"I'm going to play devil's advocate for just a moment here [...] imagine for one second that you DO raise Scouty to have a strong sense of self and someone who stands up for herself and what she believes in (which you will)... but then one day she comes to you and wants to try out for cheerleading. What would you do? My SIL was SO opposed to the whole "princess" thing, and no pink, and no girly girly stuff, which I totally get... but she went SO overboard about it. And then guess what? My two nieces are the girliest little princesses you have ever met, because really that's just who they are... To me, being a good parent is about protecting your kids and accepting WHOEVER they are... and some kids just really DO want be cheerleaders or princesses."
First of all, I totally don't view this question as you playing devil's advocate. I think it's a really smart and fair question, and it's definitely something I've thought about and considered a lot. I started to answer it in the comments, but it became a post all of it's own, so I hope you don't mind me writing out the world's longest response in this public venue. Keep in mind that my girls are 4 and 1, and I have no idea what's going to happen as they grow up. All I can do is believe what I believe and stand up for it. Your question totally doesn't offend me, even a teensy little bit, so don't worry! I'm going to do my best to answer it, and if, after my answer, we disagree about this whole thing, I will totally respect and admire and accept you, anyway. It's really important to me that people know that we can disagree about things without it changing the way I feel about you, as a person. (I think it's the only way to survive in the world as a very opinionated person.)
My daughters have a pink plastic princess kitchen. They have a little pink washer and dryer, tea party sets, countless princess dresses and tutus. Scouty will disappear upstairs and put glittery make up all over her face, and when she comes back downstairs, she has been transformed into a character she calls, Marvelous Girl, and she prances around the house being gentile and charming. (Actually, I think I have a cell phone picture of this, hold on.)She loves playing makeover, and has a gigantic collection of hair bows and accessories. She has a million adorable dresses and tons of pink clothing.
The point for me is that none of these things define who she is.
Right between her pink plastic kitchen and little pink washer and dryer, she has a black and decker mini work bench with battery operated power tools. She has a basketball hoop and an art easel. She has a shelf full of books and a tent. She has camouflage binoculars, bug catching supplies and a collection of robots. She calls her Monster Truck "Brave Digger" because she misunderstood when I read the words "Grave Digger" aloud, from his bumper. She has a Spiderman shirt and a Popeye shirt, and she wears them all the time. She has a wheelbarrow and gardening supplies. When we went to the store to pick out sandals yesterday, we perused both the "girl" and "boy" aisles, and she picked a pair that were blue and black, even though she was tempted by a pink pair with flowers. If she had picked the flower pair, I would have gotten them for her.
The point is not that I hate pink and discourage all tendencies in my children toward the girlie, flowery, domestic blissy. They are allowed to choose to play with whatever they want. Except sexy toys like Barbie and those hideous Bratz dolls... and all of the toys that are just like them. These toys tie into my objection to cheerleading, but more on that in a second.
Toys that are considered "girl" toys are all pink. They are. If you want to make a baseball glove for girls, just make it pink. There's nothing inherently wrong with the color pink, just like there's nothing wrong with orange or yellow or green. They'll all just colors. If you have a daughter who honestly, after being presented with all of the colors equally, (which is totally hard to do, in this world. No matter how hard you try to make things equal, your girls will still understand that they're supposed to identify with pink. It's just shoved down their throats everywhere they go.) But, if you did manage to present all colors equally and your girl simply has a preference for pink, then great. Pink is a great color, just like blue and brown and red and orange and purple. Who cares? It's just a color, when everything else is equal.
I don't believe though, that if you have a girl who has been presented with every option equally, she will just naturally choose to be a princess. She won't naturally choose to pretend to be fancy and wash clothes all the time, while the rest of kid world is dancing like crazy, digging up worms, learning acrobatics, playing ball, putting together puzzles, going down slides, jumping, running and throwing. Like I've said about my own Marvelous Girl they WILL totally choose to be a "girly girl" and a princess some of the time. But they won't be any more interested in being a princess than they will in being a kid. If your girl has an obsession that overrides her other interests, with all things pink and frilly and princessy, they have ingested a damaging message about gender.
My argument against cheerleading is similar, but it's not quite the same. I don't think that cheerleaders are obsessed with cheering, to the exclusion of other interests. Probably, for the girls who do it, it's not even about "cheering" for boys. It probably never occurs to them that they're acting out a role in a dangerous institution that is symptomatic of a sickness in our society. They are just being athletic and having fun participating in something that has existed since long before they were born, and has always been toted as being an in thing to do.
Just because it's not about being a part of a preternatural sex fantasy, or playing a role in women's failing objective to be classified as human beings, for the girls who are actually participating, or for the parents permitting their participation... doesn't mean that it's not those terrible, demeaning, oppressive, dangerous things to the rest of the world.
Like I said on facebook, after I wrote this post about Cheerleading, I saw in my statistics that somebody found my blog by searching the term, "cheerleader car wash teen p0rn bikini." Just because you're not purposefully allowing your daughter to be viewed by boys as something beneath them, or to be a sex fantasy for men lining up to have their cars washed by soaped up teenage girls so that they can google explicit material about it later, doesn't mean that it's not happening.
Just like, if my daughter wants pink sandals, I won't object... but if she wants one of those terrible Bratz Dolls, I will one hundred percent forbid it, if my teenage daughters really want to dress up in little skirts with visible, built in panties and jump around in front a group of boys, men and women who have all been conditioned to see my 16 year old daughters as sexualized beings, I won't allow it.
I understand that at 16 years old, I can't really STOP them from doing things, if it's what they really want. What I can do is live my life in a way where they're being fed positive information about gender, about being girls and women. I can make sure they understand why it's wrong to value women for being pretty, and men for being strong and capable. I can try to help them to be confident and amazed with themselves, so that they aren't as susceptible to negative input about what it means to be female.
Maybe I'm crazy, because the world is a pretty big place, but I'm going to argue that children who have been presented with all of the facts, who have been helped to understand why it is important not to succumb to the pressure to demean themselves, who have a sense of self-esteem that has been cultivated positively... don't believe that they are really just cheerleaders in their core. I know I can't compete with the influence of the world, once my girls are not under my constant surveillance, so, until then, I'll do everything I can to model something healthy and fair, and hope that in the long run, they'll choose what's best when they're counting on themselves to make their own decisions.
And if I'm wrong, and my girls want to be cheerleaders, I'll ask them to pay for it themselves, express my discomfort, examine where I failed, and support them and love them love them love them like crazy no matter what.