My daughter Annie turned 5 in August. Since people often ask what your child is into before buying a birthday gift I made sure to ask Annie what she likes. She said she likes:
– Spider Man
So the field of gift giving was pretty wide open. And our friends and family obliged, giving her everything from an Anna costume from Frozen, to a Spider Man mask, a headband with a unicorn on it, a Lego set or two and more. The gifts ran the gamut from what is traditionally “boy” to what is traditionally “girl” and she loved it all. Somewhere I have a picture of her in her Anna costume wearing the Spider Man mask and holding up a box of Legos. I’d show it to you, but it’s lost in the cloud.
As summer turned into fall I kept thinking about Annie’s birthday, and how it was so much better than birthdays past, where all the gifts were definitely girly, even verging on overdone. I was thinking that the era of feather boas and plastic high heels might be over. If that’s your daughter’s thing, then that’s great. I’m not judging, but with the exception of the 70s, when every kid I knew of every age and every gender wanted Star Wars action figures, I think it’s been a long run of uber girliness.
Growing up, I loved Star Wars. And Legos. And science fiction movies, and digging for worms and catching toads. I also loved my Barbie doll that got a tan when you lay her in the sun (how??) and my dollhouse. But my first two daughters seem to have been little girls in what I think of as Princess Time. As in, the only thing worth thinking about or playing with or dressing up as was a Princess. But Annie is different, and maybe that just comes down to personality and it’s all my imagination.
But here is what happened when school started. She took her Batman lunch box to school – the same one from last year that she was very excited to get out of the cupboard and carry again. About two weeks into school I was packing lunch in the morning and she said, “I don’t want to take that lunchbox! That’s a BOY lunchbox!”
A few days after that she wore her favorite Spider Man shirt to school. I threw it in the laundry and about a week later pulled it out one evening to see if she wanted to wear it to school the next day.
“No, I am not wearing that. The boys said it is a BOY shirt!”
I know, I know. It’s only two incidents and she is in kindergarten and probably will continue to like Spider Man for years to come. But it bothers me.
It bothers me that kindergarten-age kids are telling her what is a “boy” thing and what is a “girl” thing. It bothers me that she listens. It bothers me that I can’t tell if she even really cares or not. Maybe she is just in a phase where she’s exploring different things, like pink socks and blinding me in the early-morning darkness of the car with a rainbow sparkle light-up lunch box. Perhaps one day I’ll turn around and she’ll be wearing her Spider Man shirt five days in a row without giving a thought to what the boy at her table has to say about it.
What I’m hoping for is that even if clothes, or shoes, or cars, or fashion accessories are labeled as “boy” or “girl,” my girls will be confident enough to not give a crap. I hope that I will remember to be careful myself about labeling things so that they have an idea something is or is not for them just because they are a girl. I won’t pretend that our society will become gender neutral, because it won’t. So instead of aiming for gender neutrality, I’m aiming for confidence in choices. Like this choice of a Brandon Marshall Bears shirt and pink butterfly face paint:
Because that’s my girl.
Writing update: I am re-reading one of my all-time favorite books about writing, Stephen King’s On Writing.
I love Stephen King, so even if he wrote a 2,000 page book about picking up dog poop I’d probably give it a go. But this is way better than that. If you’re a writer, a reader or just curious about how that dude’s mind works this is an excellent read.