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.
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.