As I write this, my just turned 9 year old daughter is sleeping beside me, curled up and making sleep sounds. We are still in that post Christmas stupor and I’m feeling a bit strange that this was the first birthday and Christmas that the daughter wanted absolutely no toys whatsoever. Her list to Santa was all music, book and art supply related. The apple , they say, does not fall far from the tree.
Tonight she even said, “Mommy, did you know there are kids who don’t like to read and don’t care about music and art? Isn’t that weird?” That question made me feel like I’m doing a good job. Because it’s not easy raising a girl in this culture and mothers can feel like failures on a daily basis in all sorts of ways.
As the year wraps up, I’m struck by how much I’ve been able to shelter my daughter and how much I haven’t been able to shelter her. The things in my favor: 1) She’s not at the main public school in town with its major bullying problem. 2) We don’t have TV hooked up in the house other than to play movies on hulu and netflix. 3) We live in a small rural area void of most average American commerce. 4) I don’t have any dumb fashion magazines in the house. So there’s a certain control factor going on here.
But you know what? She still thinks she’s fat even though she’s in gymnastics and thin. She’s still concerned that she hates Miley Cyrus and Kate Perry and didn’t want the girls at her sleepover to know that she’s a big PJ Harvey fan because they wouldn’t know who that is. “At least, ” she said, “All the girls at the sleep over like Lorde.”
How do we build confidence in our girls to embrace their bodies, be confident about their likes and dislikes and not to fall into conformity? How do we mold them into better girls than we were?
The answer is, we can’t. We can just be here reminding them time tireless time again that they aren’t too fat. That they aren’t too weird. That not liking vapid pop music is totally okay.
Last Christmas, a friend of my husband’s spent a week with us (we were kind of snowed in most of last Christmas holiday). The friend has never had a serious relationship with a woman and lost his own mother to drugs in his teens. He kind of hates women, strong women in particular. I’ve always tried to not let this bug me. I mean, there’s always a friend of the spouse we don’t like , right? But this guy has criticized me over and over again about robbing my daughter of her childhood by not pushing princess stuff on her and by encouraging her to find stronger female archetypes and role models than the princess waits for her prince model.
Somehow the guy got it in his head that I was the devil for not pushing Barbies and for getting my daughter craft and science kits for Christmas over make up kits and babydolls. By allowing my daughter true and actual choices, in his estimation, I am making my daughter into a bitch.
Yeah, pretty heavy stuff for a 9 year old to take from a thirty something bachelor who lives with his grandma.
But I try not to let it bother me. For this guy isn’t alone. He’s a product of his own sexist cultural upbringing. There are plenty of people out there that think not getting a girl make up and a Barbie is child abuse. Getting her craft kits and art supplies is lame. Getting her sports equipment is downright scandalous. Granting her wish and putting tons of paperback books in her stocking tantamount to treason.
The dominant culture is just as fearful of strong girls as it is strong women. Maybe even more so.
She’s still sleeping like a baby next to me with no clue of knowing that her mother goes out of her way to make sure her choices aren’t limited and that she sees herself through a more positive lense. Maybe there is some truth to my husband’s friend’s complaint: I am raising her to be a feminist. I am raising my daughter to have access to choices. I’m helping her explore her potential and possibilities in her various interests, be they rocket making, or cake decorating , or electric guitar playing, or reading. I treat her no different than myself in that respect.
I heard through the grapevine that the ‘friend’ was concerned –here in 2013–that I was raising her to not need a man, and that some how self-sufficiency was a bad thing.
Dude, I’m not raising a wimp.