When I got pregnant, my husband and I decided to find out whether it was a boy or a girl. We both had a vision for which we’d prefer, and wanted to know ahead of time. Personally, I really, really wanted a girl. Really badly. Turns out I was carrying a girl, so I was thrilled.
Now that my daughter is 2, I’m past the just caring for the kid phase and well on into the active parenting phase (if you have a toddler, you know what I mean–not just clean, fed, and happy, but also disciplined, entertained, and filled with trips to the playground, park, and zoo), I wonder whether I should’ve wished for a boy.
Because it’s amazing to me how much my daughter, at 26 months, has already internalized about the world. She gets dressed and says “I pretty,” or, if wearing a skirt, “I spin like ballerina!” We were in Philadelphia last week, on a street we’d never been on before, and walked by a store. It had pink tutu in the window, and a few purses. My daughter said, “I go in dere. Dat for girls.” I stopped in my tracks. How did she possibly know that? Because of the pink? Because of the purses? In what ways had I unconsciously conveyed society’s assumptions about femininity to my 2-year-old?
I’ve been reading a book by Peggy Orenstein called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It’s fascinating, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so slowly in my life. I have to keep putting it down. I’m terrified of this book. I try to not create gender roles in my home, to allow my daughter to build with blocks and play with cars as much as she plays with dolls and her kitchen, but I feel like I’m failing, constantly. Especially when my little girl wants to go shopping in a store just because of the pink. Or the purses. Or both.
There was recently an article in the Huffington Post called “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The author basically said that our instinct, when talking to girls or women, is to compliment them. We start this at an incredibly young age. And let me tell you, I see it when people talk to my kid. I do it myself. I think that’s why she compliments herself every day when she gets dressed. And of course I want her to have a healthy self-esteem, but I don’t want her to think that her appearance is all that matters. A Facebook friend of mine’s comment on this article was to tell a story of what happened at her Jewish summer camp, every Friday, when everyone dressed up for Shabbat. Girl campers would come up to her and say, “I like your hair/dress/skirt/makeup.” She’d respond, “Thanks, I like your personality!”
I hope I can work harder on complimenting my daughter–and all girls–on the things that truly matter in life. Their intelligence, sense of humor, determination, and kindness. Because life is about so much more than simply what we look like on the outside.
The other day, my daughter wanted to wear her pink tutu (which was a gift from childless friends and I usually hide it in the back of the closet). My mother obliged. And then my daughter climbed into my bed and sat down on top of the book I was reading. Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
I can’t decide if it was irony or a premonition.