I was a girl who loved to climb trees. A girl who wore pants every day. A girl who played with Barbies and GI Joe’s. My best friend was a boy for many years and I didn’t care about pink, glitter, or rainbows. I don’t know if I was a tomboy – don’t you have to be good at sports for that designation? – but I was not a girly girl by any means. I was just me.
Thea, my 5 year-old-daughter is a glitter queen. Her life cannot contain enough pink or rainbows. Life is better if she is wearing a tutu skirt, her hair done, and preferably a snazzy shoe. This is the kid that refused to wear jeans for 2 years because “Girls don’t wear jeans, mom!” We didn’t make her this way, she just is her.
Thea has been fully living the girly girl stereotype since she started talking. Throwing fits when she didn’t like her clothes, telling me how she wanted her hair done. Playing princess, rockstar, and fairy. Wishing for a pink bedroom when she had the choice and picking out a Barbie backpack for 4K. There was one Halloween when she picked a Buzz Lightyear costume, but otherwise it has been anything cute and maybe even pink. And I feel so guilty. After all, according to experts I am enabling her to think that this is how girls should act, that they should be cute, that they should be giggly, that they should love pink above all else. That they can’t be tough or fighters in life. I should be introducing gender neutral toys, clothing in all colors, and emphasizing her toughness and her smarts, not her cuteness. And I have and she laughs and refuses to play with the toys, refuses to wear the clothes, and tells me she looks cute.
Yet, I am not worried. Thea may be the living embodiment of gender stereotyping in girls, but she is also tough, she also loves to run and play Ninja Turtles, she wants to be a Power Ranger when she grows up (the pink one of course), and she doesn’t see her girlyness as limiting herself in any way. In her eyes she can be a “karate girl” while wearing a pink tutu. In her eyes she can conquer the world wearing sparkly shoes. I may be worried about the stereotype she embodies, but Thea? She doesn’t have a care in the world about it, she is just being her, and she is happy with that. So I should be too. Perhaps wearing a rainbow hat is not a way of showing you are the weaker sex but rather that the world needs more color. Perhaps insisting on a tutu skirt is not saying you want to be a princess but rather that life is an occasion to celebrate. Perhaps we shouldn’t read as much into what our children do and instead just embrace who they are. I know I will.
I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.