I Only Like Girls
My daughter is four. She goes to family day care three days a week and will start at kindergarten next year. So far, she can count the number of children she knows well on both hands, but very soon that will change. I am watching, half fearfully, half fascinated, as she navigates her way through the beginnings of a social life.
Will she be a bully? Her current strategy of, ‘to think = to act,’ has certainly caused a number of incidents at home with her little brother and at daycare.
Will she be a pushover? I have seen her try to be friendly to strangers at playgrounds only to be rebuffed. It happens; I can’t protect her from it. But how will she react to it? Will she try to win them over by agreeing to everything? Will she become withdrawn?
Will she be a loner? Uninterested in others and incapable of building good relationships? I don’t think it’s likely, but my influence over her is only going to get more diluted as she grows. Who knows what events might trigger this type of reaction?
Will she be a leader? She tends to be good at inciting rebellion – will she use her powers for good or evil?
One thought process I have noticed particularly in my daughter is her rudimentary understanding of the differences between boys and girls – the fact that there are differences at all, other than physical, seemed almost to be taken for granted, though I know it was learned somehow from me and others around her. Nowadays she often talks about the fact that she ‘only likes girls’ and ‘She’s a girl, so she’s my favourite.’ I can put my finger on one influence in particular which led to this: a little girl in her day care, who talks like this a lot (though the chicken and egg argument could be made here; who influenced who more?). She has an older sister who is into Barbies, Monster High, fingernail painting and beauty pageants. The ‘girly’ force is strong in that family. And that’s fine.
Well, I tell myself it’s fine. But my inner feminist cringes a lot more these days.
It’s not that I want my daughter to believe that women are better than me, or girls better than boys. I want her to think they are equal and worthy. There are differences in how men and women behave, but they are individual, rather than inherent and entrenched. Men don’t need to be strong, controlling, leaders, focused on physical strength and power. Women don’t need to be sensitive, delicate, good at empathy, talking and listening. Women can have drive, ambition and power. Men can be good listeners and caring nurturers. It’s up to each individual to write their own story. The problem is that society works hard to put each gender into predefined boxes and working your way out of that is a lifelong journey for each one of us.
My daughter does has a healthy dose of confidence in her gender. ‘I don’t want to be a princess, Mummy. They live in stupid castles. I want to be a superhero.’ She loves Kung Fu Panda. She runs around the house and strikes a superhero pose when she reaches you. For now, at least, she believes she can do and be anything she wants.
I try to find TV and movies to put aside for her which feature strong female characters, doing things which might once have been restricted to boys. I tell her versions of the classic fairy tales which feature the girls doing it for themselves, not waiting on menfolk to solve their problems.
But my attempts will inevitably run into the deluge of mainstream media which is still full of strong male figures, light on female role models and heavily into traditional gender roles hidden in plain sight. What will my little girl learn from all of this sensory input? Who will she believe? I hope that my words and actions become the inner voice in her head but I know I’ll be fighting an uphill battle for her entire childhood.
Undoubtedly, my little girl has catalysed me into embracing my sleeping feminist self and working to bring her out into the world. I hope that others’ little girls act as similar catalysts for enough of us adults for real change to happen in the near future. Don’t you?