It pisses me off that toys are separated into “boys” and “girls.” Not all toys, I suppose. Puzzles usually have “boy” or “girl” themes but the puzzle itself isn’t considered to be “boy” or “girl.” But if anyone is at all unsure if gender is indeed a social construct, visit the toy department of any store or drive through McDonald’s and order a happy meal. The latter galls me so much that I’m liable to go off on the next McDonald’s employee that asks me if I want the “boy” or “girl” toy. And for me, going off looks more like the socratic method than an episode of Jerry Springer.
Perhaps this wouldn’t bother me so much if my child wasn’t such a feminist. And yes, 4 year olds can be feminists. She doesn’t care about pretty ponies or dolls. She has nothing but the purest love for cars, robots, etc. Her favorite color is blue, not pink. So, you see the problem.
My daughter is not a tomboy. She is a girl. I never thought that assertion would be an act of will but it is because my daughter thinks her gender is defined by what she likes. She likes to pretend that she’s Spiderman. Spiderman is a boy. Therefore she must be a boy too. The other day she asked me if it was possible to be a girl sometimes and a boy other times.
This isn’t a matter of sexual orientation or being transgender. Not that I would have a problem with either of those. This is only about hobbies and interests. Because if she were a boy she wouldn’t fit into that box any better. Because she likes wearing her hair long, painting her nails, and wearing dresses.
Now, we live in a neighborhood that has a lot of traditional Muslim families. It’s not unusual to see women covered head to toe in black, speaking Arabic. One day, while waiting for the public school to open its doors, I witnessed something. The kids were running around on the grass while the parents stood on the sidewalk. My daughter had quickly made friends with a little boy and was chasing him. But a little Muslim girl was exasperatedly chasing them, screaming, “You’re a girl! You’re supposed to play with me!” My daughter didn’t seem to notice and eventually the other girl got tired of running after them.
I was in college by the time I first experienced sexism and I realize how lucky I was. Before then, I never got the message that being a girl meant I couldn’t do certain things, that I wouldn’t be good at certain things. Because I was good at math. I loved math so much, and it was such a big part of my identity that I knew (without asking anyone) that I had as much of a claim on intelligence as anybody else. I knew that I was as capable as anyone else. I imagine that sense of self-worth wasn’t about mathematics per se. It was about self-acceptance and validation.
So, when my girl has conflicting emotions about being a girl I can’t help but wonder if I’ve failed her. If we as a society are failing her. Of course, there’s no science to parenting. It’s so hard because much of it is subjective and/or trial and error. But shouldn’t we have evolved passed “boy” and “girl” toys? “Boy” and “girl” colors? Aren’t we just teaching our kids bad habits that they’ll have to unlearn later in life? Because nobody fits completely into one box. Not to mention, drawing conclusions about a person based on their gender is a slippery slope. There’s a word for these sort of assumptions and it’s called prejudice.