“When I prepare dinner with my niece, I want to model for her that cooking and caring is a worthy choice for a strong, smart woman, and that not everyone needs to earn money. But I’ve been brainwashed and I can’t help feeling like a throwback to the 1950’s when I do it.” (Penelope Trunk)
“[My mum] was an excellent care-giver. An attentive and gentle mother, a loving parent. But in her own words, she was not happy. We had a good, good mom. But we did not have a happy one.” (Shauna Niequist)
“For the past 100 YEARS toys have inspired our boys, to be thinkers, builders and inventors. OUR GIRLS DESERVE MORE.” (GoldieBlox Advert)
I am a kitchen table writer, and more often than not, my ponderings embarrass me in hindsight. I sit down at the kitchen table and words come out about something in front of me, or something I have just heard, or something relating to the narrow margins of my particular life. I love careful communicators who think deeply and read widely and know what they’re talking about. But then I find myself at the kitchen table wading into an ‘area’ I never meant to, with random thoughts pouring forth getting dangerously close to something that is actually a Thing.
All that to say: there is a lot of gender stereotyping going on in our house these days, and I have no idea what I am about to say about it all, but it will probably include something cringe-worthy.
So one day our wild haired 3 year old (whose own gender was not always apparent in her first few years) woke up and divided the world into Girls’ and Boys’. Colours, books, patterns. If she is tired then it is particularly upsetting for her if we try to wangle her toes into a boy sock (green) or if her Nana gives her a boy cup (blue) (sometimes orange) (possibly yellow). Pink and Purple are most acceptable. And Sparkly.
She has requested, in recent months, pink and purple and sparkly shoes, a pink and purple and sparkly potty, and, that our soon to be purchased new car, be pink and purple… and sparkly.
With the random exception of the ‘Cars, Trucks, Tractors and Diggers’ bowl from which she wants to eat all of her meals, she just does not want THE BOY ONE. Imogen (her sister) can have it.
She has divided our little family into ‘the Girlies, and Daddy’ (sometimes referred to as the Boy, or the Man). In general, the Girlies have to do everything first, then the Boy can do it.
Where does it come from?
“It’s Nursery”, I am told. Or, “It’s just in them”.
What I do know is that I am thinking a lot about what it means to raise girls.
It is a minefield, especially for an over-thinker like myself. And I am guessing most of the harm comes when we over-think it. Still, I tuck away any wise perspectives when I hear them and try to pay attention to why other perspectives trouble me. Sometimes I am saving blog articles, or copying what my sister-in-law does or being changed by something I hear. Other times I’m shaking off advice and ignoring trends.
We loved those GoldieBlox ads that went viral last year (toys to inspire the future generation of female engineers):
We love their tagline MORE THAN JUST A PRINCESS.
And of course, as daughters of an engineer, it’s easy to imagine our girls are 2 of the million girls out there who GoldieBlox believe are engineers – especially when watching the feel-good videos.
And maybe they will be, maybe. There’s enough lego in the house for extensive building opportunities – but we don’t want to put them in engineer strait-jackets any more than we want to put them in princess ones. We don’t want to limit them – not by cultural norms or narrow experiences, not by stereotyping or by misplaced feminism, and certainly not by or our own passions.
I do, however, want to model a life lived out of my passions. I have sent many of my friends the Shauna Niequist essay What My Mother Taught Me which provokes women to take their lives seriously, to pay attention to their gifts and passions and to let their kids see up close and personal “a woman fully alive”. Shauna says that her parents both regret allowing the logistical challenge of raising young children to fall primarily on her mum, and that they wish they had worked harder to find creative solutions for the practical concerns so they could both have pursued their passions. It’s an article I return to and I find it compelling reading every time as I read the story of how her mum began to reshape her definition of being a woman when Shauna was 14. She says: “Watching my mother while I was a young teenager gave me a front row seat to a hard, messy, important, beautiful transformation. I watched my mother become herself. I watched her come alive. I watched her discover her gifts. I watched her eyes sparkle when she returned from a meeting or a trip. I listened to her bubbling over with passion about what she was reading or learning.”
I love all this. At the same time, I also really liked an article by the fascinating Penelope Trunk about rectifying the miseducatin of girls. She asks why we don’t educate girls for home life as well as work life and suggests that we make a lot of presumptions about life for girls that are not helping them. She advocates, among other things, validating the career goal of a stay-at-home-mum.
I think they’re both worth listening to, distinct angles that over-lap somehow. What they have in common is recognising what one calls the ‘non-linear’ lives of women, another the ‘ebb and flow’, the different ‘seasons’.
Despite all her militant gender-stereotyping, Olivia isn’t really a ‘girly-girl’, nor is she a hard-core tom boy. She wants to try out her Nana’s lipstick, and her Daddy’s hammer. Her sparkly boots climb trees and wander off the beaten path. There are twigs and dirt camouflaging her Peppa Pig hair bobbles. I remind myself of the importance of letting her be as I hover in the background saving articles and tips. These are her days of requesting the Pink One, her days of rejecting car books and the colour Green. And as I watch her pulling her purple flowery tights over her bruised, grazed knees, I decide to go with the ebb, and the flow.
She is ‘fixing’ her doll’s pram with her pink hammer and saw and moments later she is a Gruffalo, before demanding I be the Ballet teacher. Dear only knows what she will be tomorrow. I remember my bedroom walls: Strawberry Shortcake, then very ‘grown-up’ pink & flowery, then white & BLACK. I had a mum who went with the ebb, and the flow.
What about you? Did you grow up free or steered towards a certain course? Do you have any wisdom for raising girls? What do parents of boys wonder about?