The gender messages we communicate to LM and LMJ have been on my mind lately. Whether it is talking our daughters into or out of certain toy, clothing and book choices or choosing appropriate television programming it always factors into my decision making process. I was raised in a home with a fiercely independent working mother and a “no-Barbie” clause. I take a certain pride in my athleticism, independence and aptitude for math and science.
While I strongly want my daughters to consider all their choices when it comes to roles, aptitudes and careers I am starting to notice the lopsidedness of gender exploration. Let me explain. When little boys show up to preschool in blue sneakers and a superhero t-shirt no one judges his parents for locking him into a gender role. When I walk in with LMJ dressed head to toe in pink I feel shame as her teacher proclaims, “pink pants and a pink shirt; I guess it’s a pink day”. I want to say, “I don’t own anything pink. I didn’t pinkify her room. In fact, I didn’t even find out if she was a boy or girl in utero because I didn’t want to relate to her as a certain gender.” However, I support her exploration of everything pink and everything princess because that is what she loves. She also loves mud, space, and dinosaurs. By steering our daughters away from stereotypical gender objects are we denying them the access and permission to explore those things? What if they have to live that expectation to the fullest before they reject it? What if LM really is a “girly girl” (*gasp*)? Does that mean that we have failed her as parents by communicating that she should be “sugar, spice, and everything nice”? Or, maybe, being sweet really is one of her strongest core qualities and that’s a very good thing?
To highlight this process let me explain our recent trip to the shoe store. Our goal was to buy some dress shoes because we bought new sneakers last week. LM talked about sparkly shoes the whole way there and made a bee-line for the pink sequin shoes with a pink flower at the front as soon as we entered said shoe store. My inner monologue was going nuts with how this would be perceived and what messages I’m sending. I found myself talking her into the silver or the black – both still very sparkly and flowery but sans the extra flare of hot pink to complement her pink pants and her shirt with the pink cat on it. Being as sweet as my daughter is she said to me, “Mom, if you want me to wear the silver ones, I will. That’s OK with me.” I looked at her earnest and trusting face and asked her, “But, honey, do you love the silver ones or do you love the pink ones?” And she replied, “I really love the pink ones, Mom, I really really love them.”
So, gender messages aside, this is my message to both my daughters: “Be who you are. I will support that and I love you.”