Yesterday, my daughter told me about her recent school picture session. The photographer asked her name and she told him. His assistant came over and asked her what her name was again. He whispered loudly in the photographer’s ear, “He says that IS his name”. My daughter’s name is decidedly a typical girl’s name – even in most foreign languages. They were not to be dissuaded from a quickly drawn, preconceived opinion, despite evidence to the contrary.
My daughter insists on a Harry Potter haircut and refuses to wear girl’s clothes. She has a clear case about the clothes, as those marketed to girls are not utilitarian, primary colors or found without “bling”. Somewhere between the cute-animal-primary-colors toddler clothing and turning six, my daughter was supposed to become a corporate shill for Hannah Montana, with the clothing preferences of a “Jersey Shore” resident. So believe me when I say, I’m thrilled she loves blue jeans and simple cotton t-shirts.
It’s a beautiful age for children to be wild and wonderful, before society steps in and tells them what they are supposed to look like. An elderly family friend expressed concern that my child would become a lesbian if she never wore dresses. That was at least laughable. Less funny was when one of my daughter’s teachers made her draw long hair on a self-portrait, so that people would know she was a girl. I hardily endorsed a subversive replacement of the drawing. On a fairly regular basis other girls at school tell my daughter that she is in the wrong bathroom. When she relays these stories, I ask her if it bothers her. The mistaken gender doesn’t bother her, it’s being called a liar when she tries to correct them.
My daughter has a lot of friends who are boys and during play dates, they’ll pull out the costume box. He’ll be a wood sprite and she’ll be a Jedi knight – no judgments, no questions, just being what appeals to them in the moment. She’s drawn to adventure and action stories. There are very few fictional venues where girls are the action heroes (at least ones that don’t have pointy Madonna bustiers). There’s lots of super smart sidekick action, but she actually wants to be in the heat of battle with Voldemort or the Sheriff of Nottingham or the White Witch.
I worried early on that I somehow made being a girl seem so incredibly unappealing (housework, discipline, mysterious monthly stomachaches – what the hell kind of imaginative play is that?), that she was simply rejecting gender stereotypes out of hand. That was egocentric of me, since it has become obvious to me that kids are born with their personalities from the get go. This girl kicked her way through my entire pregnancy, already roundhouse kicking my rib cage and having imaginary sword fights with my bladder.
It took me years to become as enlightened as my daughter is at this moment in time. I never questioned dresses or forehead stretching ponytail holders. My tomboy self came in the form of ripped tights, torn lace, missing buttons and “lost” barrettes. I climbed trees, fences, did death-defying skateboard and bicycle stunts, ran with a mob of little hooligans, all at the expense of my ill-fitting, uncomfortable clothes.
I didn’t know anything about gender wars or feminism or how I was supposed to look – I just was. In my preteen years, when boys held more than a passing interest, I recognized that I would rather be a boy than kiss one. I just couldn’t see what the appeal of being a girl was – painful hairdos, being told how unladylike I was and the insistence that I be quiet, be still, be invisible. I knew who had the power and it wasn’t girls. I became quiet and well-behaved, all the while daydreaming that I was the new sheriff in town, six guns a-blazing, with a wild West holler.
These days, it’s easier for girls to cross gender lines in terms of doing, but the expectations of how girls should look have such a long way to go. My daughter is going as Robin Hood for Halloween and wrote a sign to wear: “I am NOT Peter Pan”. She’s my hero.