I have been having some anxiety about how to raise my daughter. I didn’t have this kind of anxiety with my son, because the truth is, he was born into a privileged gender. I do worry about what kind of man he will be and I try to teach him independence and to foster a love of education and a respect for women, but as a woman, I know that raising a girl is so much more different. Not only do I have to foster these same traits into her, I also have to worry about body image issues and harassment.
I was a “tomboy” as a kid. I was a super competitive tomboy out to prove that I could do the same things a boy can do (particularly my brother) and I could do it better. Sure enough in sports, I was better than my brother. I was a typical tomboy at a young age, running around with unbrushed, stringy hair, climbing trees, playing ball with the neighborhood boys. I didn’t care about girly things at all and am still not an uber girly girl. At a certain point, I did start to get a little girlier, particularly when I started maturing and noticing boys. I did start wearing some makeup and I did start to take a closer look at myself and started noticing where I could make some improvements, but I still wasn’t a too girly girl. In truth, I’ve never been into fashion and makeup and I really only fix myself up for special occasions. It isn’t rare to see me with my head in the engine bay of a car because it needed to be fixed, or with a hammer and screwdriver in hand working on some home remodeling. I’m not the type of person that believes that I am limited in what I can do because of my gender, and that is what I want for my daughter.
In a conversation recently, I mentioned to people that I played softball as a kid up until my teenage years. We were talking about kids activities and I brought up my experience with kids sports as a way of explaining what kind of a time commitment is needed when enrolling your kids in a sports program. Someone burst out with, “wait, you played softball and you’re not a lesbian?!” Yes, I played softball (and was really good at it!) and played volleyball, and I can fix a car, and I was a cheerleader, and I wore makeup and got asked to every prom and homecoming dance my school had. And I loved boys (maybe too much).
That comment really took me back some, because it reminded me what life was like as a young girl. It reminded me of the bullying and the sexual harassment I underwent by my male classmates because I was a girl. It reminded me of how the boys at school always treated the girls as if they were less than instead of their equals and the entitlement they felt to try to do whatever they wanted. It reminded me how truly horrible it was to grow up as a girl in a gendered environment. As much as I would like to say that I didn’t care about how I was treated, it still did affect me in how I saw myself and how I approached relationships.
I would like to think that society has started to move past this mindset; that my generation is teaching their kids gender equality so that this gendered hierarchy in schools and at the playground isn’t as apparent. I hope that my daughter doesn’t have to suffer through the same type of harassment I did and can enjoy not only being a girl but doing the things she loves without having to hide out of fear of being bullied at school. And most importantly, I hope she isn’t forced to grow up before her time because her body is developing at a more rapid pace than her mind is.
I truly am starting to get a lot of anxiety at the thought of raising a girl because this society we live in is not easy on girls. There is so much pressure on them to look a certain way, to have a certain body type and to act a certain way. I was lucky in the sense that in many ways, I just didn’t care what people thought, even when my cheerleading coach told me that at 5’6″ and 130 pounds that I was overweight and needed to go on a diet. Even when I was told as a teenager that girls who played softball were all lesbians when that obviously isn’t the case. These remarks may not have affected me in the sense that I changed myself to fit others perceptions, but that may not be true for my daughter and I don’t want her to ever feel as if she ever has to limit herself because of what some jerk says to her. I also don’t want my son to treat her as if she has limitations because she’s a girl. I want both my children to be raised knowing that there are no gender limitations to what they are capable of.
“And so it’s my responsibility to teach her that being a girl isn’t just about dolls and princesses, but also soccer, and rock climbing, and science and math. It’s about being true to herself and following her passion — whether that leads her to the red carpet or the basketball court.”