We attended Scouty’s open house at school this week. The kids made adorable pictures of themselves depicting what they would like to be when they grew up. There are only four girls in Scouty’s class and every single of them wanted to be a Princess of some variety, and their pictures were adorned with pink and purple dresses. Every one of them except Scouty. Above her little picture was the sentence, “When I grow up I want to be 'Karate Chop Man',” and her picture was dressed in a little karate outfit with a black belt.
Each child had a turn holding Talking Turtle and saying a little bit about their future plans and the princesses were met with motherly, knowing smiles that said, “That’s my girl! Always the princess!” When it was Scouty’s turn, she said, “I want to be Karate Chop Man!”
Miss Liz asked, “What do you like about the idea of being Karate Chop Man?”
She answered, “Karate CHOP!” and chopped the air.
I wonder what the princess moms make of me, smiling at Karate Chop Man and saying, “That’s my girl!”
I’m not sure my mom did it intentionally, but we were never allowed to have Barbie dolls. I would play with them at my friend's house. Ken and Barbie always ended up naked and kissing, even though I’m not sure we even knew that was something that people did. I didn’t make any other toys get naked and kiss. Was I even aware of nakedness and sexuality? Somehow, Barbie and Ken just exuded kissiness and they had to be naked, didn’t they? Barbie had boobs and Ken had… that nondescript bulge in his pants.
Maybe we were just too poor for them, but I wasn’t a Barbie girl. I don’t remember ever having an overriding fondness for pink and dresses. My mother wasn’t a feminist and she didn’t have an objection to those things. They just weren’t part of my life, and now they’re not part of my daughters’ lives, but I most certainly do have an objection to them. As a matter of fact, I have about 50 million objections to them, but here’s one:
I want my child to exercise her imagination. I want her to decide for herself, inevitably including cues and persuasions from her environment, about what she wants to be. We’re nothing other than what we decide to be. I have a huge problem with the marketing department of a pink plastic sparkle company having a heavy hand in my child’s development of self, or in the formation of her ideas about what it means to be a girl, in this world.
Just as I was sitting down to write, today, I passed through the living room where my husband was watching baseball. There was a commercial for beer on the television where a man jokingly asked his friend, “Does this beer make my butt look big?” The men laughed and laughed, because really… why would a man ask that question? That’s a question for a woman! Women are the ones who care about the way they look, and that’s funny to us, because it’s stupid.
Sometimes I look at my butt and think, “This dress makes my butt look big.” But mostly, I don’t look at my butt at all because I’m busy living a life where the size of my body parts isn’t at the forefront of my thoughts. We’re so sick of hearing women who are empowered saying things like that. Keep your policy off of my body parts, and whatever… but it’s just the way we feel. It’s the way we’re obligated to feel if we’re women and we’re aware and educated and if we believe in ourselves and in the idea of being free to be people. It is impossible to be smart and aware and not to be sick of the way things are.
Because I’m a woman, people look at me and see me as part of an institution that is obsessed about the size and appearance of my body more than I obsess about being a good person, or a worthwhile person. They assume that I aspire to be prettier than I am, and more palatable. They assume that, if I could, I would change my shape and stuff down my opinions and learn to shake what my mama gave me.
It’s humiliating, being a woman in this world. It’s sad and discouraging and sickening, and I don’t feel that way because I have a big butt. I don’t feel that way because I’m not able to fit in with the faction of women who are good at shopping and being sexual devices for men. I’m not saying that because I’m bitter or because I can’t be thinner, more docile, more quiet or smaller. I feel this way because I am not an idiot.
But then... after her first soccer practice, we let Scouty choose anywhere in the world that she wanted to eat for lunch and she picked Panera at the mall. After we were finished eating, Scouty held open the door to the restaurant for a little girl and her grandmother. The girl was wearing a puffy pink dress and shoes that were decorated with sparkles. Before I even thought about what I was saying, I commented to her, “I love your pretty dress.” She smiled and her grandmother said, “Oh, she won’t go anywhere if she’s not wearing a dress!” I laughed a little laugh like I know what that is like, oh boy… but really, I didn’t, and I felt like an asshole for pointing out the little girl’s outfit in front of my girl. My girl who was an angel, holding the door open for someone, wearing a gray sweatshirt and a pair of dirty sneakers. I thanked Scouty for being so polite, but only after I had pointed out how pretty and well dressed the other girl was. What do you think she got out of that exchange? I don’t know, either… but it makes me sick to think about.
I’m not saying that the moms of princesses mean to do what they’re doing. They don’t mean to say to their daughters, “In this world, we value you more when you look pretty and are wearing fancy clothes.” They simply see princesshood as something fun for little girls to do and be. It’s certainly preferable to the sexualized ideal they’ll have to carry with them their whole lives. We might as well let them have a little fun feeling pretty, before they grow up and start to see all the ways they’re not perfect. Before they realize that not every girl deserves to belong to the good looking, well behaved, prince attracting club.
Those moms who love their children very much, simply don’t realize that we’re able to be female and not be either a princess or someone who compares themselves to a princess and falls short. That some women grow up to be Karate Chop Man, (and please understand that I get the inherent susceptibility to societal misogyny in the fact that my female child wants to be Karate Chop Man, but she's four years old. I think we're starting in a good place. We can deal with opposing the oppression of the all encompassing male gaze, later.) Anyway, some women grow up and don’t own any makeup or even know what their butt looks like in each and every piece of clothing they’ve ever worn.
I do have a big butt, Okay? But I don’t say, you don’t have a right to an opinion of my butt because it’s big. I’m not afraid that you’ll look at my butt and deem me unacceptable. I am a little afraid of the fact that I’m raising two girls in a world where most women feel that way, though. Most women feel afraid that they aren’t small enough or shapely enough or appealing enough and that those things make them unacceptable as people. Less, as people. Nothing, as people.
Of course a little girl in a puffy pink dress is cute. It’s the stuff that cuteness is made of, but little girls are more than simply little girls. They are people who are building a foundation upon which they’re going to build the entirety of the rest of their lives. They are learning now what it means to be a woman, in this world. It’s so important that, if they like the idea of being a princess, they also like the idea of being a smart and capable human being, just as much or more.
I love my girls. I feel blessed and so grateful for the chance to spend the rest of my life with them. I want to do the best I can, for them... even if it means I'll be a huge meanie someday for not buying Barbies or refusing to sew a princess costume for halloween.