Having the responsibility of raising a seven year old has made me hyper aware of how gender roles are portrayed to little girls. Have you been to the girls section of a clothing store lately? I dare you to find non pink or purple clothes, maybe some jeans without sparkles, how about some plain old tennis shoes? Than there are the sexually inappropriate clothes, the tight jean skirt, low cut tank top, or sexy pants. What are we telling these girls?
I am also overwhelmed with Disney Princesses, and I LOVE Belle. I am a HUGE supporter of going to Disneyland, watching Disney movies and occasionally playing with dolls, but I do not want Ashley's world view to be shaped with the idea of happiness coming in the form of a princess. We have been struggling to find appropriate television that she is in to. So many Disney channel shows portray young girls who are a. mean b. disrespectful c. only want to find love d. all of the above. WHAT ARE WE TELLING YOUNG GIRLS??????
Where is their Punky Power? When I was Ashley's age, I loved princesses. I adored Sleeping Beauty, and I also played with Barbies. However, Nicole and I also solved mysteries like Nancy Drew, or had incredible adventures in which we were the hero's. I have no memory of us playing house. Our dolls served as villains and foes or friends in our epic quest. I was obsessed with Strawberry Shortcake, whose main message was that you can do anything if you work with you friends to accomplish it. Nicole loved Miss Piggy, who fought her way to respect, but still wore fabulous clothes.
My bike was pink, but we would still crash into one another while trying to recreate Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (not a game I recommend, Nicole broke several bones in our many attempts to make this ride happen) On TV I not only watched Punky, but Rudy on the Cosby show, and Sam on Whose the Boss? Rudy went out and played football and Sam could fight the boys. Growing up a decade after the feminist movement, I was surrounded by messages of strong women and girls, who assured me all options were open.
I wore girly clothes, but I also had jeans and a tshirt. Most importantly, not everything I owned was branded with the face of a princess or cartoon. Nicole and I had matching Cabbage Patch Kid outfits and that is the extinct of my character wear. Also, my clothes did not look like mini versions of my teenage sisters outfits. They were specifically designed to play in.
In the past few weeks, I have realized how lucky I was to go through adolescence during the Grunge period. I could wear my cute plaid skirt with some tights and my Doc Martins, or a flannel, a tshirt and some birkenstocks. I don't remember the obsession over clothes that my student's display, perhaps other girls did it, but my friends and I spent the summer with our hair in ponytails, soccer shorts, tshirts or tank tops and adidas sandals.
I don't remember thinking about gender roles when I was a child, but Ashley is very aware of them. She will ask me questions about what boys and girls can or can't do. The other day, she wore her pink Packer jersey to school and a boy told her not to wear because girls don't play football. When I told her that I knew two girls who played varsity football at our high school, she replied she would rather be a princess. Now I don't want her to play football if she doesn't want to, but I also want her to feel empowered. The other day she pointed out that a lot of "stars" have babies, "having a baby makes you popular" is what another girl told her on the playground. People they are SEVEN.
So, I will continue to enjoy a princess song, but interject some other influences. I want her to know that the world is open to her and that she defines what her gender role is. Whether she wears pink or blue, plays football or is a cheerleader, is a stay at home mom or a teacher like she says she wants to be, I want her to be able to say that all options were open to her and she kicked open the door she wanted. Maybe by the time she goes to prom, it will once again be cool to wear your Doc Martins with your dress? One can hope....