chorus in school and in theater classes/camps outside of school. Maybe she can try some of those activities?
posted by cooker girl at 2:53 PM on January 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

If I were your daughter's teacher, I'd want to know if kids in my class(es) were policing gender norms like this--not so I could punish them, but so I could step up my inclusion of anti-stereotyping materials and incorporate healthier, more diverse role models in my lessons.

I'm not so naive that I think all teachers are willing or able to do this, but the fact that it's elementary school makes it easier (one main teacher, kids are more likely to be influenced when younger).

Do you have a sense of how progressive her teacher is, how open s/he would be to a chat with you?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:02 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: That's a good question, hurdygurdygirl. I don't think he is all THAT progressive, plus I think his attitude toward a lot of the social interactions is that the kids should all toughen up. It might be worth a shot though. I can use some buzzwords like "supportive learning environment," and our school is an official "No Place For Hate" campaign member, too. Hmm. Thanks.
posted by jfwlucy at 3:10 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are your daughter's academic interests? When my so-called-friends' teasing became increasingly mean-spirited, I found new, like-minded friends in science classes and through extracurricular activities like yearbook and Science Olympiad.

Does she like making things? Maybe there's a hackerspace near you that have activities for kids, or a Maker Faire.

I also spent a lot of time in Star Trek and X-Files IRC channels. Too much time, probably.
posted by kiripin at 3:23 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

this has happened before, and Jen, the awesome woman that runs Cake Wrecks, was able to get a huge outpouring of support for the girl. There's got to be a lot of ideas and inspiration to be found in her story.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:26 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ooh, yikes. But you're right, it's worth a shot--and it's good that your school is an official "No Place for Hate" member. Perhaps a chat with the vice/principal might help too?

Good luck! Your daughter deserves to know she is a cool person with neat interests and that being a boy or girl shouldn't dictate what she is "supposed" to like. It is great that she has you as her parent--that will help enormously, though I know the teasing and exclusion at school is awful.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:29 PM on January 27, 2013

Are there any reading groups at the library or such? They may have a sci-fi reading group for teens. I think at this point, the focus should be letting her meet a wider range of people than her direct peer group, including some who are a bit older.

Not all conventions are necessarily going to be appropriate for her age (or a price you're willing to pay for) but events like that can do a lot to show her it's a completely cool thing to be into and that you're supportive of her.

Honestly, though, I think it may be rough for a while. I remember being 11 and into sci-fi and fantasy and comics and how lonely that could be. But I always took comfort in knowing that I knew some other people like me, even if they weren't at school with me. And it was only another couple of years before I met friends who I could relate to and share my interests with.
posted by darksong at 3:33 PM on January 27, 2013

When I was growing up, and now with our daughter, I find this is all helped by having a far richer life outside of school to tip the balance. School becomes a job you go to, sandwiched between slices of "real" life. So, we encourage friendships she has outside of school; summer and March break camps and after school programs that suit her interests; and we look really hard for places and events that encourage her interests. Weekends are for playdates with kids not in her school, or for exploring things she really likes. And now she knows she's really stressed by birthday parties, so we invite the birthday kid over for a one-on-one playdate after school and celebrate. We do whatever we can to break up the crappy pack behaviour that happens at school.

For example, at TCAF she gets to walk around and see so many phenomenal female graphic artists, and witness their success. Some books she's read are autobiographical, so she can see what became of others who had a tough time - I guess it's the "It Gets Better" plan. She also ran into people from her school there, not many, but never realized certain kids were also into the same things, because they weren't in her grade or usual friend group. The older kids that we bumped into had a new respect for her, and it carried over into school. We also hang around bookstores that support this interest, and thankfully they often have classes where she meets other kids with similar interests. But, with this, we have the luxury of being able to devote time to this, and she asks her grandparents for experiences like this instead of gifts.

Raina Telgemeir's Smile is a good book in that the moment she realizes she needs a new friend group is a quiet one, and the transition to a new friend group happens organically and without drama.

Is she aware of the story of Katie the Star Wars fan, so she doesn't feel so alone in this?

And this is probably a little young for her, but last year my daughter was browsing through A Smart Girl's Guide to Friendship Troubles at a Target, and surprisingly asked me to buy it for her. She likes all the quizzes and anecdotes, and revisits it. She showed me a few things in it, and they were good launchpads for conversations. Of course it's full of a lot of things that I've told her, but it's in a fun and neutral voice. I don't mind it at all, because it talks about how to help yourself, not fix yourself.

We give her other tools - like making sure she always carries a book or a pad and pen for drawing. That way she can choose to do something she likes when she walks away if she doesn't like how her group is playing. She also likes to finger crochet, so I wind up little balls of yarn and stick them in her pockets. Being able to say "Nah, I'd rather go draw" is an easy thing for her to say than something confrontational.
posted by peagood at 3:44 PM on January 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

The suggestions to find book clubs at the public library are great! Art galleries and museums sometimes have teen/tween programs that attract kids with your daughter's interests, too.

re: website suggestions: Rookie Magazine is aimed at teens, but it might be something to keep in mind when she's a little older. You could look it over now to see if there is anything that would suit her, too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:59 PM on January 27, 2013

ways to keep sane and strong, etc.

So, I haven't been exactly there, but I did get made fun of a ton at that age, and other ages too, for being "weird" in various ways. One thing I wish someone had told me then was that although it will very probably suck for a few more years, once you get to high school (depending on the high school) or at least to college/late teens, the people who have their own diverse interests and are confident about them will do much better, and have many more opportunities. It was sort of a revelation to me to get to college and meet all these kids my age who were into all these weird things (which were not even weird, just anything that wasn't completely conventional) and hadn't let the mean kids (and teachers) at their previous schools make them give up or hide those things. IIRC 11 is old enough to understand that you can hold out through difficulties knowing that in a few years, things will be different.

And absolutely have her interact with kids from other schools/towns if at all possible. Even if it's not centered around the particular interests that her friends don't accept. I went to school in a place where, for various complex historical reasons, each town/school system was pretty isolated, and you could easily go from kindergarten to senior year without ever talking to a kid you hadn't known your whole life. Those few kids who managed to break out of that and have friends from elsewhere (even the next town) had this whole other world, where they didn't have to fit into the same little box that was created for them at school on a daily basis. This was pre-internet, but still, I think that would be very helpful.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joining a special club or group will help. I found mah people in orchestra and theater. And yeah 11-13 are basically the worst years in North America. Understanding that its NOT her fault or unique to her will help with the coping part. Finding some other square pegs via a special interest group/club will help her change her scene.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:10 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Someday she'll understand that having little in common with the majority of her classmates counts as a good thing.

Until then - Teach her about "guilty pleasures", and to fake it around her friends.

/ Yes, tormented as a kid (albeit male) for the same things.
// Wish someone had explained exactly what I just said to me, rather than telling me to just do what I liked and people "should" respect me for that. As if!
posted by pla at 4:18 PM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: These answers are all great -- hope I get a few more! Thanks so much to those writing in so far.

Yes, I am signing her up for drama classes and the book clubs/art museum/hackerspace clubs are great ideas.

Peagood -- I had to smile -- she actually is a huge Raina Telgemeier fan, and we recently made Shrinky Dink earrings of the cover of Smile, to go with the Smile T-shirt she got for her birthday. And we have that Smart Girls guide about relationship troubles and she loves it. You totally made me feel as if I am on the right track.

hurdygurdygirl -- I love Rookie Mag, too, and have bowdlerized a couple of great articles from it for her on things like how to get your anger out -- I should go comb through those archives a bit more. Thanks for reminding me of them.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:46 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

jfwlucy: "you come home with a furious bubbling pool of bile in your gut and fantasize about ways to slice off testicles ears all night long. "

I was pretty socially awkward at this age, especially around boys, and I know this feeling you describe. One thing that helped me was taking out my frustrations in sports like tennis and softball. I would take my racket and a ball and WHACKWHACKWHACK the ball against our garage for hours. I know suggesting sports is not a popular thing here, but if there's something physical she might enjoy, like running or biking or martial arts or even a team sport, it really does help sometimes to physically unload that frustration.

Also, depending on how things are in your part of the world, Girl Scouts are supposed to be inclusive and hyper-vigilant about bullying and welcoming all types of interests. It very much depends on the particular troop, but if you can find a good fit, she might find her tribe (or a friend) in her troop.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:06 PM on January 27, 2013

I didn't mean to imply with my answer that your daughter is socially awkward, sorry. I was, and I was bullied for it. The frustration at being bullied is what I was trying to address.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:08 PM on January 27, 2013

Not that it's much help to you, and you know your child better than we do, but as a former that-kid (at least in terms of content), I think any suggestions of what she should do can only be properly informed by what she does now. That is, unless you have a really clear sense of how she's actually interacting with her peer group (ideally triangulated from multiple sources - her take, your observations, thoughts from her homeroom teacher or Girl Scout Leader or something?), it's kind of hard for us to make suggestions of what she could be doing differently.

At that age I had almost no concept of how my peers behaved differently in groups vs. 1 on 1, for instance. But I did understand the concept of filtering my level of enthusiasm/sharing to match the interest level of the person I was talking to. OTOH, nerdy friends of mine who were way more bullied understood quite well that kids were worse in groups than in singles (and had the bruises to prove it, I imagine), but the idea that they could adjust the metaphorical volume level on their kiddie fandom? Didn't cross their minds for years and years.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2013

There are some great serious suggestions here; so I've got a silly one: since she likes Terry Pratchett, get her a little Mac Nac Feegle for her desk to remind her that sometimes being different is *awesome*.
posted by smirkette at 6:44 PM on January 27, 2013

Hmm. A lot of really good suggestions here. I was a geeky girl for sure, fan of Star Trek, comics (when it wasn't cool), Ninja Turtles, etc.

I was teased for other physical things, but I don't recall ever being teased for this. Maybe it's the fact that she is perceived as a "girly girl," and no one can wrap their head around the fact that a girly girl could also be into sci-fi? Do her friends have this same aesthetic?

I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive, nor that she needs to conform to some standard to please others. However. At this stage of life when a lot of kids are pretty simplistic in their thinking, anything that falls into an area of surprise or difference can be grounds for teasing.

I don't know if this is a good idea, but just a thought: she could try going a little bit indie with her style, add a Dr. Who patch to her backpack or something like that, just a little signal here or there to let people know there's more to her than just the girly girl. It's a frustrating fact of life that people do make snap judgments based on dress, and they do look for their "tribe" based on certain physical signals as well.

I agree that it could be good to look for friends who are more relatable. It helps to not think of the boys who tease as "all the boys" nor the girls who can't relate as "all the girls." They're really just the loud ones. The science olympiad, drama and other groups are all good suggestions. How about the school newspaper? Brainy type activities are likely to attract sci-fi fans. Other cool people might be the ones playing Magic cards on the lunch table. Heck, I found some friends who just hung out introvertedly in the school computer lab.

As someone commented on the Star Wars article linked above, the minds of most guys (and many girls) will shift dramatically in a few years about how awesome girls are who like sci-fi/fantasy for real. I'm actually kind of surprised that Tolkien, Dr. Who and Terry Pratchett are considered some sort of shocking outsider thing at school. I thought those had gone pretty mainstream by now. Shows how disconnected the larger world is from the school world...

If there was one thing I wish I could convey to my younger self at this stage, it is that the group of people in elementary and middle-school is an incredibly tiny segment of the population. It is possible that there aren't a lot of people there who are going to be on your wavelength. However, it is just as likely that the people who best understand you are quietly sitting in a group, not making waves, and waiting for the conformist years of public school to pass them by.
posted by iadacanavon at 6:44 PM on January 27, 2013

For me, forensics in high school was exactly the right mix of fellow-geeks and a confidence-building activity. I know that some junior high programs include speech/debate/forensics/model UN kinds of things, so if that's an option maybe she could try it out.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:46 PM on January 27, 2013

I went through the same thing and mostly just waited it out and didn't talk about it a whole lot until I found similarly cool people with similarly excellent taste in fiction later on, and waiting it out is shitty -- but books are a form of self-therapy, and I strongly suggest for her Tamora Pierce's Alanna and Kelandry quartets (which start with Alanna and First Test, respectively), which are about girls attempting to make it in boys' worlds, and coping with exploring their femininity (wearing dresses and make-up, getting their periods, liking to be pretty) while still kicking butt and doing things that are reserved for boys (being knights, mostly). Please note that there is sex, but IMHO it is handled in an age-appropriate fashion that is serious, sensitive, and ethical.

I also strongly suggest Anne of Green Gables, which has the distinction of being the first major bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) featuring a heroine instead of a hero, and deals a lot with the fish-out-of-water and finding oneself theme. You as an adult might enjoy the 100th anniversary annotated edition, which points up the feminist themes and symbolism, and which you could discuss with her.

There are others (Blue Sword by Robin McKinley has often been cited at AskMe, though I didn't read it until I was an adult) but those are the ones that helped the hell out of me when I was that age and struggling with being a girly girl who loves shoes but also a smart girl who was good at math and loved fantasy novels and whatnot. Fiction helps us understand how to be people and helps us excavate our authentic selves and helps us explore dangerous and scary and upsetting situations in a safe way. She might also be helped by a mother-daughter (or father-daughter!) book club or a fantasy book club at a local library. And I'm sure pretty much anyone in this thread would be happy to e-mail with her about the awesomeness of these fantasy novels/shows/etc.! She is 100% not alone, and this is such a common experience of bookish girls who have grown into awesome women. We fantasy-loving bookish girls all want her to know that this time is totally shitty, but it gets much better and life will get awesomer!

(Other book suggestions: Little Women, A Wrinkle in Time, Narnia, Uglies, the True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and anything listed in Shelf Discovery.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Tamora Pierce books as a dad of 42 I was asked to try reading them last year by my 17 year old daughter and found them excellent when I put myself in her place. I also asked her if she has any advice for you... I probably didn't do enough to help but she is finding her own way and for me at times it was/is painful when she is hurt by others but I make sure she knows we (her mother and I) are there when she needs to talk about this kinda stuff. Plus I get a buddy who can handle 6 hour marathons of Dr. Who even if she thinks her Dr is better than my Dr. Also you can tell her in 9 years life will be awesome but that is like forever...
posted by mrgroweler at 8:51 PM on January 27, 2013

Oh wow... On preview eyebrows mcgee has great suggestions... I also loved the uglies series.
posted by mrgroweler at 8:53 PM on January 27, 2013

I don't know how you would feel about this, but my ten year old daughter is starting to run into some of the same issues, and I suspect that the long-term solution for us is going to be the internet, and, specifically, fandom.

Which, yes, is scary. Fandom can be porn heavy. Fandom can be mean and cliquish. But she discovered fanfiction and DeviantArt on her own (she was motivated enough to google for [show of choice] art, etc), and I'd rather help point her in the direction of things that are both appropriate and interesting to her than shut it down in the vague hope of "protecting her".

She reads prolifically on AO3 and DeviantArt and, at this point, self-selects stories--she'll click out of there faster than anything if people get too gooey feeeelings-y, so I'm not especially concerned about monitoring her reading...and I figure that by the time she's interested in reading about that kind of thing, she could arguably do worse than reading fanfic, which is (often) relatively sex positive and inclusive, or, at a minimum, less misogynistic than the smut she might find elsewhere. I'm currently casting about for other kids who have similar interests in the hopes that I could hook them up on a chat loop or a private DreamWidth community. (Private as in locked, and administered by me and other parents.)

If you're not comfortable with setting her loose (or semi-loose) on the internet, it might be worth it for you to try joining some fannish parenting groups--fannish parents often end up with fannish kids, and it's possible you could find her peers like that. (Our kids don't sound like they have any obsessions in common--mine's into Minecraft, My Little Pony, Harry Potter, and Sonic the Hedgehog--otherwise I'd suggest that we make try to hook them up.)

When I was a wee nerdling, I found it much easier to mediate my outward nerdiness and deal with the nastiness that people threw at me when I had supportive nerdfriends to both vent about how mean people were and to share my omg-this-is-so-awesome squee. I'm hoping that giving my kid that support system early on will help her deal with, if not actually avoid, the harassment that society throws at nerdy kids, regardless of their gender conformity of lack thereof.
posted by MeghanC at 9:24 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been thinking about this because at that age there is often a rather rigid girl/boy dichotomy that doesn't help matters. Since both groups seem to be concerned about the (ab)normalcy of your daughter's hobbies -and hobbits-, has she tried pointing out that Dr. Who (decades in the running), Tolkien (4 major films, let alone the books) and Terry Pratchett (most-read author in the UK after Rowling) are very, very popular in the outside world and, therefore, it's normal that she likes them? Sometimes children are easy to convince even though they can be pretty stubborn.
posted by ersatz at 6:39 AM on January 28, 2013

Take her to see the movie "Wreck-It Ralph." There's a quirky female protagonist and, more importantly, a really neat twist at the end that would serve as a great starting point for a conversation between the two of you. And I'm thinking it would greatly edify her.
posted by jbickers at 8:14 AM on January 28, 2013

I think the cool thing about current-Who is that there are great women in every season - if you don't like Rose, then surely you will get on with River or Amy Pond or Donna, right?

So maybe there is a conversation there.

I was really isolated at my school at this age - for a number of reasons, not all of them to do with my nascent nerdiness - and while I remember being upset, I just also remember that I felt people were like, incomprehensibly stupid to be mean to me. My mom kind of encouraged this idea that people who were mean were doing it because they were afraid or didn't understand, and really just allowed me to stop seeking their approval.

(Approval-seeking is big with girls. I just transferred approval-seeking to others, like teachers and other adults, so . .YMMV. But I knew I didn't need others' approval to get on with reading whatever I wanted or whatever.)

Not sure where you are located or if you are into that kind of thing, but at nearly every *Con ever there are things that are okay for kids and fannish people have their kids there quite a bit. It's a start. But over all I think others in this thread who are advocating helping her find her tribe a little early are probably on to something.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:56 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with darksong and Medieval Maven --find out if there is a convention that you can go to near you, and go with her! 11 is probably old enough for many conventions with parental supervision, as long as you are aware that she'll probably see some people in metal bikinis or the equivalent. You can google Doctor Who convention + your state or science fiction convention + your nearest major metro. Anime conventions are also nice because the artists' alleys are generally full of young women who are making their own art (okay, much of it is PG-13, but ... just go with her). Some RPG conventions have fantasy/sf tracks and under-16 game events.

My friends at that age were mostly boys, after I proved that I knew MORE than they did about geeky things (thanks to art books and other sources of trivia), but I didn't have a chance to go to conventions etc.
posted by wintersweet at 3:01 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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