Is it so wrong for my daughter to love her Barbie?
My first child was a boy. At my 20-week scan with baby number two, we discovered we were having a girl, and after a couple of years of boy clothes and toys – despite having some seriously lovely clothes and toys for my son – the temptation to go out and buy something unashamedly girlie was intense. But once I’d got a few pink items out of my system, I was quite determined that she wasn’t going to be a floaty pastel cliche of girldom. And whenever a family member would buy her a pink outfit or shoes, despite whether I liked it or not, I almost felt embarrassed putting her in it. It seemed so obvious and blatant and, well, standard. So I bought lots of yellow and denim and bright colours and prints and only the odd splash of pink if it was tasteful. And there was no chance her nursery was going to be painted in sugary rose-coloured hues.
Then there were the toys. At first I loved being able to buy dolls and My Little Ponies and glittery sparkly things – revelling in the nostalgia trip of harking back to the toys of my youth. But then I felt like I was somehow failing her, and should be widening her scope, keeping her world and opportunities open and making sure she knew that so-called ‘boys’ toys’ and activities were also OK for her to enjoy too. Perhaps part of this was a worry about being judged by other mothers, or making sure I was doing my bit as a modern mother in touch with feminism. Who knows? Whatever it was, I always felt like I couldn’t make her too girlie, that it wasn’t cool, that somehow maybe it would limit her to being ‘the weaker sex’ and that I needed to make sure I raised a feisty, clever, opinionated young woman who followed her dreams. Hell, we even named her after Lois Lane, hardly a wallflower.
Then I had a moment of weakness and took her to baby ballet – the tutu! – only to watch her get bored each week, disappointed that the ‘dancing’ I said we would be doing wasn’t the funky pop music or rock tracks that we dance to in the car. And I’ll never forget the sunny day I put her in a pink floral playsuit only to watch her cover herself head to toe in filth as she sat in a mound of dirt and started digging with her bare hands. She may have been wearing pink, but she certainly wasn’t a delicate creature.
But here’s the thing. My daughter is two. Could it be possible that I was getting slightly ahead of myself and taking myself too seriously? Wasn’t there still plenty of time for her to form her identity and develop her own path and make her own choices and work out what she wants and who she is to become? Yes, identity formation begins at a young age, but therein lies the crux of this – it BEGINS here. The ‘who we are’ journey starts in childhood and evolves. Giving her a Barbie at two isn’t dooming her to a life of frills and subservience, surely?
We are surrounded by ball-breaking, game-changing women like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Arianna Huffington (and I’ll bet at least one of them owned a Barbie or once wore fairy wings as a child). Being female or feminine is not weak anymore, so why is pink getting such a bad reputation for our daughters? Girl power is everywhere – Beyonce reckons we run the world. But what about boy power? We laugh and are proud when our daughters are tomboys climbing trees with their brothers, but how do we feel when their brothers want to wear a princess dress or play with a doll? These are children who want to play. That is all. Let’s stop judging each other (and ourselves) and just let them be children before they grow up too fast.
I treated my kids to a magazine this week and let them have their pick. My son chose a Spider-Man comic that came with a motorbike toy and my daughter selected a magazine that – I kid you not – is actually called Pink. It was so pink even Barbie would have felt nauseous. It came with a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses, a bejewelled camera and a fan with kittens on it. All in, you guessed it, pink. I asked my son why he picked that particular magazine. He said because he likes Spider-Man and the motorbike. ‘Is it a boy magazine?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘But boys like superheroes so boys would like it,’ he added. ‘Do girls like superheroes too?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he said. I asked my daughter about her magazine and said ‘It’s very pink isn’t it? What colour do you think girls like?’ Her answer? Blue. There really was nothing scientific or groundbreaking happening here, they just picked the magazine that most appealed to them. And that’s fine.
Interestingly, my daughter has got to this ripe old age of two – surrounded by her brother’s ‘boy toys’ and boisterousness and love of yelling and climbing, and with her mother’s underlying pink-panic and provision of gender-neutral clothing – and still has become (so far) quite a girlie girl in many aspects. She loves the colour pink and anything that sparkles or flutters or shines. Her favourite toys at nursery, I’ve been told, are the baby dolls and the home corner, and she loves to look after people and play doctors and flick through her Frozen book with her Barbie by her side.
And so the mini revelation came about – what was my problem with pink? Why can’t my daughter love pink and sparkle and still kick ass? Why should what she wears (whether dressed by me or when she eventually chooses her own outfits) determine her personality or strength of character? Her values, her opinions or her beliefs? She still has the opportunity to play with her brother’s traditionally non-girlie toys (current favourites, much to Big Bro’s dismay, are his Captain America and treasured red aeroplane), and actually trying to stop her from playing with girls’ toys is exclusive and limiting in itself, however worthy the cause.
As we wrote in a recent Style Bird feature, No More Stereotypes!, we’d prefer it if there were less pigeonholing and more opportunities for free play without barriers. Kids should just be allowed to play with and wear whatever they choose (kitchen knives and electric drills aside). Why are we trying to direct them so much? But while we’re trying not to direct them straight to the pink or blue aisle, neither should we be pushing them away from it because of some kind of middle-class anti-feminist panic attack. If the kid likes blue, let them wear blue. If the kid wants the glittery pink doll, let them have it. IT’S GOING TO BE OK.
So I’m going to ditch the glitter guilt, and I’m going to get over the pink panic. My daughter is already finding her own way without me wading in with any gender-neutral good intentions. She’s feisty and loud and clever and bossy and loves to climb and kick and run and has a mean right hook. She loves Superman and fast rides and mud. She also loves kittens and babies and ribbons and bows and Elsa and ponies and her tutu and fairy wand. If she wants to play with the girls’ stuff, why shouldn’t she? As parents, we need to make sure our moral high ground and judgements and fears and discriminations don’t overcomplicate the simplicity of childhood and our children’s right to play and discover. Our role is to encourage and inspire, to answer questions and motivate them. We should be helping them find the wonder in things. Whatever colour they might be.
Tales From The Nest
As discussed in 10 Things Kids Love That Parents Hate Part 1, we do a lot of things to keep our offspring happy (and give us a precious half an hour to trawl Instagram, er, clean the house and get the dinner on). Keeping the young'uns amused and busy with any engrossing activity that tears them away from their best friend The iPad for a few moments makes us feel good about parenting. Plus look at that happy little face! So why wouldn't we want to provide them with things that make them smile? Because some of those things make life for us Hell On Earth. That's why...
Sadly, the things that bring our kids joy just... don't do it for us
My first child was a boy. At my 20-week scan with baby number two, we discovered we were having a girl, and after a couple of years of boy clothes and toys - despite having some seriously lovely clothes and toys for my son - the temptation to go out and buy something unashamedly girlie was intense. But once I'd got a few pink items out of my system, I was quite determined that she wasn't going to be a floaty pastel cliche of girldom. And whenever a family member would buy her a pink outfit or shoes, despite whether I liked it or not, I almost felt embarrassed putting her in it. It seemed so obvious and blatant and, well, standard
... from holidaying with the kids. As we've just returned from a nine-day break in the South of France with our two Small Ones, I thought I'd scare, er, share with you the valuable insights I've gleaned from our little jaunt. Sharing is caring, after all, and if it allows you to feel more prepared for your own holiday en famille - or at the very least provides you with the reassurance that it's Not Just You - then my work here is done.