I always wanted to have a daughter. As a feminist I dreamed about raising a badass, empowered daughter to believe in herself and smash glass ceilings and the patriarchy. When my daughter was born, I told myself I would never buy her pink clothes or Barbies. Oh how the mighty have fallen. And I admit, I was a bit disappointed when my daughter asked to attend cheerleading camp. I have had to learn to let her do her own thing and, TBH, there have been plenty of times when my daughter taught me about "playing like a girl."
I've learned that despite stereotypes and the things you find in the "girl" toy aisle at the store, there's not one way to play like a girl. Some girls are rough and tumble. Others are gentle and quiet. Some like to get dirty and come home every day with holes in the knees of their pants. Others can't stand to get dirty. Some like to play with dolls and have tea parties. Others like Minecraft and Mario Kart. Some like a combination of the above, at different ages and due to pressures to fit in or even please you and how they think you want them to be.
I've also learned that even the phrase "like a girl" is complete bullsh*t. Our culture holds girls up to impossible standards of what it means to "be a lady" that are generally misogynistic, harmful, and shaming. That's not OK. We also use "girl" to imply that someone is weak or not athletic. That's untrue, unfair, and hurts both girls and boys.
While our kids don't live in a vacuum, we try to teach them that being a girl is awesome, not an insult, and that gender roles are for the birds. In turn, our daughters teach us about what it means to be a girl at a time when women can do just about anything, and that's pretty freaking amazing.
There's No One Way To Play Like A Girl
There is no such thing as girl and boy toys. It's OK for a girl to like Batman and for a boy to like Elsa. In our family, my daughter is the one who is most likely to get into a fist fight, and my son is the most gentle. We've ended up having to teach her to reign in her anger and him to be more assertive.
Girls Can Be Tough
We shouldn't waste our time trying to teach our daughters to be "ladies," be nice, or not to get dirty or hurt. What does "lady" even mean in a time when our daughters can be derby girls, marathoners, scientists, programmers, and presidential candidates? Yeah, not much.
Girls Can Also Be Gentle
Girls can also play "typical girl games." My daughter definitely went through her baby, tea party, and dress up phases before graduating to tree climbing, soccer, and superheroes.
It's OK To Be "Girly"
I was surprised when my daughter and stepdaughter asked for makeup for Christmas. I was equally shocked when my daughter told me she was playing "beauty pageant" with her friends at school. While I don't want my daughters to focus on appearance as a value, I love makeup, and realized that being disappointed about this was sort of a double standard. Feminists can be feminine, too.
Kids Learn From Watching Us
Parents are our kids' first role models. I remember being horrified when my daughter first told me that her coat made her look fat. She was only 4 years old at the time. I realized that I needed to change the way I talked about my own body if I wanted her to feel good about hers.
Girls Deserve Role Models That Look Like Them
If we want our daughters to believe they can do anything, we need to give them role models that look like them. That means more than just popularizing Super Girl and Wonder Woman (although, I am a huge fan of both). It means more women running for office, working in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and better funding for and coverage of women's sports (see the 2016 Summer Olympics' coverage for an example of what not to do). It also means that the default roles for women and girls in films shouldn't always just be girlfriends, wives, and mothers.
Girls Can Like "Boy" Toys
My daughter and stepdaughter like water fights and light sabers as much as our sons, at least for now. I have no problem with that as long as they don't break stuff (or each other).
Girls Can Be Good At Sports
While I generally think team sports are boring, I have learned that my kids have a right to develop and explore their own interests and talents, even if they are different than my own and not typical "girl" things. That means, my daughter plays soccer and went to cheerleading camp. Next year, she might pick something different, and that's OK.
Girls Can Be Aggressive
In our culture "aggressive woman" has become synonymous with b*tch. On more than one occasion, my amazing, outgoing, and yes, aggressive daughter has shown me that standing up for your beliefs and having confidence in your abilities is not a bad thing. In a society that teaches girls to defer to boys and to be quiet and demure, that is pretty badass.
Peer Pressure Is Real
I remember each and every time my daughter has come home in tears because she didn't fit in. These moments are so hard and hard for me to understand, since I rarely care what people think. While I know peer pressure helps shape her, I hope I can build her up enough to undo any damage and give her the confidence to do her own thing and maybe even start a new trend or two.