Before we delve into the depressing and sexist things I've heard about my daughter in her two short years of life, I want to start with a ray of hope. On the whole, the world (and the men in it), have been kind to my daughter. Her sassy, bold, larger-than-life personality is lauded. Her gender non-specific sense of style is admired and vocally appreciated. The men in her life encourage her in who she is and what she does. Still, there have been things men have said to me about my daughter that keep my surly feminist guard up, because damnit, you guys. Really? Still? We're still doing this?
The way men have been conditioned to view women, starting from the time they're little girls, is truly disconcerting when you can observe it up close. Themes of dominance, control, male gaze, and misogyny that become suffocating by the time we're women, are tossed around as silly jokes in the presence of little girls. Ever the optimist, I truly don't believe guys are doing this with the intention of oppressing my daughter and asserting the patriarchy or anything like that, but that doesn't change the fact that they're unintentionally laying the groundwork for a lifetime of inequality.
This all sounds very tinfoil hat to many, I know. However, once you observe how the things we say to girls are connected to the creepy attitudes society has about women, you can't unsee it. In fact, you notice it a lot more. As I said, fortunately I don't have to deal with this too much, but I have regrettably heard the following:
"Do You Think She's Going To Stay Chubby?"
It was said in this weird, worried, pearl-clutchy way like, "Your 6-month-old baby is fat. Take steps now to make her not fat." It takes a lot to leave me stunned in absolute silenced, but this one got me to that point and I was not pleased. Seriously, what do you want me to do? Put my infant on a diet? Squeeze her into a girdle? Develop a baby exercise regimen (a challenge, considering she can't walk yet)? Start teaching her to hate her body now, before she can even talk?
She's. A. Baby.
If she's chubby her whole life why do you even care? Why are you trying to make me (and by extension, my daughter) care?
I knew in having a girl that I was going to have to fight against a society that was going to put constant pressure on her to conform to a certain body type, regardless of her natural shape. I did not, however, think I would have to start fighting before her first birthday.
"Isn't That A Boy Shirt?"
No. It's a blue Star Wars shirt. The shirt has not communicated any preferred gender identity to me at any point. That's because it's a shirt and it being a "boy's" shirt or a "girl's" shirt depends on who is wearing it. When my son wears it, it's a boy's shirt. When my daughter wears it, it's a girl's shirt. In and of itself, the shirt is gender neutral and my daughter loves it.
"Daddy Must Be Stocking Up On Baseball Bats And Shotguns"
The only reason daddy would be stocking up on baseball bats and shotguns would be if we found ourselves in the midst of a Walking Dead-style zombie apocalypse.
Oh, but you're talking about some weirdo situation where my partner would be violently threatening another male (most likely a potential boyfriend) for supremacy over his daughter's body as though he were a chimp on some nature show. Oh. Ha. That's hysterical and not at all creepy or perverse.
"She Won't Be Able To Do Anything With Her Big Brother Around"
Because, once again, all the men and boys in my daughter's life are going to have more agency about what she does and who she sees, than she does. Hey! Maybe my son and my creepy baseball bat wielding husband can guard her tower in shifts!
We're certainly not going to teach our son that he should adopt a paternalistic toward his sister, and if such attitudes happen to occur naturally we will put a stop to them. Looking out for one another is one thing, but a one-sided guardianship is a nonstarter.
"I Could Never Have A Daughter"
I was puzzled as to what this friend meant by this, and when pressed, his answer was a convoluted babble of
- He doesn't like "girl things"
- He would never let her out of his sight and that would drive him nuts
- "Girls are so catty, boys just punch each other and that's the end of it"
When I assured him that there are no "boy things" or "girl things," and that his daughter wouldn't need constant surveillance, and that "catty" is a sexist term, he dismissed my counterarguments as "feminism."
There have been subsequent talks. We're making some progress. Slowly.
This was in to a game of bocce that my son was invited to play. When I suggested my daughter would also like to join in I was told "boys only."
You know how in Kill Bill: Vol I when The Bride remembers something, she starts hearing electric sirens and seeing red? That's kind of what happened to me, because I immediately flashed back to being told the same thing my entire childhood.
There was a righteous fury of angry invectives hurled that day, friends.
"Are You Teaching Her How To Make Her Man A Sandwich?"
It was meant to be "ironic." I don't know why some dudes find this so hysterically funny, because, even when used ironically, it was only mildly amusing at best when people started saying it 25 years ago.
"Don't Let Her Do That"
People seem to naturally worry that kids are going to hurt themselves, and I get it. However, when you're telling me to hold my daughter back from things I know for a fact you have encouraged in my son, I'm going to get just a wee bit indignant.
"She's A Girl"
This was said as she was delightedly roughhousing with her brother, giggling all the while and giving as good as she was getting. No one was hurting anyone and they were being carefully supervised. The person who said it was concerned that it was my daughter's being female, not her size (smaller) or age (younger) that made this sort of play risky.
I can handle cautious people. I get it. What I can't handle is treating girls like delicate little flowers just because they're girls.
Said, of course, after a dramatic and emotional toddler outburst.
Oh, please do go on and tell this woman what you mean by that.