Most parents feel an inevitable curiosity about the gender of their unborn. I knew I wasn't supposed to care and made sweeping statements like "as long as it's not a porcupine, I will be happy." That was mostly true (I definitely didn't want my baby to have quills), but I also really wanted a daughter. Yet the night of her birth, when I finally found out the sex of my child, I was both ecstatic and terrified to hold my little girl. Not only are women subjugated, but traditionally feminine traits are often also devalued in culture. My greatest fear was not just that my daughter will be treated as subordinate to men, but that she will actually think it is true that men are superior.
I did not want my daughter to be socialized by stereotypical prototypes of femininity. I thought I could prevent her from being indoctrinated, and protect her from internalizing sexist beliefs by obliterating feminine projections from her world. And so, I embarked upon a quest to "de-genderize" my daughter. She wore only green and brown baby clothes, and her nursery was an unassuming beige. She played with trucks, Legos, and math-oriented puzzles. I cut her hair into a mullet and only dressed her in pants. I taught her to jump from high elevations and considered a fencing class -- until I realized that a 2-year-old was in fact too young to hold a sword.
I was well on my way to raising the ultimate gender-neutral child when something entirely unexpected happened. My daughter turned three and started expressing her own views. In doing so, she made her interests extremely clear and they completely contradicted my expectations.
My daughter will only wear dresses and insists on everything possible to be pink -- pink tights, pink sparkly shoes, pink toothbrush. Even her Four-Wheeler is pink. Her days revolve around playing with dolls, and she especially adores the domestic accessories that go along with them (including the kitchen set)! She loves painting her nails, wants to use lipstick and eye shadow (even though I barely wear Chapstick) and will only wear a bikini to the beach. In essence, my daughter is a "girly girl" who would make Mattel proud and Revlon drool. Despite my sincere efforts to cultivate her less overtly feminine traits, she had other plans (and grandmothers to spoil her).
At first I was devastated and felt I had failed her. I feared that my daughter enjoying her femininity could only be a sign that Disney had taken over her mind. Yet in reality, my effort to shield her from having a formulaic "girl" identity, actually propagated the sexism I thought I was avoiding. I couldn't see that her interest in all things "girly" shouldn't be considered a handicap -- just as masculinity shouldn't garner more respect.
The answer isn't avoiding femininity or masculinity, but appreciating and honoring the spectrum of ways in which these traits can manifest, without ranking or assigning them to a specific gender. What makes pink "girly" and blue "boyish" beyond the imposed assumptions we inflict on these helpless colors? The fact that our culture assigns universal personality traits to gender is wherein the problem lies. Are men really strong for being aggressive and women weak for being emotional? Expressing your feelings is in fact very brave, just as being thoughtlessly and impulsively violent doesn't make you courageous or strong.
By helping girls understand the far-reaching influence of sexism, we can actively combat its effects. We keep sexism alive when we pass on societal expectations and pressure to the next generation. Part of a misogynistic culture is belittling all things quintessentially female. Tragically, I was maintaining this idea. I was attempting to dull both my and my daughter's femininity, so as not to be judged for it On this parenting journey, I've learned that the greatest advantage I can nurture for my daughter is to create space for the organic development of her innate interests -- pink tutus and all.