“I enjoy being a girl”

A little Phranc, anyone?

We watched Enchanted the other night, which turned out to be just as adorable and cute and funny as we had heard.

It was also timely for us, as we have been dealing with some gender issues with Violet. Probably it is the age, with her about to turn 9, but she is particularly concerned about being thought of as a “typical girl.” She loves to identify herself as a tomboy, which is absurd for a bookish, piano-playing girl who can’t wait to go shopping for a long dress for her recital and who avoids going outside sometimes because there will be — gasp! — bugs. (By bugs, I mean gnats, flies, ants — it doesn’t take a bee or a spider to start the moaning and shrieking.) She is physically timid, she doesn’t like sports . . . but she has a clear idea in her mind that being a tomboy would be much better than just being a girl.

We had a long talk about this recently, in which she revealed a few things:

1. She sometimes thinks it would be better to be a boy.
2. Boys are stronger.
3. A boy in her current theater group is doing a monologue about how he “just doesn’t get girls.”
4. One of her girl friends teases her about being in love with one of her friends that is a boy.
5. She sometimes enjoys playing with boys more than girls.

I was really sad to consider that she sometimes thought it would be better to be a boy. Even more sad because I know this is pretty common for girls, but I had thought that being homeschooled, having somewhat controlled media access, and being the child of liberal parents who both work and both take an active role in child care would mitigate — not obliterate, just turn down the volume a bit — the messages from the wider culture.

Guess not.

A fellow co-op member suggested to me that this may be a stage of identity formation, which could be considered a process of inclusion and exclusion. What does it mean for me to be a girl? What is there about being a boy that is not an option for me? Maybe kids don’t necessarily approach these questions with great subtlety, so that defining one’s “girlishness” comes out as “I hate pink! Princesses are stupid!” (from a child who long loved pink and princesses — you should have seen her drooling over the princesses at Disneyworld).

Anyway, in the midst of these concerns we had a family movie night with Enchanted, which we are probably the last family of girls on earth to watch. What I loved was that Giselle — the primary princess — was in many ways utterly girly in a traditional sense, at least in her appearance. And while some of the over-the-top princess stuff subsided during the movie (no more hoop skirts, less poofy hair), Giselle retained her sweetness and her love of pretty things throughout. Even when she picks up a sword to rescue her man (a reversal of the traditional fairy tale made even more obvious by dialogue that calls attention to it), she’s a girl in a dress who believes in true love. Hats off to Disney and the filmmakers for both parodying the princess theme and making it OK for girls to love princesses. (Obviously this is good marketing, but I also think it’s good for girls.)

At the beginning of the movie, the father of a 6-year-old gives her a book about “important women” (think Marie Curie, Amelia Earhardt, Golda Meir) instead of the fairy tale book she had been wanting. As a scene it’s heavy handed, but it certainly reflects how girls are sometimes raised, encouraged to reject everything that is traditionally feminine and find more butch role models (whose lives were undoubtedly more meaningful than those of women who sat around eating bon bons and watching soap operas!). Perhaps you have not seen this, but I see and hear it often. Some parents seem proud to announce that their girls don’t like that “frilly girly stuff,” that they “never touched a doll,” or “don’t like wearing dresses.” Obviously there is nothing wrong with those preferences, but I am always surprised and disappointed to see them held up as some kind of accomplishment.

It seems so obvious to me that girls ought to feel free to choose the dolls and the dresses and the radiation research and the friends who are boys, or any combination of those things or not. I tried to suggest as much to Violet as I explained that the term “tomboy” was sort of a relic from a time when girls had much more limited choices about how to act and still be considered a girl. I think she got it, a little bit, but it’s hard for her to imagine any alternative to how the world is now. I know a little bit about she’s going through, having been the “smart girl” myself, a category that was still a bit of an oxymoron when I was a kid. I suppose we all hope that things will change more than they actually do.



Filed under Family Fun, Oh Mother, Why Homeschool?

5 responses to ““I enjoy being a girl”

  1. patience

    I agree with your friend that this is probably just part of normal identity formation. I’ve always read your stories about Violet with a touch of wonder, because she is so much in the world, she is so grounded and real, and she goes through these normal processes (albeit with more sparkle and wit than most children her age). My own child doesn’t do any of that. She is herself, other people are themselves (whatever their gender – the only thing to know about boys is that they’re rougher) and that’s it. She doesn’t do much thinking or angsting over it. I’d like to think its homeschooling and limited experience with regular friendships that has led to this attitude, but actually I think its more to do with her psychological/intellectual makeup. I really think she is just an adult waiting to grow up, so all this kid stuff is beyond her. The idea of having the kind of conversation you’re currently having with Violet seems wonderful and exciting to me. (But I bet I’ll prefer my own situation come the teenaged years, lol!)

    So there you go, I have no sympathy for you, only a touch of envy. Enjoy this time. It could be worse, after all. You could have a son.


    Btw, we haven’t seen Enchanted either. I wanted to very much, but there’s a sword in it, so of course we couldn’t go. 😉

  2. I feel very ambivalent about this issue because, unlike either of her parents, DD is a very girly girl who loves pink and lace and dolls and hair ribbons, all of which are fairly alien to the people who contributed what they sincerely believe was their own DNA.

    I confess, I’ve been one of those folks who’s pushed the female-role-model books — the Marie Curies, the Victoria Blackwells, the Rosamund Franklins, the Queen Elizabeths — and pretty much any macho heroine I could lay hands on in an order to provide something like an alternative to what I see too often as the passive “princess” role society endorses for girls (or the “diva” role or the “slut” role — of the three, I prefer “princess,” thanks…).

    I just worry as a parent that the pink frilly stuff is a honey trap. I hope it is possible to integrate princesses with physics (an electron microscope in pink, maybe?), but I worry that it’s still too much of an either-or choice.

    Interesting ideas!

  3. shaun

    Yes, Violet is surely 8-going-on-9 in lots of ways, even if she is older in others. And thinking and angsting is kind of a family tradition — as you might have noticed! 😉 I think the asynchrony brings that out, as there is a cognitively advanced part of her that observes the emotional young part of herself and wonders — what’s that all about? (Or, to put it more abstractly, as she said to me the other day, “Do you ever think about how *weird* it is just be here, and thinking?”)

    Adso — offering those powerful role models is awesome and necessary. My own residual “smart girl syndrome” makes me wish *I* had felt that loving clothes and funky hairstyles and experimenting with eyeliner was consonant with being “the smart one,” but I got so many messages to the contrary. God bless my parents for not sending me those messages. Of course, neither they nor I have ever worried too much about our daughters being passive! My mom’s nickname is “Fireball,” the same nickname our asthma doc gave to Violet, though privately I call Violet The Steam Roller. (A friend and I call our moms “The Velvet Hammer.”)

  4. What a great post!

    Z isn’t going through this right now so we haven’t thought about it in awhile but I am sure we will again.

    Z is all over the place (like her mom), she loves dress up and pink and fairies and princesses, but also swords, and karate, and bugs. YKWIM.

    We haven’t seen Enchanted yet. Now I want to.

    I was a tomboy who hated pink. To me pink belonged to girls who didn’t like reading and made fun of me for being at the head of the class. I wasn’t able to embrace my frilly side until I was in my late teens.

    Sometimes I still feel put in a box because of my gender. Sometimes I feel like people think I have nothing intellectual to offer because staying home with my kid and cooking dinner and cleaning the house are part of what I do. And other times I feel like my own gender doesn’t “get” me because of my traditionally “nerdy” interests. Oh well.

    I can’t think of any advice to give you now. I think just listening to Violet, like you are doing, is probably very helpful.

  5. I am very much a Tomboy and so is Grace, most of the time. Dont get me wrong, she plays dress-up and builds fairy houses and all, but she really is most comfortable in a “naturalist” role, which often involves mud, bugs and climbing rocks or trees. She’s also very comfortable dissecting things like animal parts she finds on the beach. ( …in a safe way, of course! )
    DH and I were just watching the miniseries “John Adams” last night, and we were just AMAZED a Laura Linney’s performance as Abigail. We turned to each other during one section of the film and simultaneously declared that Grace would be studying her next year, if we have anything to say about it;)
    Great thoughts on gender, choice and parenting such.

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