Until the 6th grade, I wanted to be a boy. Boys seemed like more fun: the sports, the dirt, the running around at recess. But this was 20 (!) years ago and now I love being a woman. But it’s a tough road for our little girls.
When it comes to gender in our country, times have changed from my innocent elementary school years pretending to be a boy. The topic of gender is a biggie… books and books and books have been written by people far more qualified and official than me: Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Raising Cain, Reviving Ophelia, Real Boys, Queen Bees and Wannabees to name a few of my favorites.
The underlying question explored in all of these books is do we subconsciously instill a skewed set of gender values on our children? If you meet a little girl, would the first thing you tell her be how pretty she is? If a man gets yelled at by his boss, is it okay for him to cry? Would you let your daughter be a mechanic? Would you let your son wear a dress to school?
Our world today is much different for girls and women than it was for our parents than it will be for our daughters. With this changing world comes different preconceptions: our moms were expected to stay home and tend house, their moms were expected to bare children without the advent of birth control, this generation of women is expected to do it all- work, stay home, be a mom. Who knows what will be expected of our girls.
This is another post for my daughters. For the women I hope they can become. For the hang ups I hope they can dodge. And the things that just stink for them.
I hope my daughters:
• value their ability before they value their appearance
• feel that being a construction worker is just as possible for them as being a hairdresser
• have strength- physical and emotional
• try to impress their friends more than their lovers
• are curious about anything and everything
• find love regardless of gender, color, ethnicity, religion or class
• can be a mom; it’s the most rewarding, life changing thing they could ever experience
• feel comfortable if they choose not to be a mom
• witness the first female President of the United States
I hope they can avoid:
• the media and commercial insistance that girls can only use pink or purple or pretend to be a fairy or a princess
• the sexualization of girls at a younger and younger age; I saw this Alice in Wonderland costume with a bodice and mini MINI skirt the other day, Size 3-5:
• doing or saying things just to impress or fit in with their peers
• the glass ceiling
It stinks that they will:
• be judged on their bodies and their appearance at an earlier age than any of us could ever guess
• have to defend their decision to work or not to work should they choose to be a mom
• even 20 years from now will probably find themselves in situations where they will be considered ‘less than’ simply because of their gender
• hear things like, “girls can’t do math”, or “she asked for it”, or “you run like a girl”
My eldest daughter has just discovered dolls and taffeta and fairies and plastic dress-up shoes at the age of 3.5. I’m not bringing them into my home deliberately, but she obviously sees them at friends’ houses, at school, and in stores. I have a degree in psychology but I couldn’t begin to answer the question of whether she’s enjoying these things because there are so many subliminal voices saying, ‘Go on, kid… take the pretty pretty skirt and the glittery nail polish and the clickety shoes and get your princess on!’ Or whether girls are simply drawn to the maternal and the pretty and the sparkly.
My son just turned 2 and he’s long since joined the All Things Truck fan club. We had the same trucks lying around the house when Eleanor was a girl and they both had the chance to witness their fair share of vehicles driving by our apartment windows in the city. Her first word was Frank, and his first word was bus. Go figure.
My simplistic answer would be that there are mostly little cues from their environment that tell these kids that trucks=boys and glitter=girls. Otherwise, the joy with which Oliver dons his headband and tutu would remain long into his elementary years (don’t let the swollen eye throw you here…).
But it won’t; someone will draw the gender lines in the sand for him, and that will be the end of accessories and frills. (And if it’s not the end, Oliver will spend many a-day trying to justify his decision to wear frills and will no doubt question his own identity as he struggles simply to wear what he loves.)
Likewise, with every comment Eleanor and Martha get about how they look, they will begin to internalize the idea that appearance is what matters for girls, not intellect or curiosity or strength of character. (If they go against this norm, sadly they will be labelled a bitch or develop an eating disorder or give up a passion for robotics in order to fit the illusive ‘image’ so coveted by adolescent girls.)
These gender conundrums are still percolating in our house as the kids are young. With every truck that Oliver pushes around the house and every set of wings the girls wear at the dinner table, I know we’re one step closer to a time when Eleanor and Martha struggle with what they want and what they think they should want. Sometimes those two things will line up, but alas they will also be wildly disparate on occasion. And those are the moments when I hope they can hang on and brave the gender storm.