From the moment you start to show, people are quick to ask, "Are you having a girl or a boy?" Once your newborn babe is here, we (as in parents, and society in general) find ourselves treating baby girls differently. However, we don't have to. There are things you don't have to say to your baby girl, even if everyone else does and even if it's considered to be the "normal" way to talk to babies that have been assigned female at birth. Even the things you grew up hearing or wanting to hear from your mother, don't have to be the things you absolutely say to your little girl.
Why are we, as a culture, so occupied with gender roles? After having and helping to raise both girls and boys, I have seen firsthand that girls aren't necessarily quiet and shy, and boys aren't necessarily rough and tumble. As a feminist mom, I try hard to avoid reinforcing traditional gender roles in our home and try to encourage my daughters to develop their own interests and identities, even if it means my youngest becomes a cheerleader or my oldest is pre-occupied with boys. I love them as individual humans, not tiny versions of me through whom I can live vicariously.
I don't assume that my daughters will always identify as girls, or even on the gender binary at all, or that they will date boys some day. I also try to avoid valuing their looks over other attribute; like intelligence, creativity, kindness, and trying hard. I don't want them to grow up thinking the only way to be a "good girl" is to sit still and look pretty and stay silent. I want them to know they are always good at being themselves, which is why I've never felt obligated to tell my baby girls any of the following:
"You're So Pretty"
Everyone, from experts to other feminists on the internet, are constantly warning parents against telling girls they are pretty (and for some very good reasons):
1. It's sexist. In our culture, we're more likely to compliment a boy on his behavior, attitude, intelligence, or talents rather than his appearance. For girls, it's the other way around. Girls deserve to hear that they are creative, smart and great soccer players, too.
2. When we compliment girls on their appearance, they learn that the way they look is an important thing (maybe even the most important thing) to value. They also may feel inadequate or have a low self-esteem if they don't fit a tall, thin, white, blond mold. That's not OK.
While I think all of my children are beautiful, I try to limit my praise to the things I value; kindness, generosity, trying hard. It's not easy. As someone who rarely heard "pretty" as a child, I do find myself letting my kids know how pretty I think they are (after I tell them they are awesome, determined, strong, talented, and tenacious).
"You're My Princess"
We do not own our children. Our daughters do not belong to us and they are not ours to control or give away.
Tell her she's special. Tell her she's amazing. But please don't tell her she's your princess. If she is a princess, she's her own person; tiara or not. Besides, your little princess might be a prince or might want to be a queen with no king when she grows up.
"Be A Good Girl"
There are no good kids or bad kids, just good kids who make bad choices some of the time. What does it even mean to be a girl, let alone a good one? Is there a right way to be? Is there a right way to be a girl? I don't think so.
Rather than focusing on my daughters being good girls or meeting societal expectations about what a girl is supposed to do or how a girl is supposed to act, I hope all of my children grow up to be good people who make good choices, are kind, help others, etc. Gender roles are bullsh*t.
"That's For Boys"
I repeat, gender roles are bullsh*t. I remember taking my kids to the doctor for flu shots a couple of years ago. My 2-year-old son asked for a pink band aid. When the nurse said, "No, that's for girls," my then five-year-old daughter replied, "That's not true! Colors don't have gender," I was so proud.
The nurse stumbled over her response, but ultimately told her she was right. My son still loves pink and my daughter is more of goth girl these days, which her mama secretly loves.
"Now I Have To Worry About Boys"
First off, can we please stop being heteronormative when we talk to our kids and about our kids? Talking about who your baby girl will date someday is presumptive and a bit gross. Assuming that you have a say in who she dates or even setting rules for or proactively threatening to harm her future partners is super gross. Instead, tell her that you'll always be there for her no matter who she dates or if she dates at all. Teach her about consent and bodily autonomy, and let her know that she can call the shots.
"When You're A Mom..."
It's OK for girls to not become mothers. But, from the time they are babies, we assume that they will be one day. We buy them dolls and teach them to change diapers. It's hard to think about not being a grandma someday, but remember, she ideally has a couple of decades to figure out who she is and if and when she wants to become a mother. Let her have that chance and in the meantime, enjoy your baby.
"Don't Get Dirty"
I am now so confused by my friends who told me I wouldn't have to clean up messes when I had my daughter. She is like a tornado of glitter, mud, and newly found rocks and all of her pants have holes in the knees. This past weekend she broke her tooth when her friend (another girl) hit her in the face with a mason jar and she split her lip falling out of a tree. She always has something stuck in her hair or smeared on her face.
My son, by contrast, is so persnickety and fastidious that daycare has called me to bring more clothes, because he got a tiny speck of water on his sleeve and thus, removed his shirt.
Let your girls get dirty. Let them be kids. Don't set unrealistic, unattainable expectations. They will experience enough of those later on.
You typically have five or so months of an immobile child, regardless of their assigned gender. After that, telling kids of any gender identity to sit still is hilariously unrealistic. And when it's based on messed up gender roles about propriety? Screw that.
Don't tell your baby girl to sit still. Tell her to charge forward and break some glass ceilings in the process.
"Be A Lady"
Yuck. For me, the word "lady" typically evokes bullsh*t gender ideals about quiet, polite, compliant, virginal girls and women who never swear or raise their voices, and smile while they serve men.
Not only do I not buy into that idea about what makes an ideal girl or woman, I think it's really problematic. What do we teach our daughters about consent, bodily autonomy, and challenging norms when we tell them to sit still, stay quiet, and look pretty? Not things I want my daughter to learn and embody.
Babies cry to communicate. It's the only way to tell you they are sad, lonely, hungry, hurt, or tired. Later on, children and adults cry because they are sad, mad, or happy. Telling girls (or boys) not to cry invalidates their emotions and teaches them that they don't have a voice.
If you are sad, it's OK to cry. Mommy cries, too, especially about bullsh*t gender roles and the status of girls and women in our society. "Cry, scream, and yell, while you smash the patriarchy and some glass ceilings, baby girl. I'll be at your side, crying happy tears of pride."