I originally wrote this for XOJane in 2015… XO Jane is now gone and so is the link so I am reposting here.
“Good thing you put a bow on her head, so we know she’s a girl.”
A good friend sent me this text as a joke after seeing a photo of my daughter wearing a tiny silver headband with a bow on it.
This friend knows me incredibly well. She knows that most of my baby’s things are not specifically gendered. She knows our nursery is outer space themed: blue and gray with robots. She knows earlier that week she’d met us in the park where my one-month-old was rocking a Captain America onesie. (My daughter also has several Batman and Superman onesies — and Wonder Woman, obviously.)
But despite my friend knowing we’re just as likely to put our kid in a t-ball uniform as in a tutu, the joke bothered me. I suddenly felt ashamed of putting a bow on my daughter’s head. It was as if all my progressive, feminist street cred was choked out of me with the twist of a shiny ribbon. My gut reaction was to respond quickly (and truthfully), “This is the first time we’ve ever put a bow on her.”
I was about to hit send on this disclaimer text when I had an epiphany: I was feeling embarrassed because I put my daughter in something feminine, because feminine means frivolous and silly. This is NOT OK.
Society teaches us boy stuff is awesome and girl stuff sucks, even for girls.
It’s awesome when my little girl is dressed like Batman or a dinosaur, but why isn’t it just as awesome when she’s dressed like a ballerina? And how did I somehow fall into this way of thinking?
I grew up as a little girl who liked to climb trees while wearing frilly dresses. I’d say that is still a fair description of who I am today. I am feminine in so many stereotypical ways: I love shoes and make-up and getting my nails done is one of my favorite forms of “me time.” But these are things that I feel the need to justify. I find myself adding disclaimers and pointing out the ways in which I am not as traditionally femme: I’m a comedy writer. I know how to change a tire. I’m a lesbian.
But why can’t I just be a woman who kicks ass? Or better yet, a person who is a whole complex being, and as such has a blend of masculine and feminine qualities? To be human is to have a mix of traits and the faster we acknowledge that we aren’t cardboard cutouts predetermined by the way we pee, the better off society will be.
Yet here I was ready to begin subtle coding on my one month old, apologizing for girlhood, womanhood, and femininity. “Cool girls” like boy stuff. “Cool girls” don’t wear bows. Girl stuff is silly.
Screw that. Femininity is not less than masculinity. It is a different kind of strength, but it is powerful and wonderful and deserves our respect. And that respect is way, way overdue. Why do we associate weakness with wearing lipstick? Didn’t lipstick-wearing women do the tough task of giving birth to and raising many of us? Weren’t suffragettes rocking high heels when they fought for, and won, our right to vote? Wasn’t Rosa Parks in a skirt when she became the catalyst for a civil rights movement? There is nothing fragile about feminine power.
Now, I’m not saying I’m suddenly going to cover my daughter in pink and bows. It grosses me out when people pretend like it’s shocking for a girl to be in blue or for a boy to snuggle his baby doll. Women are often still forced into femininity and trapped by it. We need the extra push and support when we do things that don’t fall in line with gender expectations. I love a woman who defies stereotypes and I hope my little girl has a thousand more women like Janelle Monae to look up to. Luckily, my wife, her mama, is one of those role models: a comic book illustrator working in the very male world of superheroes.
We don’t want our kid to feel confined by her sex, or societies expectations for gender roles. My wife and I have no idea at this point how she will identify later, but I want to make sure that as we present the world to our daughter it’s a world of “and,” not a world of “or.”
She is allowed to love sports AND fashion. She can spend her allowance at Game Stop AND Sephora. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that in order to be thought of as intelligent or treated as well as “one of the boys” she has to turn up her nose at anything “girl.” Or that girls who are smart and love to read can’t also want to be cheerleaders or love cute, fluffy things.
I want my child to grow up with no concept that any door could, or should, be closed to her. I want her to feel entitled to walk into any room and enjoy anything she wants to enjoy, but I am suddenly aware that needs to include pink rooms, too.