Category Archives: Life with girls

Everyday sexism, preschool edition

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So today Thing 1 was excitedly telling a story to some daycare teachers.  She often does this. Today we saw a snail on the way to get in the car to go to daycare. It was crawling along doing the snail thing. It was exciting for kids (as she often refers to herself in the third person). So Thing 1 launched into a charming story about how the snail was going to turn us into zombies, but we would be safe in the car, but then the zombies would get us anyhow. I know, being involved in the things she watches and sees, that this story is part based on her imagination, but part based on an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. Anyhow, we go to daycare and are dropping Thing 2 off in her area, and Thing 1 launches into a modified story about how we saw a snail and it was going to bite us and turn us into zombies and so on and one of the daycare teachers asked her if the older boys had come up with that idea.  Thing 1 said no and continued talking about it,  but I was pretty annoyed and not even sure how to respond. Girl has inventive idea, so it must have come from a boy? What? I feel like I’m being a little alarmist, but on the other hand, I found the daycare teacher’s response more than a little discomfiting. I often put up with sexism in some situations (because it’s just easier than arguing-for example the inlaws are coming to visit and I know I’m going to be sitting in the back seat so that my father in law can sit in the front- whilst my husband drives because the rental car is in his name-because FIL’s manhood gets threatened over stupid shit. I just look at me having to sit in the back so he can sit in the front as my father in law’s stupid insecurity, not as sexism. Though it totally is. Rationalization ahoy!), but I don’t want it ingrained in my kids. I want to be able to address unfair assumptions aimed at them. I still feel like I’m having an overreaction, but on the other hand I wish I had said something. Argh.

I mostly like the daycare, though I like the baby side (where Thing 2 hangs out and where this incident happened) somewhat less. I considered pulling Thing 2 out and finding her a different carer for a few months after I went back to work for assorted reasons. I have certainly seen other incidences of baby variety sexism from the teachers on that side. Teachers telling the boys not to hit girls rather than a generic don’t hit and so on.  I know my girl is a beast and will hit other babies. She doesn’t need any excuses made for her, she needs to grow out of it and learn not to do it. Part of me wants to feel like it doesn’t matter because the kids are under two years old, not particularly verbal, and not really cognizant of societal issues, but it does rub me the wrong way to hear things like that. I think a big problem is I’m not sure how to address it with the teachers, if at all. Let it slide because the kids are too little to know, address it and come off as a crazy bitch, what?  I’m glad I haven’t seen any of that sort of thing from Thing 1’s teachers or I really would have to step in.

I’m fortunate that I can be picky about daycare to some extent, so I guess this will go on the list of things to look out for in our next daycare. Gender equality? Check.

She’s going to have a hard time.

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My eldest daughter often comes out with statements like “I like boys”, and “I don’t like girls”, and “all my friends are boys”. She’s three for reference. There is very little if any internalized (or otherwise) misogyny in our house, and she loves princesses and mermaids and skirts and shoes and other traditionally girly pursuits so I’ve been trying to figure out where this attitude comes from. I was hesitant at first to go down the pink and purple rabbit hole of having a girl, and honestly I still drag my feet on some designs and accoutrements, but I do accommodate her desire for pretty things. Seems a little early to be feeling down on the female gender.

We had some struggle initially, thanks to the failure of children’s book writers, getting her to understand that she was a girl and not a boy, but she seems happy to be a girl now. She also likes having a sister, and has requested that any future babies also be sisters (though she wants them to be black, as in the colour, not the colloquial term for racial characteristics, so who knows). It’s not coming from home, so this has to be coming from daycare. I have also noticed that other little girls at daycare are interested in her, greeting her and wanting to play with her, but when she talks about other kids at daycare, she talks about the boys. I think that it’s simply that the things she likes to do are the things that some of the boys like to do as well. The girls have impressed on her that bugs are yucky so she gamely tries out screams at the sight of them (but she likes bugs, and snakes and spiders), but the boys have no such compunctions. Similarly she likes rough and outside play within reason. The other girls do not seem to, so again, the boys are her natural companions.

On the other hand, she’s also bossy. I guess for maximum female empowerment you are supposed to say that girls are good leaders rather than bossy, but no. She’s just bossy. She orders people around and doesn’t take kindly to people not doing what she wants. She rarely asks why about anything. Instead she decides how things are going to go, or how she thinks they should go and informs you of this. Bossy, see? Perhaps that’s why she prefers boys over girls. Who knows, perhaps the boys submit to her orders and the girls argue back. Hence: I like boys.

She’s also an extrovert in a house with two introverted parents. Bad luck, eh? Well, I guess. I mean she is really bad about entertaining herself and desperately does not like to do things alone. Even Thing 2 is more of an introvert than Thing 1.  So instigator of activities, bossy, requires constant social interaction, physically active. We were only half-joking when we thought she might grow up to do something totally unrelatable to us like human resources, or corporate team builder. It’s going to be rough for her I think. Possibly just because I’m not telling her what she should like, but I see the parents of other girls determining what their daughters like. In some ways because the ways she is and the activities she likes are unrelatable for me.

All this consternates me. I feel like she’s going to have a hard time because of just existing as a girl. Though I think I would think that no matter what type of girl she was. I remember intensely disliking being a girl, but I was seven or eight and had already been bluntly encountering anti-girl sentiment and I remember feeling how intensely unfair it was to be a girl. How I would much rather be a boy because they could do anything and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I want her to know that there’s as many ways of being a girl as there are girls and not grow up thinking she is different/better than the other girls because she doesn’t conform to some female ideal. My husband is often frustrated at traditional male pursuits, and feels like he doesn’t belong to the boys club as he doesn’t know about sports or cars and wasn’t taught to throw or catch a ball. I never felt like I fit in as a girl, not being thin, or looking right, or wanting to do the right things. For me my troubles with girlhood were more external or appearance based, but for her I worry that they will be more internal. So she can get along until she has to struggle with herself about what she thinks and believes.

I sort of feel because I’m purposefully leaving things open-ended for her that things are going to be harder figuring things out as she goes, rather than at some unspecified point later.  I think it upsets me that now that I sort of have this whole being a female thing sort of figured out, knowing what is mostly bullshit, and what is useful, that I’m unsure how much, if any, of what I know and can teach her will be useful to the kind of girl she will be. Seriously though, it’s likely that no matter what it’s just hard. Being human can be tough.

 

How important is no?

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When I was a kid I was tickled mercilessly. I would scream and shriek and try to get away. I would be held down. Sometimes I would struggle to breathe, and even vomit. I eventually learned to turn off my ticklishness so that I could just lie there. So it wasn’t fun any more. I stopped getting tickled. My turned off ticklishness persists even now. What I learned, consciously or unconsciously, from all that was that my saying no did not matter. From that I learned that other people saying no was more of a suggestion and if I persisted they might stop saying no. I learned that people would stand by and watch me expressing my displeasure and not do anything to help me.

My mother later said to me that she felt like what I was going through was abuse by my father. She never did anything to stop it though. I remember her watching and biting her lip but never saying anything.  You don’t really know what kind of people your parents are when you are a kid. If they are strong, or weak or what psychological hang ups they have. I think I would have less of a negative opinion of her actions if she hadn’t told me, when I was older, she thought I was being abused but did nothing.

Even though it was just tickling I developed similar behaviour issues and patterns to someone undergoing other types of abuse. I daresay I was probably abusive to others when I was younger. I didn’t necessarily take no for an answer, especially for the sort of things one isn’t ‘supposed’ to refuse. Like tickling, because being tickled is fun, otherwise why are you laughing, right? I, in turn, never expected anyone to respect my no’s so I never bothered saying them. I’m much better about it now, though I have determined that my children will have their no’s actually mean stop. That’s a tricky implementation though when I feel hypersensitive about how important this might be.

Sure our kids scream no when tickled. And we stop. Thing 1 for sure comes back for more, but the instant she does anything that might indicate she does want to stop, we do, and it’s her choice how she wants it to continue. Thing 2 is not ticklish currently, though we try, and stop when she pushes us away. But when we have to change them, or bathe them there are screams of no’s. And we, as parents, have to soldier right on through that. Thing 1 getting her hair washed is a terrible thing. We have to hold her and she thrashes and it’s miserable for everyone. There were nappy changes that were similar. With Thing 2 as well. I’m pretty sure those screaming nappy changes are an unfortunate reality for everyone. I hope that because we apologize when they are visibly upset over something we needed to do for their own good, and as they get older they get more tractable and rational that these will not be experiences or memories that cause them to feel like no has no meaning or power over them. I hope there’s some way they can differentiate things we do for them for their own good and things we do that they may not like because it’s meant to be fun. I hope it’s enough that if something is optional, we do stop.

 

On another side of things I feel like permissive parenting, that is-a lack of firm denial, can also set up this problem. When no doesn’t actually mean anything, when wheedling, whining and tantrums can turn a no around, then how is anyone to learn what no really means? Instead people learn that  no is what people say first and that what people say first is changeable with pressure.

I don’t like the trend in parenting of trying to avoid saying no. I know it’s been going on at least 30 years since I remember my mother being concerned about it in regards to my siblings. It’s something that still goes on today with parents worrying that children’s first words will be no. Unfortunately no is something you need to say and a concept you need to impress on children. I cringe when Thing 1 parrots back to me, “I said no”. I’d rather not have arbitrary limits for the kids, but structure, focus and knowing that I have limits is important to their development as people. Sometimes I just want to (and ok, sometimes I do. I’m mostly consistent though) just say, “fine, whatever”, and let them run rampant because I’m tired or drained. Most of the time I don’t though. Also, they are kids and they don’t know why I do what I do. Big old meanie me, encouraging dinner eating, bath taking, hair brushing and bedtimes. The horror. Also limiting unfettered candy eating, unlimited TV watching and keeping them out of the street. Gosh.

Sure, at younger development ages distraction works heaps better than abstract denial. But no, stop, don’t is an important concept that people need to learn.

I had to remove myself and Thing 1 from a parent group since there was a mother who was very into the no yell, gentle parenting business, because she did not teach her child that no was something important to listen to. It took me awhile to figure out. I initially left because Thing 1 was getting injured and this reasonably well behaved (not overly violent or tantrum throwing etc) other child was just a bit too rampant and a little too undisciplined. He was acting like a kid. But then I realized the issue wasn’t the kid, it was that his mother wasn’t acting like an adult. She was trying to live up to some no-conflict ideal that she probably read about on the internet. You can actually say no and impress upon people that respecting a request to stop is important without yelling. People just often think that gentle parenting and no yell means not teaching or enforcing limits. When she would try to explain to her child that he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing she would do so in soft sing song tones and he would not pay attention or seem to particularly care.  It was apparent to me that her approach was not working to correct his behaviour. This was after Thing 1 had told him no, stop and tried to get away from him.  This mother would also say stuff about ‘boys will be boys’, so fair to say she got my goat in a variety of ways.

We talk to Thing 1 about how she should say no, how to escalate (say no, stop, try to get away, tell someone, hit if nothing else works), and how she should listen when other people say no. We aren’t into ‘that’s unfaaaair’ territory yet in regards to what Thing 1 sees other children being permitted in regards to denial. I often explain to her that I say no for good reasons. Because I want her to grow up healthy, strong and safe. I don’t think she gets it yet. Someday I hope.

Pivotal moments

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There are those moments from childhood where you remember clearly something you were told and whatever you were told stuck with you. I find about half the stuff that stuck with me is because I had a WTF reaction to whatever my parent was telling me at the time. My mother in particular tried to get hippy-mystical about some topics and to this day I am still not sure where she was going with some of the things she told me. Nevertheless those moments are coming up between me and Thing 1. The kicker is I don’t know which moments they will be. So I have to be on form as much as possible.

The other day Thing 1 with a resigned sigh said:” boys like me”. (This on the back of a 2 year old her saying something along the lines of “I like boys”. Cue parent of girl ingrained panic. However, when we make an effort to see beyond the boy-crazy and lock up your daughters archetypes pushed at parents, it’s not so bad. Just a statement. Though apparently she does recognize the difference between boys and girls. And doesn’t make similar statements about girls. Hm.) So being a thoughtful parent I didn’t say anything like “oh, because you are pretty”. Nope. I was prepared. I said “oh, because you are fun”. She considered this and nodded, satisfied. Parent victory lap! As an afterthought I added in that she was strong and smart too but fun seemed to cover whatever caused her to voice her concern in the first place and she lost interest in the conversation.

Not to say we don’t ever tell her she is pretty. Because we do. But it’s something she gets praised for after being groomed or dressed. Especially after hair brushing because brushing hair sucks. God what an awful mother-daughter interaction. I had it with my mother and I think all mothers and daughters (with hair) must have that struggle at some point. We also use words like neat and tidy, but she gives us a surreptitious smile for pretty. She also likes fancy (though amusingly enough she also equates fancy with fat. Like, fat-suit fat. We discovered that while watching Weird Al videos, mainly Fat, but she also calls Weird All the Fancy Guy because of that video, and in Shrek 4 she referred to Puss as a Fancy Cat. This makes us snort with hilarity). Perhaps we are inadvertently teaching that pretty is something you work at, it isn’t a basic quality. I’m ok with that.

She is a pretty girl though, and kids in general do seem to like her because she is attractive. But she’s wild and fun, as mentioned, and instigates activities as well. And at 3 I’m sure that boys, and that could easily be amended to kids, like her because she is fun. But it’s my job as a parent to have good answers to her statements and questions. Even things I incidentally say might stick with her. It helps that I am fairly secure in myself. I don’t gripe where the kid can hear about my weight or my diet or my body. I do want to lose weight (and am more or less) and I don’t particularly like the way I look but I am very mindful of how insidious such statements can be. I told my mother I was fat for the first time when I was 3 (and I got a lecture and she was worried and that made the memory stick with me), and I probably got it from her, or some other relative. So if I talk about losing weight or eating or anything to my husband I do it after the kids are in bed. I tell Thing 2 how delightfully chubby (She’s not really. She has chub but she is not a very chubby baby. I’m just proud of her chubs) she is all the time though, but I frame it as a good thing for babies (which it is!), so hopefully Thing 1 is not feeling negative about that.

Keeping control of those pivotal moments is mostly about viewing the world how you want your kids to view the world. Sounds simple, but it’s a bit of a tall order in reality. All your snap answers needn’t be meticulously thought out …if you are secure that those snap answers are going to be the ones you want to give your kids.

Of course she’s probably not going to remember that conversation and instead the one that will stick in her head will be the one about frog farts she had with her dad…

I didn’t want girls

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I had gender disappointment with both my girls. I’ve read various opinions on gender hating women and what not about women who do not like other women and who did not want girls. I felt guilty for apparently being one of those women, but then I examined my reasons a bit closer.

First off I was afraid of pinkness and ruffles and princess stuff, but that doesn’t have to be a given. Girls do not have to equal a world of pink candyfloss. I think this is quite a common and superficial reason really. Not superficial in a bad way, but the actual meaning of the word-only touching the surface. All the things associated with having to wear pink, or ruffles, or dresses. It doesn’t have to be like that. As the mom I make executive decisions on clothing. When they are babies they have no say anyhow, so I go for things I like-which tend to be plain neutral colours. There’s a fair amount of green and blue and grey in the baby wardrobes. When they get older you help them pick out things they like and you want them to have what they like because you love them, so it doesn’t matter if it’s pink or ruffly.

I remember being a little girl and finding my gender so unfair that around age 5-9 and probably beyond I desperately wanted to be a boy. It just seemed like boyishness was no question the better option. All of the sit still, look nice and the additional experiences of being denied some toys and having other toys foisted on me all in the name of being a girl and none of the boy allowances of getting dirty, playing rough and playing with robots and dinosaurs.  I was actually denied toys because they were boys toys and had other toys given to me because they were for girls. I had to dress in certain ways, I had to behave just so and I had to worry about my weight and my body from very young. So naturally I found the whole idea of being a girl undesirable for my children.

Growing up and puberty were not easy either and often presented as a female burden. I have a touch of PCOS and was worried about passing that on, passing on my body shape, and although I maintain a relatively positive outlook these days I did have a lot of self loathing when younger for being short, stocky, a bit more hairy. I didn’t see those aspects of being female as positive for any children of mine.

Women hating, no, self hating, yes. I expect that the majority of gender preference for boys from women is along those lines.

So no, it’s no wonder I didn’t want girls. It didn’t come from dislike of my gender in the slightest, but from concern over what their life would be like. The unfairness and fear I’d experienced-who would want a child to live through that?

Now doing it, it’s a much different experience than I ever expected. There is pink and purple…and orange, green and blue. There are princesses and butterflies, and trucks and bugs and monsters and robots. Princess robots even. It’s pretty rad actually, making sure these little girls lives are full of pirate girls, catching spiders, and pretty skirts. Nothing is just girl stuff. I’m sure that that’s largely me exerting my influence over what my kids get. Some of it’s 30 years of feminism as well.  I can see there is still worry to be had…

Not wanting girls because of our own past is sad, but it’s not completely self hating or necessarily a sign of internalized misogyny. Even now it’s a tough world for girls, and as a female it’s easy to see privilege in how males live and want that privilege for your offspring. It’s part of our first world obsession with wanting the best. We want the best food, the optimal circumstances, and to do the best. In a lot of ways boys are still viewed as the better gender. Simpler or at least less complex, with fewer potential minefields to negotiate (though this is very much the wrong way to look at things. I’m just saying that unless you make the effort to look deeper this is how things look: Girls are tricky, boys are simple). It’s getting better and it can certainly be a tough world for boys too, for some of the same, though markedly different reasons. Boys more often still have the disadvantage of gendered toys, whereas with girls it’s more frequently viewed as cool for girls to play with boy intended toys. I could write a whole bit on the disadvantages boys still have, but the point is that boy disadvantages are not as obvious to a woman.

All of that makes me wonder about women who do want girls and what their perspective is.  I’m fine having girls now (even if I end up with three- previously a private nightmare) because kids are kids and gender is pretty irrelevant by the time you get to know your kid (and they stop being a little baby-beast) as far as I can tell. I had to look beyond my experiences and how I was raised to get to this point though.

Can I still be afraid of teenagers? Because I am. I’m sure that’s because I was a horrible teenager. Just awful.  But I have good things to look forward to there as well. My girls are damn well going to know about how ovulation works. Taking Charge of Your Fertility will be required reading. I despair at the thought of them finding their body a complete and frightening mystery. I just can’t imagine being too embarrassed to talk to them about sex. I had to clean poop out of their vaginas (which I was also afraid of but the reality is you just get on with it).

Pffff sex.

Girls are people too.

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When my eldest was around 2 she was getting the idea that she was like the child characters in her books. So she would ask me ‘what’s that?’ to everything and unthinking I would reply- ‘that’s the little boy’, as most of the characters in the books were little boys. She then she started telling me she was a little boy. This dismayed me as I had wanted to give her a positive outlook on being female, but then I realized that what she actually meant was that she was a little kid, and that she was using little boy in lieu of little kid because there were no girl characters in the books. Looking around I realized that most books where the kid is a generic kid doing something that many kids go through, the character is actually a boy. Characters that were specifically female were often bratty, bossy, or spoiled and the stories were about them getting taught a lesson or learning to be nice. Realizing this made me irate. Like spitting, hopping mad.

I started looking for books that just had female characters being kids for the preschool set. Seems like a simple enough request, right? I had very little luck. I asked around for books with female kids just being kids. People gave me lists of ‘strong female characters’. They gave me novels with good characters in them, completely unsuitable for preschoolers. I don’t know about your kid, but my two year old wasn’t going to sit still for Madeline, Ramona or Pippi Longstocking. There are a lot of great characters that are female for older children, but not very many for little ones. That was not what I wanted. I do not want my daughters to start out with female characters needing to overcome adversity and having them be female be exceptional. That seems a bit like closing the barn door after the cow ran off.

The whole strong female character issue irritates me because I would much rather see good characters that happen to be female, not characters that are strong because they are female and they need to compensate. Gender should be irrelevant to the character. What about a foundation for kids seeing that girls are kids too? Rather than they have to become spunky and exceptional to be worthwhile additions to stories. I wanted my kids to see that simply some characters, doing regular things, are female. In a book they would sit still for. It really seems simple, but the archetypal kid is apparently a boy.

Since then I have found A Mighty Girl to be a good resource. It does focus a bit much the whole strong female character (SFC) rather than strong characters that are female (SCtaF), but there really isn’t too much of the latter for preschoolers.

Books I found after much perusal.

Zoogirl

An orphan girl gets left at the zoo

Blueberries for Sal

A small girl goes blueberry picking with her mother

Mostly Monsterly

A monster girl learns to be herself at school

Outside Over There

A girl loses her sister to goblins and must get her back- by Maurice Sendak. The plot of this book is a bit Labyrinth-esque…

We also have a potty book and a big sister book– both designed specifically for girls and the relevant situations. I’m ambivalent about both of them, but they get the job done.

TV and movies

You know what? I like Dora. Her gender is completely irrelevant to everything she does in the regular show. The new sexed up, slimmed down Dora isn’t great, but the older one, with her toddler belly poking out of her shirt, is ok. Yeah, they shout. But I’m ok with her as a tv role model. Not so much on the merchandising front however…

Brave- I like how Merida gets herself into her problem and gets herself out again. Other than the gender roles she has to fill (getting married against her will) she is a good princess role model. She is certainly more of an example of a SFC, but she isn’t anyone’s sidekick. She’s a self rescuing princess.

Doc McStuffins- is ok. Doc is a doctor to stuffed animals, calm, confident and helpful.

Many of the Studio Ghibli movies. My eldest is especially fond of Ponyo, but also likes Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Arietty. My Neighbor Totoro too.

Anyhow, my eldest now knows that she is a little girl (and Momma is a girl and sister is a girl and Daddy is a boy) and she seems happy enough with that.