By Alicia of alburnet.wordpress.com
She’s barely been alive for two and a half years and she’s already been gender-checked. Several times. Though we’d come to expect “Princess Pink” paraphernalia from well meaning relatives, my husband and I had resolved to let our daughter pick out the things that she wanted. Turns out, she actually likes pink, sparkly, Hello Kitty type stuff. But you know what? She also likes things that are listed as being “boy” things. So, we let her wear what she wants. Superman shirt? Go for it. Sparkly crown? Let’s wear it to the park, baby! Fake necklaces and Dora shoes are some of her favorite apparel. And most of the people who had things to say about what girls should wear were adults. “Hey, look at the little fella! How old is he?” they’d ask. When I replied “Oh, she’s ….” they might say “Oh, she’s a girl! Sorry, I didn’t see any pink anywhere…” while looking for bows or other gender identifying apparel.
Therefore, it was a big surprise to my husband when, one day, while out on the playground, he encountered a little girl – perhaps three – who demanded to know why he let his son wear Dora shoes.
“Why is he wearing Dora shoes?!” this child asked, with all the gravitas of Judge Judy. “Dora shoes are for girls!”
“Well, first of all, ” my husband answered, “Boys can wear Dora shoes if they want. See, it has Dora and Boots on it. Dora is a girl and Boots is a boy – so anybody could wear these shoes. Second of all, she is a girl…she’s just wearing a Superman shirt today because she likes Superman.” The child seemed satisfied, if not a little skeptical, of his explanation, and ran off back to the sandbox. Later, my husband admitted to me that he wasn’t quite sure what to say – and that he was taken aback by the notion that at such a young age, gender typing had been so heavily impressed upon this kid.
And already, my daughter has begun saying “That’s a girl pumpkin” or “That’s a boy toy” when checking out the Halloween displays at our local Wal-Mart, deciding the gender of items based on their coloring. She knows that girls talk with a high-pitched voice, and guys talk with a low-pitched voice. (Although, imagine my chagrin when she pointed at a cashier and asked, loudly, “Why she talkin’ like Mickey Mouse for?!”) She knows that girls generally wear dresses, and boys generally don’t. This, however, doesn’t stop her from playing with Batman action figures, putting dress up dresses on her Daddy doll, or using a low voice to pretend to be Daddy or Grandpa.
So what to do? How do I teach my child to be comfortable with herself, and to understand societal norms, without convincing her that she must adhere to those societal norms to be “right”? I think about all the hubbub that arose over Sandra Bullock allowing her son to play with a doll clad in a pink jumper. And while I want to guard her from the sort of craziness – because that’s just what it is, craziness – that dictates what toys a child can and can’t play with based on their genitalia, on many levels, I want her to fit in! Ultimately, I want her to be the kid who is comfortable being herself and who doesn’t judge the people that other playground denizens are. I don’t want her to be the kid saying that boys can’t wear Dora shoes – but I don’t want her to think that liking girly things is bad.
It’s a tough balancing act, and I’m never sure that I’m doing “what’s right”, but so far, discussions have gone well. I wasn’t sure what to tell her when she asked me if I had a wife. I think I went with something like “Well, I have a husband, because boys are called ‘husbands’ when they get married, and girls are called ‘wives’. If I married a girl, then I would have a wife. But I married a boy, so I have a husband. And Daddy married a girl, me, so he has a wife, ” and tried generally to avoid implying that only husbands-and-wives belonged together. Besides that, I ask lots of questions about how she sees gender. Why do you think that pumpkin is a girl? Who’s cooking dinner in your dollhouse tonight, Mommy or Daddy?
Gahhh. Why is parenting so hard?