I believe I was born a feminist, it’s the only explanation that in spite of my mother’s efforts to get me to conform to the gender roles of being female, I constantly questioned it’s rational and fairness. I remember being forced to wear dresses and pig tails and if it weren’t for my brothers and cousins the only toy choices I would’ve had growing up would’ve been dolls and an easy bake oven. I especially remember a time when I played on a co-ed soccer team with my little brother, after the game I saw the boys taking off their shirts to cool off (probably mimicking what they saw their fathers or older brothers do) and when I attempted to do the same, my mother told me that I couldn’t. When I asked why, she said ‘girls don’t do that.’ I was 7 years old and already learning about the inexplicable privileges of being a boy [man].
Don’t get me wrong, I liked being a girl (and still do). I was the only girl in my immediate family and the first granddaughter to my paternal grandmother who had two boys and no daughters. I realized at a very young age that being a girl was special and a good thing, and this message is something I credit with my self-confidence growing up and avoiding nasty relationships with boys/men. It is a message I hope to send very clearly to my daughter, which is one of the reasons her father and I choose not to limit her to traditional girl roles…which sounds crazy when you think about the fact that we are talking about a 1 year old. It seems our need to force our children into ‘appropriate’ gender roles is something that begins before they even show their beautiful little faces, which is exactly why I chose not to find out the gender of our baby when I was pregnant. I didn’t want my unborn child inundated with gender specific wardrobe, toys and stroller before they even took a breath. I wanted to focus on the joy of bringing a life into this world and all the possibilities that go along with that. I felt that once we found out the gender of our baby, others (and possibly even us) would begin limiting the possibilities based on this one characteristic without seeing the whole person.
I know a lot of people saw my views as wacky because most have not delved into the vast amount of sociological, educational and developmental research that shows the effects of our traditional gender roles on boys and girls and how they feel about themselves as a son/daughter, student, brother/sister, and later in life, wife/husband/partner, employee and parent. I get strange looks whenever I bring this up because lets face it this is an issue that is systemic and therefore rarely thought about or even noticed (although there are a lot of very valuable programs out there that are trying to make a difference). It just seems natural to push pink, purple and dolls on girls and blue, green and trucks on boys without considering the message we send with these ‘choices.’ While I won’t go into all the research that shows that these gender roles tend to stack the deck against girls, stifling their development, dreams and choices, I will mention that there is significant longitudinal research findings that indicate that there is a point in a young girls’ education (somewhere between elementary and middle school) where her answer to the popular “What do you want to be when you grow up” question turns from “doctor,” “astronaut,” and “lawyer” to “nurse,” “teacher,” and “mom” (while boys answers don’t change much over time). There is also extensive research that tries to discount the gender wage gap (in case you aren’t aware, women are still making approximately $.75 to every $1.00 a man does) by showing that women are only getting paid less than men because they choose traditionally lower paying jobs like teaching and social work or they are choosing to take part-time work to spend more time with their families. Is it really a choice or are girls following the limited paths they were given growing up through the messages sent to them either at home, through media or at school?
While dressed as a green dragon for Halloween my adorable little girl kept getting called a boy (something that truly doesn’t bother me in the least) and some even had the nerve to say “but she’s a girl, she should be dressed as a princess or something frilly.” The fact of the matter is that she picked out her costume (as much as a pointing, grunting, mostly non-verbal human can) and any observer could tell that she felt pretty special wearing it and she was in fact the cutest dragon around if I do say so myself. Isn’t Halloween all about pretending and fantasizing anyhow? Wouldn’t this be an opportunity to instead of trying to cement those gender roles by dressing our girls as princesses, fairies and kittens encourage them to explore their imagination and be anything they want, why not wizards, ninjas or lions?
I know what most would say “but she wanted to be a princess.” I suppose that could be true but only based on the limited choices given to girls in the first place and the messages sent from the time they are born (sometimes even before). I mean, if given the choice to ‘dress up’ for Halloween as a kitten where I get to wear a set of ears, whiskers, a black leotard and a tail or a princess where I get to wear a big frilly dress, shiny shoes, glittery make up, jewelry and a tiara…it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a child will most likely choose the flashier of these two choices. The same can be said when perusing the clothing racks and toy shelves of children’s stores where I am forced to shop in the boys section in order to get my little girl a pair of pants that aren’t pink or purple or has ruffles on the butt (or shorts that actually cover up her butt!). Girls are given the choice of pink, pink or purple and princesses or flowers; boys are given the choice of blue, grey, green, red, orange and yellow and cars/trucks, animals, airplanes/rocket ships, bugs and robots…get my drift?
I have heard people say that boys and girls are ‘just different’ and while I agree that there are obvious physical differences and even some physiological differences that distinguish the two, I would also like to point out that each of us humans, both male and female, are different from the next, so why differentiate based on this one aspect? The fact of the matter is that we are all unique and this is the message that should be sent to our children find your uniqueness and flourish. Being yet another princess or fairy in a land of other princesses and fairies sends the message that you should try to blend in and be like every other girl, which is not only impossible but sends a pretty significant message to our daughters…don’t stand out, hide your uniqueness, just try and be the prettiest of princesses. It filled me with such joy to watch our little girl walk around in her dragon costume with a big smile on her face feeling special I hope she never loses that smile, confidence or feeling that she is unique and special. Because like a National Organization for Women (NOW) bumper sticker that I’m sure most of you have read, “Well Behaved Women Rarely make history.” Go ahead little girl make some history.