I had a fairly traditionally girly upbringing, taking ballet lessons, riding horses and playing with my huge collection of Barbies and My Little Ponies. I even had my parents save some of those toys for my own kids after I grew out of them. Not exactly things feminist moms do, right? Well, clearly whether or not you hang onto (even vaguely problematic, gendered) toys from your childhood doesn't have a hell of a lot to do with whether or not you're a feminist, my attachment to the "girly" things from when I was a kid definitely preceded my identity as a feminist. But eventually I did discover feminism, and spent the first part of my adult life examining my body image issues, along with the influence that the media had on my perception of myself and others.
Then I had my daughter.
I was prepared to get all sorts of girly things for her to dress up in, but I found myself grossed out by the lack of choice in colors in the baby and toddler girl sections of clothing stores. It drove me crazy that a gray snowsuit made people assume she was a boy, and I found myself searching out stores that offered more variety (and feeling really frustrated by my lack of ability to do anything about the gender-based assumptions people would make about my baby based on totally arbitrary things like what color she was wearing).
When she began to get interested in dolls, I avoided all those Barbies I had stockpiled years ago, and instead went with a Lottie doll. I bought her a tool set (which she loves) and when we got a hand-me-down train set, I made sure we pulled it out often to play with.
There are still things, despite a less girly upbringing, that I have trouble with, as I raise my daughter. And there will be things that I am challenged by, as my son gets older too.
How To Explain Makeup
I don’t wear makeup to walk my kid to school, but I do wear it when we go to my parents’ place for dinner (eh, most of the time). What do I say when my daughter asks what I’m putting on and why? How do I express that no woman needs to wear it to be pretty, even as I am applying it to feel prettier?
When Your Daughter Wants A Toy Because It’s Pink
Or because it has princesses. Or bows. We started my daughter on a solid diet of multicolored Duplo blocks right from day one, but just a few months ago, my husband took her to a toy store and she begged for a Lego princess castle. Boo. But a girl’s gotta make her own choices, right?
Complimenting Your Kid On Their Looks
Our kids are gorgeous, right? But they aren’t just good-looking, and so my husband and I have always stayed away from compliments of a physical nature. But one time, my daughter asked me, “Mama, do you think I’m pretty?” and my heart shattered into a million pieces. Because of course I think she’s pretty, but apparently avoiding all talk of looks was not the answer. Sigh. It's honestly just one more sh**ty thing about how women have historically been reduced to being valued or devalued solely on their looks: To combat that, a lot of feminist moms find ourselves overcorrecting, and not giving our kids enough validation that, in addition to being brilliant and kind and funny, they are also very beautiful. We don't want our kids to only want to hear compliments about their physical appearance, but that doesn't mean they aren't going to like to hear them at all.
Inappropriate Gifts From Well-Meaning Friends & Family
It happens, right? You can’t protect your kids from toys you don’t want them to have forever. This Christmas, my daughter, who is four years old, got a play makeup set from a family member. She was beyond thrilled. I, however, was glad no one was filming my response when I saw what that gift was.
Listening To Other Parents Complain About Their Son Wanting To Wear Pink Or Put On Nail Polish
Seriously, if my daughter can have blue as her favorite color, then why can’t your son’s favorite color be pink? And how many rock stars have worn makeup or nail polish, over the years? Get over yourselves. I don't remember when all colors go around and announced which pronouns they preferred us to use when referring to them.
At a certain point, you cannot control all of the things your child will hear and experience and be influenced by. I see my daughter posing for photos now in a way that I’ve only seen her older cousin and sister (both in their teens) pose. She has also chosen not to wear one or two items of clothing because she thought people wouldn’t like her outfit. All I can do, at a certain point, is explain my point of view and hope that she internalizes it amid all the other mixed messages I know she can't help but also absorb.