My daughter Tink (not her real name) is about to turn 9, and everything is changing. She has always been sassy, smart, and fearless, but until last year, she preferred to do it in various shades of pink.
That is all over. Her new favorite color is black.
Now, she foregoes most skirts and dresses in favor of her brother's old shorts and T-shirts. She still loves to dance because it's athletic, and she has not lost her affection for puppies, kittens, babies, and shiny objects, but she rails against any implication that some activities, feelings, and privileges are only for one gender or the other. I'd like to say my feminist indoctrination finally took hold, but this is really all her.
I remember when I was that age and a little older, when I started to hit puberty as an early bloomer. I remember my mom making comments - not mean or critical ones, just drawing attention to the changes in my body. In a cutesy tone, she called my emerging breasts "little beginnings" (MORTIFYING) and said boys were going to start noticing any day, as if this was something I should be excited about (I wasn't). She was trying to be affectionate and let me know she was cool with what was going on, but it was my body, and I wanted to process what was happening to it without unsolicited commentary.
Now that I'm on the other side, I wonder if she was actually trying in her own way to minimize her abject terror at the idea of watching a girl child become a woman in this world. Even though women have better educational and career opportunities than ever before, sexism and rape culture abound. Femininity is still devalued. The media still presents women as ornamental. Most workplaces still have not adapted to an egalitarian view of gender roles both on and off the job, which has far-reaching effects on relationships between male/female partners whenever there are domestic and child-rearing tasks to be done. I wish I could shield Tink from the frustration and rage and disappointment she's going to feel sometimes when she has to navigate the world in a woman's body. I know what's coming, and I can't do anything about it.
My boyfriend McDreamy told me that he was playing the board game Life with his kids and their friends the other day. McDreamy's eight year-old daughter was the only girl, so the boys took all the blue pieces, leaving McDreamy with a pink piece. One of the boys said, laughing, "Oh, no, you have to play as a girl!" McDreamy, who is a tall, strong, specimen of masculine goodness, looked at his daughter and instantly replied, "What's wrong with that? Being a girl is cool! I'd love to play as a girl!" And proceeded to do just that. He told me he was concerned about how his daughter hears those offhand comments, wanting to make sure she understands that her dad values everything about her, including her female-ness. After all, someone - possibly a parent - taught that neighborhood kid to think that girls are inferior, probably without even realizing it.
I reassured McDreamy that smart girls quickly learn to ignore stupid comments, seeing them as reflections of the people making them rather than anything to do with them. And that is true, but at the same time, the constant onslaught gets very, very old after awhile. Sometimes sexism feels so pervasive that you're breathing it. It doesn't help when society gaslights you into thinking that demanding to be treated with the same dignity and respect men expect as a matter of course is the same thing as casting yourself as a victim or hating men or wanting special entitlements.
My mom, bless her, is by no means a feminist, but I have to think all mothers have feared particularly for their daughters at this age, whether they could articulate it or not. I'm nothing if not articulate, and feminist to the core, but it doesn't seem to be helping. If I could, I would barrel-age and bottle Tink's fierceness now, so that in 20 years, when she needs an infusion of I-don't-give-a-fuckness to assert herself on the job, in a relationship, or even just walking down the street, she can mix it in her morning coffee and sail through the rest of her day. Instead, I'm choosing to put my fears on the back burner, and I'm enjoying my girl as she dances and runs and karate-chops her way through her world. Whether she's in pink sparkles or black leather, I have to trust her to find her way.
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