As a mother of a little girl I want to raise my daughter to be strong, independent, confident and comfortable with herself just the way she is. Because she is a beautiful and amazing person just the way she is. In the modern world, part of that means teaching her that there are all kinds of women. The labels that society places on women about how we should act, look, talk, and relate to people are not how she should decide what type of woman she wants to be. I want her to know that if she doesn’t fit that stereotype, that’s ok.
Before I became a mother I was very passionate about not gender stereotyping. I was just not going to have a pink nursery and dress her every day in pink frilly dresses. I was going to be careful not to treat her differently than I would treat a boy.
I had seen a report on TV years ago that was testing if the personality differences between boys and girls was preprogrammed or based on their environment. In this report they put people in a room and brought them a baby dressed in pink frilly dresses. The adults were very gentle with the girls and touched them softly, whispered to them, etc. Then they took the baby out and brought in a baby dressed in what we traditionally think of as boy clothes. These same adults treated the boy baby differently. They were rougher, bounced the baby more, didn’t talk in the same soft tones, etc. But as it turns out…it was the same baby, just dressed differently each time. After seeing this, I was absolutely convinced that I was not going to do this. My daughter was not going to be dressed in all pink and be surrounded by princesses.
But…she had other ideas. My daughter is now 4 ½ years old. And she loves all things pink, sparkly, frilly and covered in princesses. She has been telling me for more than a year that she wants a pink princess room. (Not Disney princesses…we don’t do those). She loves to wear dresses and play with her kitchen and her babies. I rarely wear pink, so she’s not getting this from me. She just likes it. And I’ve come to decide that maybe that’s ok. Maybe part of being feminist (and raising a little feminist) is not pushing androgyny. Maybe it’s more about choices. It’s about giving her the choice among stereotypical girl things and boy things…or a little bit of each. It’s also about embracing femininity and the things that make women and girls different and special rather than seeing them as weaknesses. Maybe it’s about not assuming when we see little girls in pink frilly dresses that the parents are limiting her choices and definitions of womanhood, but recognizing that girls who are feminine, love pink and all things girly are just as strong, intelligent and valuable as the women who don’t.
I will still introduce her to traditionally “boy” things, like football, cars, power tools, etc. I will do so to widen her choices and experiences, and to teach her she can do anything a boy can do. But I will not do it to deny all things feminine. I often think of a story my friend told me. Her 7yo daughter plays on co-ed football team in the summer and is their top scorer. One day after her game they came home, and she asked her mother to paint her fingernails pink. To me that’s what real equality is. Giving the same value to “boy” things and “girl” things and not limiting any activity, color, job, method of dress, or personality trait to only one gender.
As a parent you expect that you’ll learn a lot along the way, but what it means to be a woman…I thought that’s a lesson I’d be teaching my daughter, not learning from her.