Yesterday our friend was over with his 7 year old daughter, and as they were leaving, she made a funny (not as in “ha ha”) about being afraid of being a tom boy. My gut response was, “what’s wrong with being a tom boy?” (She didn’t answer).
Her dad immediately jumped into the conversation and told her that it’s good to practice sports now because it’s good for her. And that lots of girls end up going to the gym when they are in their 20s and it’s totally normal.
Our friend is an amazing dad. His daughter is bright and funny and active. She’s spunky and personable. He supports her 100% in her passions – which include dance, skateboarding and cats. It’s clear that he eschews the gender stereotypes of what girls “should” do.
And that got me thinking about raising my own girls.
It’s not uncommon for me to have to explain that my daughters are girls in the supermarket, and I’ve had to defend my choice to not pierce their ears, or dress them in pink every single day. I mean, I like pink but there are other colors on the spectrum that are also awesome.
When a friend gave my daughters a red toy car, someone asked if I was going to exchange it for a “girls toy”. Ummm, no. Why would I make that sort of effort? (Side note, they love that car and it’s good for them, developmentally.)
When I grew up, I had dolls. But my favorite toys were legos and brio and lincoln logs. They weren’t “girls colors” and we all played with them – including my brother. That’s when we were playing inside. Most days we were running around outside with our friends. Whether on bikes or running through the woods around our houses. We got dirty, we scraped our knees and that was ok. My brother, sister and I all played sports – whether we liked it or not. Sure, I took ballet and gymnastics, but not for more than a few months.
My dad also took us outside to play basketball, baseball and soccer. As a family we went hiking and biking very frequently. I doubt it ever crossed my parents’ mind that they should hold my sister and I back from any of these things, just because we were girls.
Now as an adult, I’ve sat in meetings where I’m the only woman and held my own. I’ve spoken in front of large groups of people – including executives and held my own. I’ll never forget one of my colleagues walked past a meeting room and stared – only to ask how it felt to be in a room “with all those men.” My reply, “I didn’t even think about it.”
Yes, I have definitely experienced more than my fair share of gender inequality and it sucks. It happens more often than not, and it’s infuriating. But as I’ve really started analyzing my experiences with this, I’ve realized that I never assume that I’m going to be relegated to a corner because of my gender – not until it actually happens.
So why is this? As I listen to the advice I’m given on how to raise my daughters, I realize this may be part of the problem. When we continue to push a social construct that says that it’s not appropriate for girls to play with the same toys, or play the same sports, or listen to the same music, we ingrain the belief that girls should live by more restrictions because they are inferior, or weaker. That girls should be pretty and soft. That you can’t be both feminine and strong. Well, I disagree.
If my girls love princesses and dresses and frilly things, cool. If they love being outside and sports, awesome. If they love art and drawing or math and science, or maybe all of these things or just some of these things – then I’m all for it.
I want my girls to grow up and be excited for all the adventure that the world has to offer. And if that ruffles feathers, that’s ok.