Or, lessons from my daughter.
Heartbreaking conversations in my house, part one:
Daughter: I’m not cool
Me: Yes, you are!
Daughter: No, I’m not, I’m pretty.
Heartbreaking conversations in my house, part two:
Husband to son: Would you prefer your teacher to be a man or a woman?
Son: A man. Men are better than women
I was never the kind of person who was dying to have a daughter. My first born was a boy, and I was more than happy. When I was pregnant with my second, we found out the sex (because what kind of monster can carry a baby for nine months without knowing ?) It was a girl – I was happy in as much as I thought it was nice to have ‘one of each.’
And so she came, this girl.
I thought I could mould her in my image. I’m not ‘girly’ and neither would my daughter be. No princess dresses here, thank you.
As the picture attests, two and a half years later my daughter has laughed at my misplaced ideals and thrown them back in my face. Pink is the only colour in town. She goes everywhere with a pink handbag strapped across her little body; the handbag is filled with little plastic, pink, necklaces. She watches me intently as I apply my make-up and shouts, ‘me, me, me’ for her turn at my Urban Decay palette. (My son saw me carry out the same rituals, but paid no heed.)
I am conscious of applying make up in front of her and how I can explain it. What should I tell her when she asks me , ‘Why you do that Mammy?’
‘To look prettier than I do without it’, ‘to make my self feel better, more confident’, ‘for fun’ ‘because I am performing gender as dictated by our patriarchal society’ ?
Who knows why I do it. The reasons are impossible to separate between what I do for myself and what I do because it is what society expects of me, as a woman. I think mostly I do it because I want to. Its something I have really only started to take an interest in post the birth of my second child. A way of pampering myself, a kind of self-care. It’s fun; a red lipstick cheers me up. And yes, the days I am made up I do feel more confident. And this is where I think its impossible to separate self and societal expectations – the fuzzy link between confidence and altering my appearance.
Gender is a social construct. We are all performing our gender to a degree, and it is almost impossible to determine what is ‘us’ and what is our culture, what we are doing because society expects us to do these things as women, or as men. How quickly those expectations make themselves known. Living in a house with a small person of each sex (boy,6, girl, 2), it is impossible not to see differences between them. Mostly the toys my daughter played with in her first year, at home, were hand-me-downs of her brothers; mostly gender neutral, some cars, some dinosaurs. Yet very quickly she started asking for dolls; her imaginative play is way more developed than his at the same age. She often plays ‘mammy’. And so , despite my ideologies, my children have fallen into typical gender roles. She the pink loving princess obsessive, he the dinosaur obsessing, Star Wars fanatic.
All of my feminist being wants to fight against this. To make her wear a pair of jeans and trainers. To stop her watching Frozen and carrying a handbag. The Let Toys Be Toys campaign wants to stop toys being targeted at one sex or the other, which I wholeheartedly agree with. By providing Lego marketed to girls, you are sending out the message that the Star Wars Lego or the Batman Lego is for boys only. This is ultimately damaging and just adds to the many layers of gender expectation which restrict us all. But equally if my girl wants to play with dolls wouldn’t it be crazy of me to rip it out of her hand and give her a dinosaur ? It would be forced, and imposing my adult sensibilities on her childish sense of fun. It would be as prescriptive too, in its own way. You can only be a certain kind of girl if you don’t play with dolls?
What is my anti-pink stance saying about how I view women? Is my fight against it worse than promoting it? It goes without saying you can love wearing pink dresses and be smart and strong and funny. It’s the same rationale that allows ‘male’ interests, such as football, to take over pages upon pages of newspaper coverage, where ‘female’ interests are allocated a single column, or devoted only to women’s magazines.
Let’s open out the playing field. You can wear make up and be a feminist. You can play with dinosaurs and like watching My Little Pony. You can play football and do gymnastics. We need to relax our ideas of gender, stop polarising, and recognise that the colours you like or the activities you prefer don’t dictate who you are.
As for my pink princess, she is expressing herself. My job is to open her mind and show her the possibilities open to her, but to always let her be herself. Whatever that might be.