Dear Ms. Schank-
I have to admit that when I first saw your April 9th Opinionator post in The New York Times, titled: Parenting the Non-Girlie Girl, I was a little excited at first. As a grown, so called “tom boy” who never “grew out of it” I was hopeful that this would be an article about empowering your young daughter to be herself. I was hoping it would be a journey into your own self-analysis in which you had a realization that: Hey! I did great! She’s got a mind of her own full of likes, dislikes, and everything in between! I must have done something right!
Boy, was I disappointed.
A friend of mine, Kelly, described this as you making a pathology of your daughter’s identity: I agree, and quite frankly, it disturbs the shit out of me to see this in parenting topics. Particularly when it comes to gender norms and the way we, as a society raise girls. Did it not occur to you that Mario is perhaps not a “boy” thing? That Star Wars does not even require genitals to enjoy? I’m just throwing this out there, I admittedly don’t have girls. I have boys. Yet, my boys have never indicated that they can’t enjoy princesses and faeries. They don’t crinkle up their noses and “Eeeeew, that’s a girl thing!” Because for one thing, they, too, have minds of their own and for another, they don’t think “girl things” are bad, or somehow lesser than “boy things”, and finally, they were raised to be free to enjoy what they enjoy, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Hana, I really did like your piece, but you are doing what so many other parents do: you’re really over-thinking this whole thing. Your daughter isn’t the one with the problem with peer pressure- you are.
I understand not wanting her to feel limited by her gender, and I also get worrying that she’s only doing this to fit in: but we’ve all been there and most of us still came out of it our very own person: strong, independent, and outspoken. You are doing just fine, Hana, apart from worrying so much about the gender specifics of toys and gaming. I mean, that one, I got nothin’. I have never quite understood that, but I can tell you, if you’re looking to raise a strong woman: perhaps you’d like to reconsider the way you describe some toys. Certainly, the way you think about them.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The first happens to be my boys’ godmother, Eva. She looks pretty “girlie” doesn’t she?
I’ve, ah, also seen her, in combat boots and pants- baggy t shirt, farting for all she was worth while we laughed hysterically. I’m sure she appreciates my saying that.
Here’s their step-dad, Kurt. He looks pretty “manly”, right?
Well, quite frankly, he observes the rules of polite society and very rarely ever farts even in my presence. When he does, it’s a pretty big deal. Not that farting is the sort of gender division line, there, but you get the idea. He’ll also point out to me that he really needed a shave, and I shouldn’t have used this photo. Oh, well.
Now, I realize that your point wasn’t “OH MY GOD SHE LIKES BOY THINGS!”
I get that, which is why I felt compelled to address what you had to say. Because I am seeing this all over lately. Our kids have enough crap to deal with without us pick, pick, picking over what is actually, the simple process of growing up and into who they are. Enough is enough. And it isn’t that I don’t completely understand your fears about peer pressure- I do. However, I think my middle child probably has more to say to you about that than I would. He’s the one that was, for two years, pretty much constantly asked if he was a girl, when he was going to cut his hair, and continued to grow it out, anyway.
I’ve had a couple of conversations not unlike yours.
“Aidan, does it bother you when people think you’re a girl?”
“No. Why would it? Girls are awesome.”
And in that moment, though I have never really analyzed his choices or worried he might be trans (Which, frankly, I don’t think that’s something to worry about, anyway. They are who they are- and I support who they are, not who I envision them being one day. Who they are. Right here, right now- knowing it may in fact change or it may not.) or worried he might get confused, lose self esteem or whatever: I realized, I’m doing something right, here. He’d worked all of that out long before I could even address it and not only that, he worked it out in a positive way.
Your daughter is doing the same thing. There’s no need for you to worry so much or to make a pathology of her interest in “boy” things or to worry she’s caving to peer pressure.
Instead of feeling the pangs of failure over the fact that you couldn’t get her to learn to HAVE IT ALL, why not celebrate the fact that you have raised a strong woman with a mind of her own?
I know I would. I know my parents do.