My brother is just a year younger than I am so, growing up, we were always playing with each other’s toys. I was just as likely to sit down for some GI Joe black-ops as I was to play in Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse. On weekends, we’d go to sports games with my Dad and see action movies, but I’d often sneak up to my room and, in side ponytail and bedazzled shirt, pretend I was Debbie Gibson. I was a geeky, book smart kid with big hair and big red glasses, who wanted to be both a doctor and a model when I grew up. Neither worked out for me.
I was never a particularly girlie girl and I’m not much of a girlie adult. Still, as much as I value things like integrity and intelligence, I also like to look and feel pretty too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
I’m now the mother of twin boys which I absolutely love — I find such joy and hilarity in raising these very active, very funny little guys. I don’t know what I would do with daughters, not only because I can’t do hair, but also because, these days, it seems damn near impossible to just let girls be girls.
Of course, as the mother of sons, maybe I’m not one to talk. But I do have two adorable, whip-smart nieces, and so, as their aunt, I’m just going to put this out there: Is anyone else sick and tired and totally over the whole anti-pink, anti-girlie movement? Yes, I think it’s so cool when little girls choose to be superheroes instead of princesses, don jeans and boots instead of dresses, and prefer rough-and-tumble play to baby dolls. I think it’s important that more and more companies start to market their toys — or actually create toys — that don’t fall so strictly along gender lines. But all of that being said, I don’t think a “mighty girl” is better than other little girls. I don’t think it means she’s going to grow up to be a more stellar adult. I don’t think she’s going to be smarter or more successful. And I definitely don’t think it means that her parents did a better job raising her.
It just means that that particular little girl likes many different things and may continue to be incredibly well-rounded. As for her parents, they’re definitely cool for exposing her to all of it, and even more cool for just letting her do her thing, whatever it may be.
But hey, those girls who love pink and dresses and princesses are awesome too. And so are their parents. I know so many smart, educated, multi-faceted moms who, while pregnant, decided that no way was their little girl going to be into pink and Barbie and frills. Their plans worked throughout the baby years, but come toddlerhood (and that whole emergence of individual identity), a lot of these little girls suddenly wanted to wear tiaras and high heels and gowns. They wanted to be Cinderella, or Elsa, or Mommy with a Duggar-size family of baby dolls. For all of their parents’ best feminist intentions, their little girls were so…so…girlie (gasp).
I know that many of these moms feel guilty, even a little self-conscious about it. They feel like they should have discouraged it more. Like they should have raised their daughters to value trucks and trains and monsters instead.
But why? Why is being “girlie” frowned upon? Why is it “uncool” for a 4-year-old to dress up and play with dolls, but “cool” if my boys do? It’s only okay if it falls outside of gender norms? Do we think a little girl has more value if she shuns girlie things and exclusively plays with train sets?
I’m no scientist, but I believe in nature over nurture. I believe that some things are just inherent to some kids, not because they’re female or male, but because they are born who they are. Of course, as parents, we can nurture our children and encourage them to be their best selves, but we can’t fight against their true nature. One of my boys loves trucks and cars, which my husband and I could care less about. It’s not like we pushed him in that direction, but when he showed interest, we made sure we had more books about them (partially because I was calling every truck a bulldozer). Our other son likes puzzles and building things. When they were younger, they both loved strutting around in my shoes, but now, they’d rather put on superhero capes. We didn’t discourage any of their likes or dislikes–we allowed for all of it and their inclinations grew on their own.
No one would ever expect us to take away their toy cars or their Spiderman T-shirts. No one would ever tell us to discourage such “boy” interests. Because for some reason, “boyish” isn’t considered a bad thing. But “girlie” is?
That’s why I think the whole anti-girlie thing is narrow-minded and annoying. Our job as parents is to instill our children with morals, good values, and self-confidence. If your daughters are being taught that it’s more important to be bright than beautiful, if they’re encouraged to explore all of the things that interest them, and if they know that they don’t need a prince to save them, then wearing dresses 24/7 won’t do any lasting damage. It’s harmless. Let it go. When we obsess over being progressive and gender-neutral, we may steer children away from what they actually enjoy. And then all we’ve really done is just stifle their growing little spirits.
It’s important to embrace our children for who they are and what they love, and teach them to accept others for who they are as well. Whether your daughters and sons are wearing tutus or overalls or ballgowns, whether they love American Girl or Bob the Builder or Sofia The First, just let them be.