Why my daughter will not be limited to a 1950's era house-cleaing, cupcake-baking, princess-and-fashion-worshiping sex kitten glitter bomb

One of the great many reasons I become so annoyed with marketers and toy companies reducing my daughter to a 1950’s era house-cleaing, cupcake-baking, princess-and-fashion-worshiping sex kitten glitter bomb is that the following is a list of topics we just discussed before I could get my seven year old to go to sleep tonight:

– Imperial colonization of Africa
– Trans-Atlantic slave trade
– how to build a rondoval
– how humans started navigating the Earth
– how different cultures pass diseases to each other
– what was life like in ancient Greece and Egypt
– how does time pass, starting with the cave people
– the stratification of wealth in Africa
– will I buy her the Star Wars game she wants
– can constipation kill you
– what did cave people’s feet look like
– how did the ancient Celts make underwear
– do I love her a smidge more than I love her little brother
– did cave people wear skins fur side in, or fur side out
– sanitation practices of anciet Egypt

When we limit our daughters, we limit our daughters. Luckily for me, I had great advice and a strong intuition not to limit my daughter to what the pink aisles held for her. Instead I offered her the world.

And each night, she goes to bed knowing the world is hers.

How Big a Deal Are Gender Differences?

Love this graphic! Thanks Kristi Gold for sending it in!

I was asked the question that appears below on our facebook page, which I read after returning home from greeting families at our back-to-school event. I serve as president of our PTA, so I try to make sure to say hello to as many of our new families as possible. I met girls in fancy dresses and girls in Stars Wars t-shirts. I met boys in dress shirts and ties (both purple!) and boys in sports gear.

My own daughter was wearing a purple dress with sparkle belt and sparkle shoes. My son was wearing a t-shirt, sweatpants, and a tube of Greek yogurt all down his front. But there are weeks when my daughter will refuse to put on a dress or brush her hair. There is a good chance that anytime my son knows he is going to see his babysitter or kindergarten teacher he wants to look “handsomely” with his hair shaped into a mohawk and will pop the collar on his shirt. I attribute all of this to personality, not gender.

So what do I think about gender differences?

Kathleen asked: “I respect and buy into the idea of raising girls without the existing stereotypes of girlhood, but I would like to hear your take on respecting the differences between girls and boys also. Is there any room for the recognition that girls and boys are also different? How do you pay respect to that? I definitely believe in countering the gender stereotypes, but not at the expense of denying any differences.”

I answered: In what ways are boys and girls different? (and how can that question be answered without using gender stereotypes?) Can you answer that question by saying “This is true of all boys, this is true of all girls?” Or would it be more accurate to say, “This is true of some but not all boys, some but not all girls?”

I don’t understand what is meant by “but not at the expense of denying any differences”. What does that imply? That systems of society will fail and begin to fall apart if we were to admit that boys and girls are actually more alike than we often tend to believe? Is much of our gender preoccupation in the US based largely around our religious roots and our feelings on homosexuality? Who benefits if we adhere to strict gender roles and gender expression?  Gender is a variant when looked at across many cultures, which shows that while biological sex can most times be more definitive (but not always), gender is actually a very static concept.

Here’s what I believe: There are many ways to be a girl, there are many ways to be a boy. Colors are for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to do it. I think our culture greatly influences how children will express gender, to the point we make it the most salient quality about a person. I find that offensive. I find that as offensive as if we were talking about race.

I have worked with hundreds of children over a period of twenty years, and am now raising a daughter and a son. The differences I see in them, in all children, is based on personality, not gender. There is nothing biological about the stereotypes our culture believes, and research in neuroscience and pediatric brain plasticity proves this. I have met too many kids who are hybrids of “girly girls” and “tomboys”, and boys who have traits that are both “all boy” and “princess boys”. I think we condition certain qualities in or out of our children as opposed to letting them be their own people. I believe in letting children show us who they want to be in this world, our job is providing a safe and loving and creative environment  for them to grow in.

I think the differences we cling to, we believe so strongly in, we chastise our children for bending…..I believe it is all folklore. We know marketing is ambient in our culture, there is no way to escape it. Marketers make more money for their clients if they divide people into subgroups who need different versions of different products. That way there is more to sell, more to buy. So are these differences we think we see true, or manufactured? Are parents even aware they are teaching the gender binary to their children?

There is a great variation among males, there is great variation among females. But between males and females? Not so much.

I think the time spent asserting and giving voice to how different men and women are, boy and girls are, we are unable to hear and see how similar we are.

I highly recommend reading:
“Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troubling Gaps – And What We Can Do About It” by Lise Eliot
“The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls” by Emily Kane

This video is about forty minutes long, but watch just a few minutes starting at the 2:00 marker if you are pressed for time.

Lise Eliot: Pink Brain, Blue Brain from Book Passage on FORA.tv

Are You Sure You Want To Be President?

When a little boy says he wants to be president, do you ever hear anyone try to talk him out of it? Or tell him he should focus on being handsome or being a daddy instead?

So when that happens to our girls, we need to recognize it for the everyday sexism that it is and redirect the comments being made to or in front of our children. When we know better, we can do better.

This story is from one of my favorite PPBB families:

When Sierra has medical appointments I always encourage her to pick out an outfit that will make her feel brave and strong. For her pre-op appointment she picked out her powder blue “Future President” shirt with sparkle pink flip flops. Sierra is a piece of work……she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body and regularly smiles at and talks to everyone she meets. I have nicknamed her “The Ambassador.” Despite her awesome personality, she often gets comments like “You are so cute!” and “Look how beautiful you are!”

What was interesting to me though, was that while she was wearing that “Future President” tee shirt, nearly half the people she spoke to thought she was a little boy! When she held the door open for an older woman, she commented to me that I am “raising quite the little gentleman.” Before I could respond, Sierra piped up that “I not a boy! I jus a weally nice girwl!”

Even her pre-op nurse, when she realized Sierra was a girl, said to her “Oh….you don’t really want to be president, do you?” To which she replied, “No….I jus pwetend to be pwesident. I weally am gonna be a surgeon!”

Kinda crazy to see the mindsets that still exist in 2013………

After the fact, I thought about answering, “You’re right…..she actually wants to be Secretary-General of the United Nations, but they don’t make that tee-shirt in a 4T!” but I honestly was caught totally off-guard in the moment. I did get my wits about me by the time she offered my daughter stickers, though. Sierra was given the choice of “Princesses or Dora”, neither of which she likes. I piped up saying, “Actually, her favorites are Spider Man and Angry Birds.” When the nurse told me all she had was Dora and Princesses I asked, “So I can assume the little boy across the hall is also going to be given the choices of Princesses or Dora, since those are the only stickers available, right?” Sierra happily went home with her new Thomas the Tank Engine sticker…..she does love her trains!” -PPBB Community Member Lindsay Kolk

 

It is so frustrating to have gender stereotypes forced upon your children. Last week two other PPBB Community Members shared stories with us about a pink baseball bat being forced on a little girl during team photos and a baby girl being told she has a sexy smile. I regularly hear stories about kids wanting their faces painted and the volunteer painter trying to talk them out of a design or color that doesn’t seem to match the preconceived notions of boy/girl. Someone else shared a story about her children witnessing a mother swoop down on a little boy playing with a pink toy, picking him up and spanking him, and scolding him saying he is not to play with girl toys. Seriously.

But on the other hand, we hear stories about boys getting compliments on having a strong sense of individuality for wearing kilts while out and about, and a grandpa at a park who had just met a little girl and telling her that she will grow up to be smart and strong just like her mommy. Or the six year old girl getting ready for her birthday party and refusing pigtails because her hair looked “wild like a hyena and hyenas don’t wear pigtails”. (By the way, her birthday party was a nature hike at a local park because she wants to raise money to preserve a nearby slug habitat. Girls will be girls!)

The thing about our kids is, gender is not the most salient part of their world. Being full of awesome is. It is adults, many but not all, who have it all backwards and we really need to get out of their way. We need to take a step back, remember that kids are learning and soaking up lessons from our world every minute. We should never limit or stereotype our kids. Childhood was never meant to be that boring.

Sierra, Future President, eligible to run in 2045. Hopefully by that time she'll be the fourth or fifth female president.