I recently read a book entitled Redefining Girly by Melissa Atkins Wardy. If you have a daughter or plan on having children someday, it is definitely worth the read. I first heard of this author a couple of years ago through her company Pigtail Pals. I immediately checked out her site, read her blog, and ordered a Full of Awesome t-shirt for my daughter. I want a healthy daughter. Not just physically and mentally, but socially as well. Below are just a few things Wardy made me think about it. She writes about these plus other social issues we should be aware about in order to raise happy, healthy, confident girls.
So what does girly mean? I think it means whatever your girl is into. For mine it might include: Colored jeans. T-shirts. Hi-tops or Uggs. Braids, ponytail, hair down. Blue. Green. Pink. Black. Brown. Dance. Gymnastics. Soccer. Softball. Reading. Rainbow Loom. Air hockey and wrestling with her brother. It changes on a daily basis. Yes, my daughter went through a dress, sparkly shoes, pink phase. Never princesses. She then moved on to jeans, sneakers, and blue. This has all been on her own accord. She has chosen her outfits since she could dress herself. She has chosen to play soccer and softball. She has chosen to grow her hair long. (I preferred the short bob.) She has chosen blue as her favorite color.
Why is it when we hear the word girly we immediately think pink, princesses, dresses, and sparkly shoes? Why is it we ask soon to be parents if they are finding out the gender? What does it matter? I remember shopping for nursery bedding when I was pregnant with my daughter (yes, I found out the gender beforehand both pregnancies) and was on the hunt for something gender neutral in case my next child was a boy. It was difficult to find. I finally settled on a set that had blues, greens and yellows, but I could have done without the flowers. Clothing was even harder to find that was gender neutral. Girl clothing only consisted of pink, pink, and more pink. All the clothing we received were mainly of this variety, along with the copious amounts of dainty flowers and butterflies. On the opposite side boy clothing/bedding consists of vehicles of some variety or sports. There really isn’t much in between. But does it matter? Babies don’t care what (or who) they are wearing or what their room looks like. They are happy to be clothed, fed, and cuddled.
From toothbrushes to sippy cups you’ll be hard pressed to find one without characters. The choices are either superheroes or princesses. There isn’t much in between. Why can’t companies just make colored ones and your child can pick our their favorite color whether it be pink for a boy or blue for girl? As a society we need to push past these stereotypes made up for gender and push towards marketing that is not “color coded”.
I long for a toy store that mixes up all kinds of toys in the aisles instead of having aisles that are clearly more directed towards boys or girls. I was infuriated when Lego launched Lego Friends clearly aimed towards girls. Have you seen the mini figures? Short skirts. Tank tops. Skinny. Make up. Same goes for Barbie and those scary looking Monster High dolls. All these dolls are highly oversexualized and inappropriate for children. Boys or Girls. These are not toys I want my daughter (or son) to play with nor emulate. Look at clothing or Halloween costumes marketed for girls with the revealing tops or “shortie shorts” as my kids call them. How about this child’s witch costume with the knee high boots and barely covering her behind dress? I don’t want to see my daughter dressed as a sexy (or sassy as the marketers will call them) witch ever, but especially not at age 8! As Melissa Atkins Wardy puts it “girls dressing in a sexy manner is dangerous because they don’t understand what they’re advertising and don’t understand what it does to them emotionally.”
Allowing children to play with a variety of toys and not just the ones companies market towards a specific gender will open up an entire world. If a boy wants to play with the kitchen set and take his doll for a walk, while his sister runs the cash register at the pretend grocery store she owns, so be it. Who makes up the rules that only women do the cooking and child rearing, while the men go out and own companies? One way to help break down these stereotypes is to make sure your husband cooks once a week (if he doesn’t already!) or that your wife joins in during the Thanksgiving touch football game (maybe she is already the starting quarterback!). My point is make sure your children get a glimpse of both men and women crossing the gender barriers so they learn there is no one role for them in life. They can do what they want. Be who they want. And no one can tell them they can’t.
Ever since my Gender Studies class in college taught by Sharon Lamb, co-author of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes, I have had a strong interest in the subject. For the most part I believe that my husband and I have raised our children gender neutrally, but it is interesting to see what they gravitate towards on their own that is geared more towards their own gender. This is the part of gender due to genetics, and not environment. However, I believe it is our role as parents and as a society to allow our children to have choices and not be judged on the choices they make when they go against the grain (according to years and years of what society tell us is “normal”) . Wardy says “It is lack of choice that is the enemy”. We especially want our girls to gain self confidence and have a positive body image from the time they are babies to the time they have their own babies. Not categorizing them into a specific role and ultimately giving them a world of choices (choices that enhance positive body image and self confidence) will do this.