I didn’t grow up around too many girls. In elementary school, I mostly observed from afar. They seemed to curse at and hit each other less than us boys did. The rest was a bit of a mystery. I know now that they were just kids like I was, but at the time, they might as well have been from Mars.
When my daughter was born, I didn’t feel fully prepared for all I assumed would come with raising a female Like most new dads, I approached all of our early interactions as if I was in a 1990s fish-out-of-water comedy. Pick out a dress? Buy a dollie? Put her hair in a ponytail? Ay caramba! What a predicament!
Of course, that silliness only works for a little while before you realize that all of those things aren’t really all that difficult. It takes repetition and practice, but soon enough I was slinging her hair into a scrunchie with one foul swoop and understanding what “capri pants” were.
The fact that Olivia is a girl rarely crosses my mind. She’s my wacky kid who would have the same sense of humor and creative spark no matter her gender. It’s simply not a major factor in who she is to me as a person. That’s the reason for my shocked reaction when, during a TV show, she made an unexpected statement about space exploration.
That’s for boys. Girls can’t be astronauts.
What?! Who said that?
I don’t know. They just can’t.
It was such a weird feeling because I hadn’t thought about this conversation before that moment. I hadn’t planned on what I would say. I never even vetted my own opinions on it. All I know is that I had a strong opinion that suddenly came tumbling out.
Don’t believe that, Olivia. Girls can be astronauts. Girls can be anything they want. If a boy can do it, a girl can do it. In many cases, they could be even better. Same thing the other way. If a girl can do it, a boy can do it. What’s so special about a boy that they can be astronauts but you can’t? You’re awesome and you can do anything.
She nodded and digested my words, but I wasn’t sure if she realized how strongly I felt about it all. After all, I hadn’t even realized how strongly I felt about it all until just a minute earlier.
As a kid, I remember being told the opposite of all this. For boys, there were certain toys that we were supposed to play with and certain toys we weren’t. I’d find myself at a friend’s house, among his sister’s dolls, feeling as though I was in another dimension. The plastic pieces were pink. The Barbies had stringy hair. The dolls all felt like pillows. Coming from a world of He-Man swords, Dukes of Hazard stunt cars, and rubber wrestling figures that could give you a concussion with one mistimed toss, it was like being in another world.
Truth be told, outside of a Cabbage Patch Kid when I was eight, there were few “girl” toys that I wanted to play with anyway. Then again, the same could be said about some “boy” toys too. I had my likes and my dislikes. They weren’t based on whether they were pink, blue, or smelled like strawberries. Like Mr. Rogers would sing, there was only one me. I was unique and special. Everyone knew that.
Well, until it came to toys, jobs, clothes, and anything else that the generations before me had already divided down the middle. Even though I never felt the desire to play with a Rainbow Brite, I always found it odd that I was told I couldn’t if I wanted to. I remember asking a teacher why and hearing a bizarre answer from an ironic source.
Because boys don’t like those toys.
The fact that a middle aged woman said that sentence to an actual boy speaks volumes. What right does someone have to tell someone else what to like anyway? Those who complain about how “parents today” micromanage their kids too much tend to skip over that fact about parents from yesterday. If making certain toys off-limits based on nothing more than the color of the box isn’t micromanagement of your kids, then I don’t know what is.
Allowing your child to choose what they want goes both ways. Just as you don’t push them towards the gender-norms, you don’t push against them either. A few weeks back, Olivia asked for a Playmobile toy. They’re basically little Lego-like figures that she fell in love with after watching a deranged woman on Youtube spend hours unwrapping packages of them. The toys come in either pink or blue bags. She had a strong opinion.
I want the girl one, not the boy one.
The boy ones are weird. They have like monsters and stuff.
You know what I said?
That’s a big misconception people have about allowing your child to choose their own adventures in life. I’m not saying girls should shun traditional “girly” things. Someone who might sneer about “women’s lib” might also believe that I would be disappointed if my daughter one day becomes a housewife in a bright pink house with a dog named Mr. Poopkins. Nope. If that’s what she wanted, I wouldn’t. That’s the whole point.
The fact that I want Olivia to pick her path means just that. I don’t want any limitations on her choices. Even if she picks every form of entertainment made exclusively “for women”, I want her to know that the other options are open to her. She will become who she becomes because that’s who she’s meant to be, not because her choices were limited.
To put it plainly, she doesn’t have to become a construction worker, but no one better tell her she can’t be one if she wants to.
It doesn’t matter whether a boy wants to cradle a doll or not. It doesn’t matter if a girl wants to play with a toy truck or not. It’s about making sure they know that the options are there either way. Our hang-ups shouldn’t stunt creativity for a new generation. It’s our job to raise a world of people who will accomplish the impossible. All we have to do is let them know that, if they want to, they can.