Alternately titled: The Smiths are having a girl-squash.
It’s subtle, and it’s everywhere. The ultrasound technician who was photographing our baby’s head and made a comment about “Well, we don’t know whether it will be wearing a cowboy hat or a tiara yet!”. A co-worker who, upon hearing the news that we were expecting a girl, went out to look for pink flowers and apologized that she could find one. The racks and racks of frilly, sequined, bow-festooned clothing that I saw at Target when I went out after the Doctor’s appointment to look for something a bit more feminine than the jeans, striped onesies, and overalls I’ve been picking up. Jason’s question to me the next afternoon, about whether or not he could wrestle with a girl or play catch with her. And, I mean, he wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t know. No one means any harm. It’s just a nefarious lens positioned firmly on the way our society views girls as a whole.
When I first got pregnant, I had one of those woo-woo lady-intuition-type-feelings; I was going to have a girl. I tried not to think about it too much, and by the time we actually found out the gender I was ready for either one of them. Jason and I kept joking that we would either get a Hushpuppy (Beasts of the Southern Wild) or a Max (Where the Wild Things Are). Never did we have conversations about having a princess or a cowboy. When I envisioned having a daughter, I thought about a girl who would have the freedom to get dirty; to climb trees and collect bugs and make things out of mud alongside playing dress up with thrift store clothes, sewing, and having tea parties. I thought of it in this way because that’s how I was raised and to some extent, how I still am.
Parents don’t get everything right, and mine are not an exception (I can say that because I’m 95% certain they’ll agree. They’re not perfect. Thankfully, no one is). But one of the many things they did an amazing job at without even trying was raising two daughters with very balanced perspectives on gender. I did my share of “girly things” as a child – mostly in the winter, when it was too cold to play outside. But I never saw my place as being in the house vs. outdoors. I never saw playing catch or rollerblading or riding my bike or fishing as strictly masculine activities because neither one of my parents ever presented them that way. I loved going fishing with my dad. I loved learning how to work hard in the garden alongside my mom. I loved chasing after my older brothers on my bike.
I know, some of you are groaning to yourselves right now. She’s one of those new-fangled gender-neutral types who are going to never use the pronouns he or she and who will let her boys wears dresses and her girls wear suits if they want to. Typical post-modern parent.
So, let me specify: I take absolutely no issue with girls being feminine and guys being masculine. I take a lot of issues with how society has defined those two terms. I do not believe a woman’s place is always in the home, or that caretaking of a child should mainly fall on a mother’s shoulders. I do not want to raise my daughter with the expectation that the most she can aim for in life is to find a good husband and have a family. I want to give her opportunities to excel at whatever she sets her mind to – and that might be fashion design, and it might be sports, and it might be something that I don’t have any context for yet. It might involve marriage and a family it might not.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. Dresses do not mean the subjugation of a woman, nor does a girl who can climb a tree mean the absence of healthy femininity. Having a girl does not have to equal pink. So, no offense Target or Kohls or wherever, but I will not be shopping your racks when I clothe my daughter. I want her to be able to choose a red shirt or a blue shirt or a green shirt, a pair of sturdy jeans or a skirt that makes her feel feminine and confident when she wears it and most of all, I want her to know that getting her clothing dirty and wrinkled while in the process of blowing up her imagination is totally, completely acceptable. Clothes are only clothes. The lessons you allow your children to learn with their hands and eyes and wild little minds are what’s really important.
Thank God for thrift stores. Thank God for my sewing machine. Thank God for the Ronias and the Hushpuppies and the Elnoras, for the Eilonwys and the Lauras and yes, even for the Katnisses. Thank God for a husband and father-to-be who is not too proud to admit that he struggles with emotional vulnerability. Thank God for a father who cried in front of his daughters and a mother who browned her skin in the summer sun from long days of hard work. Thank God for a wide-open backyard and acres of State Forest mere blocks from our house. Thank God for rivers and lakes and lightening bugs in the summer, for sledding and book-devouring and textile arts in the winter.
Thank God for green and red and yellow and blue and orange and purple. With so many beautiful colors to surround my daughter with, I believe I’ll pass on the pink.