Monday, January 14, 2008

Girl at Work (or, musings of a feminist mom in a personality-smothering world)

For a while now Autumn has been begging us for her very own tool kit, so when I found this on sale for $20 after Christmas--at Joann Fabrics, of all places--I had to pick it up for her. It came with tons of realistic looking tools, nuts, bolts, a vest, hard hat and tool belt, and even a length of caution tape. One thing she asked for that wasn't in the kit were pieces of wood to work on, so I covered some scrap cardboard with wood grain contact paper. Autumn was thrilled and she is now hard at work in the kitchen, hammering and sawing away.

CAUTION: This is the part of the blog post where I go off on a tangent that has little to do with the original topic.If you haven't figured it out, Autumn isn't exactly a typical 4-year-old girl. She'd much rather build something or visit the science museum than play with Barbie dolls or wear a princess costume. She likes superheroes, dragons, pirates and sharks, while her female cousins prefer Cinderella, jewelry and tea parties. We try hard not to push gender roles and stereotypes on her, and let her decide on her own what she is interested in. She often chooses, with no prompting from us, what most would consider "boy" things, and to the dismay of some family members we have done nothing to discourage her.

She does like some "girly" things. She doesn't own any Barbies (instead she plays with her mommy-approved Groovy Girl) but loves Barbie movies, in which Barbie always plays a strong, confident role and saves the day. The one Disney princess she seems interested in is Ariel from The Little Mermaid. On last summer's Florida vacation Adam's mother signed all of the girls (Autumn and three cousins) up for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a beauty parlor where they would receive Disney princess makeovers complete with hair, makeup, a costume and photo shoot, without my knowledge. By the time I found out it had already been paid for, so I didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. My little tomboy was going to be slathered with shimmer and lip gloss. I had to grit my teeth and remind myself that if I want to be a truly open minded parent I needed to let Autumn give it a try and decide for herself. When the makeover day came each girl got to choose which princess they'd like to look like, and Autumn chose the Ariel makeover. She was whisked away by her "fairy godmothers" and primped, polished, glittered and fluffed for the next hour or so. About halfway through I actually had to step outside and cry, but in front of her I tried my best to be enthusiastic. By the time the godmothers were done with her my little girl had been transformed from thisto this.Oh. My. God. Can you say pageant queen? I think someone hid my kid in a broom closet somewhere and replaced her with this Bedazzled tiny person. Well, she had a lot of fun being Ariel for the day and still likes to wear the costume (sans makeup and body glitter), but despite my fears she is still the same old Autumn. I will admit that she did look cute, in a slightly horrifying way. If she chose eyeshadow and tiaras over foam swords and pirate hats I certainly wouldn't love her any less, but I am glad that she's the way she is.

We are feminist parents. Unfortunately, for most people this is a dirty word that conjures up images of angry, bra-burning, man-hating, hairy women who want to take over the world. But I can guarantee that this is definitely not the case. I shave my legs and wear skirts. I love and respect the men in my life. I have never once used the word "womyn." I believe in true equality. I believe in respect for both sexes. I believe in equal treatment in schools. I am against forcing children into gender roles and snuffing out their true identities. I am against the objectification and dumbing down of women in our society. I want my girl to grow up knowing that it's okay to be true to herself and ignore the status quo. I want her to feel confident and empowered and respected as an individual. Sadly I know that this will get harder as she grows older. All we can do is try our best and send her out into the world with our values instilled in her and hope that it sticks.

6 comments:

capello said...

she looks a little nervous in her ariel costume.

really -- her wanting to build stuff and do "boy" things totally rocks. who wants a child - of any gender - obsessed with make-up and being prim and promer instead of a child who's creative and not afraid of pushing the boundaries?

Faye said...

Gee Xan, tell us how you really feel.

Andreanna said...

At 4 my mother wasn't pushing gender roles on me either. I had legos and an enviable amount of hot wheels including the hot wheels city (when I tell my husband this he is green with envy). She did start trying to get me to be more girly as I got older but failed.

franknotes said...

Bravo! That's exactly how I plan to raise my child/ren. There's a great book (British I believe) I read during my graduate studies (gender, feminism, and sexuality) written by a sociologist who tried raising her daughter gender-neutral. It turned out much like the book about trying not to buy Chinese-made goods. But it was very insightful.

Keep up the good fight!

Karen Beth said...

What a cute toolbox set and such a great thing for a little girl to have! It really tells her that she can do ANYTHING! Love it!

BumbleVee said...

Not to worry.....
My sisters and I were total tomboys too...we had all the hot wheels, built a maze of dirt roads in our white trash yard and made huge forts ... pushed around derelict cars..... monkey wrenched on them as we grew older... had jobs that only the guys were doing in those days...but,, we "clean up" pretty good when we have to. One of my sisters was runner up to Miss Canada back in the day...

I am happy to report that now, I can ride a motorcycle or make a double chocolate zuccotto with ease. I can hammer along with the best and have been part of the renovations in this house for 20 years. I golf, work out, am an archer and yet can stitch up or needle felt tiny bears or cloth dolls. I do regret not learning to sew with a machine much earlier in life...like before last year! hahah... my only regret.

I am betting she will be a well rounded individual and have plenty of stories to tell.