Not long ago, I attended a dinner with a bunch of other moms. One of has a son, but is pregnant and just found out she is going to have a little girl.
She was very depressed by the news. She was hoping to have two boys.
Most of the women attending this dinner, in fact, have sons, and talked at length about how they strongly prefer boys and would be really upset if they found out they were having girls. “I hate girly things,” one of them said, “And I just couldn’t stand having a girl and having to have pink princesses everywhere. If I had a girl, she better be into basketball or something.” Many of the women nodded in agreement. The other moms of daughters stayed uncomfortably quiet as I briefly tried to defend daughters before being shut down by more anti-girl sentiments.
This conversation upset me on multiple levels. It made me sad to think a group of women didn’t want girl babies. It frustrated me that women who were more into basketball than princesses couldn’t imagine girls being more into basketball than princesses. These girl babies weren’t even born yet, but were still considered a disappointment based on preconceived ideas.
It wasn’t the first time I had encountered this type of thinking. Though I didn’t have a strong gender preference when I found out I was pregnant, I was still curious enough to find out as soon as possible whether I was having a girl or boy. I guess I just wanted to better picture my future child and think up possible names. When I became obviously pregnant, strangers would typically first ask me when I was due and then ask me if I was having a boy or girl. I would smile and say “a baby girl.”
I was shocked by all the negative responses I heard from perfect strangers, like, “OMG, girls are horrible teenagers,” or “Girls prefer their dads. Boys like their moms but girls prefer their dads,” or simply, “watch out, girls are evil.” Once I even heard, “My friend ‘Antonia’ had a daughter and now her husband never pays any attention to her because he only cares about his daughter. Fathers are like that.”
I have no clue what these people were thinking, but it was the worst crap for a hormone-driven pregnant woman to hear. Sometimes these comments would bring me to tears as my brain morphed the loving baby growing inside me into a hateful parasite that would tear apart the family. Nervous already about parenthood, I ached from the thought of loving my daughter to pieces while being cruelly rejected. Was my child going to hate me?
After some soul-searching (and more bucketloads of hormones dumping into my brain), I became more furious than sad. My daughter wasn’t even born yet and people were already trying to turn us against each other. People were saying nasty things about her and trying to make me feel bad about her. I wasn’t going to let them. What if women heard these horrible things and kept an emotional distance between themselves and their daughters until it became a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Suddenly, I thought about all the nasty messages in fairytales. Cinderella had an evil stepmother and stepsisters, and had to be rescued by some guy. Snow White’s mother tried to kill her. Sometimes there was no mother but a loving father (The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Aladdin) and usually an evil witch was screwing everything up (Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel). Where were the positive relationships between two women? I can’t think of a single one before Brave came out.
And this idea that little girls only like princesses… Well, I thought, that has also been indoctrinated since day 1. You get everything painted pink in the nursery and get separate girl clothes, toys, and scripts from then on….
I decided to love my daughter with everything I had and also try not to push stereotypical girl stuff on her. I tried to get her clothes that weren’t all pink and glittery, toys that were gender-neutral, and books that didn’t feature a helpless princess.
Fast-forward a couple years and this is what I have learned:
1. If you put your daughter in gender-neutral clothing, everyone will call her a boy.
2. Despite all my efforts, I probably have the girliest, girly-girl, McGirly daughter that ever walked the planet.
I’m serious. She wants nothing more than to have tea parties while wearing princess dresses, and the fluffier, glitterier, and poofier the dress, the better. I don’t even know where she learned about tea parties. She is obsessed with cupcakes, butterflies and unicorns. She wants to help me pick out my nail polish colors and jewelry. She even has a little shrine of Disney princesses on her shelf that I swear I’ve seen her genuflect in front of before leaving her room.
This whole gender tabula rasa experiment has been an Epic Fail. Back to the drawing board.
I figured I could refuse to get her princess dresses and girly stuff, but wouldn’t that be forcing her to be something she’s not? Maybe I needed to look at this whole gender issue from a more nuanced perspective. After all, it’s not so much the color pink or the dresses that I object to, but rather the idea of women being silly and helpless. Maybe wearing a pink dress is okay as long as she pays attention in math and science class.
I thought about the way girls were portrayed when I was growing up. Boys were watching He-Man, for example, about a strong warrior that saved the universe. It was a popular show, so they came out with the female equivalent, “She-Ra.” I only watched a single episode of She-Ra, because the major plot point was how She-Ra saved a purple baby unicorn from being teased by telling the bullies how mean they were. He-Man was battling demons and saving humanity while She-Ra was being a good hall monitor.
I was about five when I saw the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom movie. The heroine was a complete idiot who poured perfume on elephants and worried about her clothes. I still remember a scene where Indy and a little boy were being crushed to death by spikes and this lady wouldn’t pull a lever to save them because there was a bug on it. She didn’t even have the brains to use a stick or rock. Spoiler: Indy had to figure out how to stop the spikes because she never manages to help them. Even at the tender age of five, I was incredibly insulted by this portrayal of girls.
On the other hand, you have Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. She could hold her own. She could put on a pretty dress when it was appropriate (like when trying to escape her captors), but was also very tough and capable. She freaked out a bit when locked in a tomb filled with thousands of deadly snakes, but who wouldn’t? Not exactly the same as letting a kid be impaled because you’re afraid of a bug.
And then you have Princess Leia. I LOVED Princess Leia when I was a little girl. She would also wear pretty clothes when it was appropriate (like for state ceremonies and parties) but was smart and a bad-ass. She resisted torture, thought up an escape plan, and was a good shot.
So, maybe instead of worrying about whether my daughter does stereotypical girly stuff, I’m better off making sure she is a well-rounded, confident person. Maybe she needs to learn that you can wear a dress AND be smart. You can make a cupcake AND change a flat tire. There are stronger female role models out there now than when I was a kid, like Michonne from Walking Dead (not that I’m going to let my toddlers watch that, of course).
In hopes of raising a well-rounded daughter, I’m trying to expose her to as many different things as possible. The photos in this post are from the Children’s Museum in San Jose. GREAT place, by the way. She is brushing off dinosaur fossils and staring at mastodons. She may not understand all the exhibits yet, but I’m hoping early exposure will help her later on in science class.
She loves lots of girly things, but also lots of other stuff. She loves trains, so we go to the Railroad Museum in Sacramento. She loves climbing, so we take her to Fairytale Town and endless parks. She likes banging hammers, so she has little kid tool sets. If she wants to bang hammers while wearing a flowered hat, who cares?
Finally, the other important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s not true that daughters prefer their fathers. She loves her daddy, of course, but also loves me to pieces. She hugs and kisses me all day and wants to walk around holding hands. She hands me flowers that she picks and always notices my hair when I return from the hairdresser.
I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers.