Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dress-up your princesses in pink and purple

I feel like there are more and more conversations these days about fairy tales, happy endings and the importance of how we speak to our little girls. More than ever, I am seeing articles, blogs and stories about the negative impact of little girls growing up believing that prince charming will come and rescue them (from what, I am not so sure) and the superficial "pretty" and "beautiful" compliments many little girls are accustomed to.

When I think back to my own childhood, while I know that I had plenty of Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake Dolls and My Little Ponies, I do not remember ever wanting to be a princess, or having pink as my favorite color or playing dress-up. I find gender roles and gender identity, in particular, truly fascinating.

When I hear stories about my friends' children and their love for certain colors, toys, activities and clothing, I often wonder where it comes from. I know the question of nature vs. nurture is a long-standing one many folks are still trying to answer with debates swirling around what people believe. I, for one, do believe that much of who we are is determined biologically, including sexual orientation and cases where your personal gender identity may be different than how the world perceives you. I also do believe that there are some things that have to be affected by our environment or "nurture" if you will. You always hear stories about identical twins who are totally different, I guess the nature argument works here, as well. Then you hear about those that are separated at birth and some that are different and some that are the same, so again, nature or nurture. I am sure in many instances there are those traits that are biologically predetermined for us, those that are more easy to foster and those that are totally affected by our environment and how we are nurtured.

As I don't have children yet, I am very curious what others think. If your daughter was all about pink and princesses, did you talk with her about those things, or did she basically come out liking pink and princesses and why is it. It seems so unlikely to me that a child could be biologically programmed to appreciate certain colors, toys and clothes. For those of you with little boys, did they just like to get dirty and like trucks from day one, or did you introduce them to those toys? I always wonder. Then if they were acting outside of these societal roles, how did you react. Was it your instinct to take away the doll from your son, or to encourage your daugther to dress up and wear make-up.

I know all about the entire pink vs. blue themes, for babies especially. Is it the dressing of girls predominately in pink that fosters the love of pink? Or blue for boys? I know there is also a gender neutral movement of greens, yellows and oranges. I have often heard mothers be offended or concerned if others were not able to identify their baby or child as a boy or a girl. So, there is clearly some anxiety and fear around this as well.

Let's face it, as the parent, you clearly know whether you had a girl or a boy (not getting into the complexity of chromosomes and the possibility for a parent to be wrong about how their child eventually identifies) as do all of your closest friends and family members (once you tell them) why then is it so important for us as parents to ensure the rest of the world is also able to identify our child as a boy or girl (pink and blue). Are we afraid our child will get confused? In what way? Why would that be a bad thing? Again, not having children yet and not being in the parent culture, I am unsure if this is still even an issue. All I know is that as a grown-up I certainly wear blue and black and gray and I also know that Greg loves pink and purple, so there must really be a large importance placed on the ability for random members of society to identify one's child as a boy or girl at an early age. There must be a belief that early gender identity somehow affects your future gender role or gender identity?

This leads me to believe that many people really believe that nurture plays a much larger role in gender identify than nature. If parents today believed it was all about biology, you wouldn't care what color your child was dressed in, what toys they played with and what clothes they wore. Your child was going to be that person, regardless of you.

It reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross is all bothered because his son Ben picked a Barbie out at the toy store. He spends almost the entire episode trying to pry the Barbie from Ben's hands, tempting him with Monster Trucks and G.I. Joe's. I find it completely laughable on so many levels that parents may be bothered by their children's toys of choice and I am just wondering for those parents out there, if these battles occur and if so, why it bothers you that your son wants to play with Barbies or if your daughter wants to play with trucks. I find it hard to pose the question, not yet a parent, would I be bothered. Would it scare me to know that my son or daughter could possibly be bullied for their toy, color, or clothing of choice, I honestly don't know so I pose the question to all of you.

While I was growing up, I think that the ugly answer was that many parents were secretly afraid of their children "being gay." Let's face it. I am not happy or proud to have to think this way, but I think for parent's of boys, especially, there is a real fear of the association that can be made of those boys that may like the color pink or want to play with Barbies, sadly. It really makes me sad. I like to think that as there continues to be more love and embrace of our LGBTQ friends and as we continue to fight for equality for all, this fear will begin to slowly fade away and we will love our children for who they are, not dictate who they should be.

Siblings also obviously play a large role here. If I had an older sister and I was a boy, I would likely play Barbies with her. Similarly, if I was a girl and I had a brother, I would likely play with their toys too, I assume. I grew up with one sister, so I pose that question as well. Is it different when siblings play together with these gender specific toys, than if a boy, on his own sans sister, picks out a Barbie?

Growing up, I was a tomboy, for certain. I was a tomboy with dolls. I had all of the stereotypical "girl" toys, but I also loved the color green, played outside, ran around and got dirty, played G.I. Joe's and Thundercats with my two neighbors and loved using my imagination and playing tag, and catch. There was nothing I wanted to do more than go on burried treasure hunts, magic carpet rides and invent things. There is no time better spent than playing with all of my male neighbors. I don't remember ever wanting to be a princess, or ever playing dress-up, or ever having a tea party. I often joke that I am not quite sure what I would do if Greg and I ever had a girl, because, to be honest in many of the stereotypical ways that "little girls" appear to be defined by society, I surely wasn't one. I always joke with Greg that if we have a girl, and she is a pink loving princess, I will obviously love her more than life herself, I will just have to work with her a bit, I guess and perhaps Greg will have to take her shopping, as I hate shopping as well. I think, more importantly, I also need to find a way to not look down at what she does like, but instead find a way to also encourage to the importance of her intelligence, heart and soul.

I think it is also interesting to think about my Halloween costumes growing up. I was always either a hobo, a scarecrow, in my pjs or an 80's punk rocker. I would have to look back through my family photo albums, but I certainly don't ever remember being a princess, or anything like that. I may have been a witch for a year, or two, but was certainly never a princess. I wonder if I went to my parents and asked to be a scarecrow, or if that was how they chose to dress me. Again, where did this come from. I often think of Halloween as a time to dress-up in a fun way, for one night getting to be whoever you wanted to be. I know as we age, the purpose for Halloween  sometimes changes and in our teen, college and twenty-somethings is sometimes becomes an opportunity to wear as little clothes as possible, embrace our womanness and be a bit "slutty" if you will. I am all for being confident in your body, so I have no problem with this, just interesting how Halloween certainly changes as you age.

I am having a hard time because I find it so difficult being a women in the world, regardless. I find it challenging on so many levels. I do feel like so many of our little girls are praised only for their "beauty" or "cuteness" and while I understand the well-intentioned compliments, it makes me nervous about little girls who may potentially only find value in their looks. I feel like society already puts so much pressure on women to be a certain way. As the mother of a perhaps future daughter, it makes me have so many questions about how to raise my own daughter. How I should treat her growing up to ensure that she is strong and confident and appreciated for her brains, as well as her inner beauty. How do I make sure she becomes the woman she wants to be, while never making her feel like a man will make her happy or "complete" her. How do I ensure she knows that she can be anything she wants to be, while also making her attuned to the stereotypes and honest challenges that exist in the world for her as a woman. How the heck would I raise a little girl.

I have no doubt no matter how hard I try, my children will likely end up in therapy at some point. I think mental health and its importance is becoming more obvious and I would encourage my children to talk through any challenges and problems they may have. I am hopeful by the time I have children, it isn't such a faux pas and that people aren't so ashamed (for those that may be) of it and that people no longer think of it as a weakness (for those that may). I think everyone could use a little help, to be honest, and as someone who was in counseling for a good four years, I would suggest it to anyone.

As a woman who rarely wears make-up, cannot function in heels, didn't get a manicure or a pedicure until she was nearly 30 years old and absolutely hates shopping, I like to think I survived in this world and came out pretty good, I have to be confident that my daughter will as well, even if she is a tomboy who hated the color pink, just like her mother--god willing. I have totally come around on both pink and purple, but as a child I remember thinking they were "girlie" colors and that that was a bad thing.

As one of my favorite articles on this suggests, the next time you bump into a little girl, instead of commenting on her clothes, pigtails or how pretty she looks, ask her about her favorite subject in school, what her favorite book to read is, or what she thinks about the world. There is only so much you can say to a little adorable baby girl, but as she ages, I guess I would suggest we try and focus on brains over beauty. I wish nothing but confidence for all little girls in their looks and in their bodies, they just have to know it isn't all that matters or the most important thing.

Similarly, I cannot make this just about little girls. I could just as well have a little boy. How do I ensure they grow up happy, healthy and confident. How do I ensure they are who they are and not who I or society thinks they should be. How do I ensure they are comfortable expressing emotion, feelings, asking for help and heck asking for directions for that matter. How do I ensure I teach my son to respect women and ensure I raise my little boy as a feminist as well. How do I encourage all of the important qualities in my son and not set them up to be bullied later on. While I don't really think I was much of a "girl" growing up, I am so grateful I was a girl. I would have never survived as a boy. I was so sensitive and hated conflict more than anything. I would have never survived life as a boy, I don't think.

This all really makes me question gender, gender identity and gender roles. We all know that there are certain ways, traits and attitudes that men are supposed to have or women are supposed to have. There are certain careers that are stereotypically more men than women. Where did this all come from. Do women really like to cook, clean and cry more. Do they really like the color pink more. Do men really like to go to work, never show emotions and love the color blue. Clearly I am overstating all of these stereotypical roles and traits, but I hardly believe that we are biologically drawn to the gender roles that have been dictated to us by society. I find it hard to believe.

Additionally, why are men and women treated so differently, by the public, by the government, by the law, within religion and in the workplace?  Why is it ok for women to be raped, or more specifically, why is it so hard for women to get justice around being raped. Why is sex trafficking ok around the world and why isn't there more outrage about it. Why are there so many cultures around the world that fit into these stereotypes with their attitudes, assumptions and treatment of women. I am certain that religion has played a role, but otherwise it fascinates me. I guess I have found another topic that I need to research and come to be more knowledgeable about. Have women really learned to be ok with all of this?

You never hear about society needing to discuss men's issues. A men's body isn't up for discussion and up for the government to make decisions on. Can you even imagine? It would never happen. It makes me angry that for our entire lifetime, through religion, law, the media, and now health care and government, women's issues are only women's issues and aren't societal or economic issues. Women's issues appear to be the only things that aren't basic rights and the only things ever on the chopping blocks. We aren't hearing conversations about Viagra, condoms, masturbation (frequent reckless abandonment of potential children) or vasectomies. Can you even imagine, exactly, it would never happen. Those same folks that are pro life for fetuses don't appear to be very pro life once they are born (wanting to cut food stamps, healthcare, before and after school programs, headstart, college loans, minimum wage, no equal pay for equal work, or any other type of safety net that may be the difference between a mom terminating her pregnancy, or not).

A scary world awaits any future child I may have. At the same time, there is so much room for opportunity and love. How do I know how to be the best parent I can for my child. How do I continue to be supportive with things that I know society may give them a hard time for. How do I continue to remind myself the most important thing is that my child knows how loved they are and that they are confident in themselves and that they know no matter what we are there for them. How do you make sure all these things are possible. Each child is so different and I honestly believe each child needs to be treated differently. I don't think as a parent you can honestly "treat" all of your children the same because I feel like each child requires specific types of praise, punishment, pushing, challenging and supporting.

Maybe by the time I have children, they will come with manuals. All I can do is my best.

and that's all she wrote...

The Prophet

by Kahlil Gibran
On Children

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children." And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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