28 March 2014

My Daughter IS a Princess

"If I have daughters, I'm going to encourage them to play 'President' and 'Activist,' and not 'Princess." @NicholasFerroni

I tried to get my son to play princess when he was little. His cousins actually got him to wear a dress and a crown once. My heart drooped a little the day he decided he was not a princess, but a king and that he was "hamsome," not pretty. Only girls are pretty,  he said with disdain.

A lot of parents these days--and many When-I-Have-Kids Crusaders --are so obsessed with prepping their daughters and potential daughters for taking the male world by storm that they are missing something at least as important and perpetuating the belief that "girly" equals inferior. What's more, through their insistence on "empowerment," they could well be missing who their daughters want to be, who they really are.

I remember pretending to just pass through the Barbie aisle as a kid, not letting my dad catch me pining for girly toys. Instead I began cultivating my lifelong love affair with Ninja Turtles. I tried to like baseball cards for a season, too, and dabbled in comic books when my little brother started spending his allowance on them. At Christmas, even the slightest question about plants or batteries would get me my own little mini hydroponic greenhouse or electronics set to to tinker with, yet I felt wrong actually requesting a play makeup kit. It's not that making things tweet and light up wasn't intriguing (though I was disappointed when my hydroponic lettuce looked like leaves instead of a nice green sphere). It's that failure to reject stereotypically girly things felt like a full-blown character flaw.

Still, even through the first year of parenthood, I, too, believed I could mold my offspring into the harbingers of a perfectly egalitarian society. To be perfectly honest, I still kind of do--just not in the same overt ways I had once envisioned. I got my first inkling of how little those visions meant when my son started potty training.

It was not until my daughter came along, however, that I began to grasp my role in their preparation for the future.

Paolo, my oldest, was always a pretty mellow baby, though extremely sensitive. At Wee Lambs, he was known as Paolo-Good-Baby. Even in the womb, he didn't make much fuss, just occasionally pushing a foot outward to be massaged. But just turn him to face away from you when he had done something wrong as a toddler, and the world ended.
Lena, on the other hand, was wild before she was born. Paolo liked to rub my belly to make her "rambunctious," but he was also the best at calming her kicking sprees. My youngest has always been a woman of extremes.

And she has always been a girly girl.

As an infant, she'd reach for shiny pendants and rings--not to gum them or hurl them about as her brother had--but to examine and admire them. Granted, when she was a baby, she hated ALL clothes, but at age two there are few things she enjoys more than a pretty dress with matching shoes and jewelry.

I can never get Lena to wrestle and play tigers. She'd much rather cuddle and pamper her many babies. If she doesn't happen to have babies with her, something else becomes a baby: Thor looks especially cute tucked in for nap time.

This is not to say that my daughter does not enjoy playing battle with plastic katanas and nunchakas as much as my son--it's a family affair, after all. And so far Lena has been a blue cyclops and Leonardo for Halloween; she still asks to put her shell on. Also, her favorite show is not CGI fairies or fashion dolls, but Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.

You know who does love Tinkerbell, though, and The Littlest Petshop, where even the cartoon animals wear excessive makeup?

I'll give you a hint: he's very hamsome.

What I don't understand is why anyone would want to beat the whimsy out of a little girl's play. I, too, am delighted by the outpouring of internet support for little boys with nail polish or pony lunchboxes. But why is my daughter not supposed to play princess? Why should any child become a little adult when he or she plays? Why should she engage in traditionally male role playing to the exclusion of the traditional female? Mix up the dress-up toys! Mix the pink Legos in with the other colors! Then boys AND girls can choose for themselves.

My mother was an animal scientist who went into the ministry in her forties. After she spent half her life breaking down barriers for women, her only daughter went into a field that has been dominated by women since before her mother was born. But here's the thing: "women's work" has value too. As a woman and a teacher, it seems to me society's sneering attitude toward teaching is a perfect reflection of our culture's view of women: if it's girly, it's not good. It's inferior. It's unworthy.

It's wrong.

Lena didn't get much choice in her Halloween costumes before she turned 2 (seriously--one of us had to be Leonardo, and Paolo and I had claimed Michaelangelo and Raphael). But would it be so bad if she wanted to be Cinderella for a night this year? The internet would turn itself inside out to defend Paolo's right to be Snow White if he wanted (I might too). So why should Lena have any fewer options? Because she's supposed to a take over the White House--if not the world--before she's three?

I will defend to the death my son's right to enjoy Horseland , hair gel, and all things purple. And if my daughter wants to play princess, she will play princess. Her brother's trains are not superior or his superheroes gender neutral--though he still must share them.

We don't have to read about women warriors for my daughter's sake. My son needs them at least as much as she does, and probably identifies with them better than his sister. Both of my children--all of our children--need to grow up respecting each other's preferences and their differences as much as their similarities.

Equality is not eliminating girliness or even flipping the roles.

Equality means both of my kids can be pretty.
Via @amyrbrown

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