My little girl is three and starting to notice all the differences between boys and girls. As with everything else, she is full of observations and questions. With the exception of the obvious physical differences, I try not to emphasize a lot of difference between boys and girls, but she notices. We read a book just the other day where there was a female farmer and she said “I though farmers were men”. No sweetheart, you can be a farmer if you want to, anyone can be a farmer. You can play in the dirt for the rest of your life if you want (although, if you are a farmer you might prefer I call it soil). In her three short years of life she is already picking up stereotypes that I try so hard not to teach her.
When we took her to a skate park to ride her bike she asked me why she was the only girl there. When I looked around the park it was full of young boys, teenage boys, and men, but no girls, surprisingly there were not even any high school girls just hanging out there. What do I tell her? Is it just because of the norms of our society or do girls genuinely not want to ride bikes and flip ollies on skateboards? I want to raise my little girl to know she can do whatever she wants; she can ride a bike at the skate park or be a princess in a make believe castle, or she can even be a skateboarding princess if she wants to. She doesn’t care right now that she is the only girl, it doesn’t faze her, but how do I help her hold onto that so that at age eight, or twelve, or sixteen she still doesn’t care if she is the only girl riding her bike at a skate park.
“Why don’t boys wear dresses?” good question, but what is the answer? Because our society has determined that girls can wear dresses but boys can’t? Is that why? Maybe I should look up the history on that one, but what answer can I give her today, right now? “Mom, can boys wear dresses?” Another good question from my always aware, always questioning three-year-old. Once again, I don’t have an answer because it isn’t black and white. I say sure, a boy can wear a dress if he wants to, but I know there are little boys who are told they can’t wear a dress, so what is the answer…yes some boys can, but others can’t? I always want to be honest, but some of these things are hard for me to understand so how do I explain them to a three-year-old?
When it comes to gender roles and our society, I often ask myself how do I teach my little girl to reach for the stars, her stars, not the stars society has deemed appropriate. How do I teach her she can be who she wants regardless of whether she is the only girl or one in a thousand? I want her to know that she can wear pink and play in the dirt or wear jeans and dance like a ballerina. I want her to enjoy life, her life, and not let others decide who she should be or how she should wear her hair. I want her to continue to put on her dresses in the morning and then tuck them into shorts in the afternoon when she rides her bike. This is what I want for her. I want her to see the world as open and full of opportunities, not limited by gender and stereotypes. This is what I want for her, I just need to figure out the answers to her questions today so that tomorrow she knows she can be whoever she wants to be and do whatever it is her little heart desires. And tomorrow, if she is comfortable being herself, maybe she can help find the answers to why there aren’t any girls at the skate park and why boys don’t wear dresses.