As one of three daughters, I was raised with a healthy appreciation of power tools and working in the garage. In 7th grade I gave a demonstration in Speech class on changing the oil in a car (because that's knowledge every 12-year-old needs, right?). My parents never treated us like there was anything we couldn't do because we were girls and I don't think it often crossed our minds.
I was recently at a garage sale with my 10-month-old daughter. The homeowner was very kind and offered us a tub of wooden blocks at no cost to go with the vintage gum ball machine I found to compliment my kitchen decor. He offered his finger to my daughter to grab and then complimented her on her brute strength when she obliged. He then said to me "he's so strong!" I politely corrected him, "She certainly is!" He quickly apologized, which I felt was excessive. He hadn't insulted me or her by assuming she was a boy. I said "That's fine, she's still just as strong!" And then the strangest thing happened. He immediately stopped going on about her strength and started telling her how pretty she was. The following sentence actually came out of his mouth: "You are doing such pretty little garage sale-ing today, aren't you?" Really, guy? What does that even MEAN!? For the record, this is what she was wearing. A hand-me-down from my friend Becky's daughter.
As we left I couldn't help but wonder if he'd have offered the blocks to us if she were dressed in pink. Not because I think he would choose to deprive her of them, but because I think it wouldn't have occurred to him that she would enjoy them. I think stereotypical gender roles are just that deeply ingrained in most of us.
I love putting on a frilly dress. I love making tutus for my daughter and niece. But I also keep a uniform 90% of the time of jeans and sneakers, wear my hair short and certainly don't put on make-up every day. I don't feel like any of it makes me less 'womanly'.
A dear friend of mine recently posted an article on Facebook called "How to Talk to Little Girls". I thought it offered great insight on how we tend to automatically revert to telling young girls that they're pretty, instead of finding something of value to appreciate them for. But as pleased as I was to read it, I was equally disappointed at the lack of mention of our young boys. We may have come far enough that it's not unusual for a father to encourage his daughter to enjoy the train set or tool bench. But I don't feel we are offering the same consideration for our sons. I fear that more often than not, the same father who tells his daughter she can be anything she wants would not be as accepting of a son wanting a tea set or playing with make-up. True story: When I worked in daycare and the two-year-olds were playing dress up, a father came in to see his son sporting a pair of high-heels and a pink shirt with glittery lettering. (To be fair, the shirt read "Foxy" which is disturbing on any child, but that's neither here nor there) This dad FLIPPED. OUT. He immediately returned the boy to his original state of dress and then made a few half-joking remarks about how he would be taking him fishing immediately, or that they were going to have to go play in the mud. He may have had some sense of humor about it, but he was visibly disturbed.
When I say I "dress my daughter like a boy", I hope you don't misunderstand me. I'm not purposely putting her in masculine clothing in an attempt to shock or confuse. I am, however, enjoying putting her in a variety of clothing, much of which has been purchased from the "boys" department or handed down from friends with sons. Because I like robots and dinosaurs, dammit! And I want her to have the opportunity to do the same, not just fall into a world of kitties, butterflies and hearts because that's what's available to her. Afterall, the idea that pink is for girls and blue is for boys is a quite modern marketing invention.
To be perfectly honest, I am embarrassingly guilty of speaking to children in a way that reduces them to less than they are. It's something that I feel like I've been exposed to so much that I'm going to have to work very hard to break the habit. But I'm trying. And yes, I tell my daughter multiple times a day how beautiful she is. I think it's important that she grows up believing it. But I say the same thing to my best friend's baby boy every time I see him. And it's the truth! This isn't about making them feel like they can't appreciate they're beauty. It's about instilling in them the belief that no one thing defines them, and that they are valuable people worthy of respect and esteem, just like everyone else.