Last night we went out for a raucous night of pizza and candlepin bowling with some friends. There was an extremely talented balloon animal artiste named Jungle Jim who was going table to table making balloon animals for the kids. This guy could make anything. Clio requested a ladybug, Elsa wanted a pink and purple unicorn with heart on his horn (?!), and our friends’ daughter Marlie wanted a butterfly. Done, done (?!) and done.
A little while later, a six- or seven-year-old boy from a nearby table came over to our table, brandishing his balloon creation. “I have a dragon!” he said. “What do you have?”
“I have a unicorn with a heart on its horn!” Elsa told him with her trademark enthusiasm. “And my sister has a ladybug and my friend Marlie has a butterfly!”
“Boring!” the boy said — in a very rehearsed sort of way. And retreated to his table.
Elsa told me what had transpired, even though I’d heard the whole thing. And we agreed that it wasn’t very nice of the boy to say that. I told Elsa that she could to go over and tell the boy that if she felt like it. (I guess I was feeling confrontational.)
She did, and reported back: “He said girls like girl stuff, and boys like boy stuff. And dragons are boy stuff.”
“That’s not true,” I said. “Girls can like whatever they want to like, and boys can like whatever they want to like. You like dragons. You were one for Halloween last year, remember?”
And she was almost one this past year again — she LOVED her dragon costume — until at the last minute she changed gears and wanted to be a princess instead. (Last night, in fact, she wore her princess dress to the bowling alley, complete with fairy wings and a paper crown, declaring herself “queen of the princess fairies.”)
At bedtime, “girl stuff” came up again, when I was talking about maybe trying to get or make some simple bed tents/canopies in lieu of the structurally impossible pillow and blanket forts they are constantly requesting that we make around their heads.
Elsa said she wanted princesses and hearts and unicorns on hers. Clio had initially said outer space, but quickly added “with unicorns and hearts and princesses” after Elsa described what she wanted.
I couldn’t help myself. “So, why do you guys like princesses so much?” I asked it in a neutral, non-judgmental way, I swear. At least, I tried.
Elsa’s answer was swift: “Because [Name of girl in their preschool] does.”
Look, I’m not an anti-princess / girly-girl culture crusader or anything. I don’t think girls who like pink or Barbies or Disney Princesses are necessarily going to grow up to be disempowered doormats. I like to think that strong female role models (me, for one!) trump that. But I don’t want my daughters to feel like they HAVE to like or dislike certain stuff just because their female playmates do. Or because their male playmates tell them that they can’t like dragons or trucks or whatever because it’s boys’ stuff.
I fear that on some level it’s inevitable. This stuff is so deeply ingrained in our culture. And I suspect that some of it is hardwired into us as human beings. I’m just so sad about the “girls like X, boys like Y” talk that has been creeping into our home over the past few months. (And last night’s conversation wasn’t the first on the topic.)
I love that Elsa wanted tools for Christmas AND new clothes for her baby doll. I love that Clio wanted Littlest Pet Shop stuff AND a remote control robot.
And I plan to keep telling them, as often and as affirmatively as I can manage without being overbearing, that they shouldn’t worry about what’s girls’ stuff or boys’ stuff. They should enjoy an embrace THEIR stuff — whatever it may be.
But am I fighting a losing battle?
PS – As the title suggests, I just ordered Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Never thought I’d need it. But maybe I do.
DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins and battling depression (among other things) is now available for pre-order!