Sunday, July 29, 2012

pink is strong too

when i was pregnant with shoshanna, i was so certain she was a boy that i only bought a few girly clothes - a brown and pink winter hat, a little shirt with purple owls on it.  when she was born on a bright sunday morning in may, i was so busy gazing into her face for the first time that i didn't even know whether she was a boy or a girl, until our midwife asked with a smile, "so...what did you get?"  who cares, i thought dreamily, this baby is perfect.  but i have to say, when we peeked and found out she was a girl, that was a pretty awesome moment.  A GIRL! we kept saying, as if she was the first girl ever.

still, there were many moments during her babyhood where i truly thought of her as neither girl or boy, but merely as a tiny soul new to this earth.  maybe it was because i mostly dressed her in white (my favorite look for a newborn, besides naked) but her boy/girl status just didn't factor into my thoughts much.  judging by the number of babies i see dressed in head-to-toe pink and ruffles, with little bows glued to their bald heads, i believe this is a fairly uncommon way of thinking.     

having known shoshi for more than two years, i can really see now why i thought she was a boy.  she has a fierce air about her much of the time, like this morning when she crouched down next to my cat eugene and watched him devour a bird, leaving nothing but a squiggly mess of entrails and beak behind.  ("birdy sad?  birdy feel sick dis morning?"  um yes, i'd say that's a fairly safe bet.)  she is really at her happiest playing in the mud or looking at bugs.  but here's the thing, she also has this side to her that's the girliest girl i ever did know, a hardcore PINK fanatic who loves mincing around wearing a fancy pair of my shoes and three different purses, who insists on having her nails painted regularly, who loves ballerinas and strawberry shortcake.  this side of her has honestly come as a huge shock to me, maybe because it's so different from my own pink-hating tomboy experience growing up, or maybe because i see it as being in opposition to her own tomboy side.

i wrote an article about raising powerful girls recently, and while i'm proud of what i wrote - mostly pretty tomboy-centric stuff about girls playing in the dirt - i wish i'd talked more about the girly girls, how they can and should be perceived as being just as strong and powerful as the girls who are out there gutting fish (or watching birds get gutted).  it bums me out that sometimes it's the girls who are doing traditionally male activities (climbing trees, throwing rocks) who are praised for being strong and tough.  isn't it also important, strong work to carry around a baby doll, pretending to mother it?  (i can't think of much that requires more bravery than motherhood.)  or to prepare food for your loved ones in a play kitchen?  to create a cozy home out of blocks, or serve tea to your teddy bears?  isn't it a perpetuation of the very gender stereotypes we're trying to fight, to praise the tomboys and leave the girly girls behind?    

all i know is, the pink nails on those grubby hands of shoshanna mary make her the toughest broad around, in my book.  she doesn't try to deny any side of herself or offer any apologies for the way she is - juxtapositions, pink nails and all - and that truly makes her a force to be reckoned with.
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  1. My daughter Ava (she just turned one) is like that, she is a feisty daredevil who loves hugging and patting her baby and dressing up.

    and I agree completely, there is nothing wrong with a girl being "girly" if that is HER choice. I think the problem lies when we decide that a girl must wear pink and play barbies because 'that's what girls do'. Everyone should be free to be exactly the way they are without it being labeled as anything but "them".

    Your daughter is adorable! and I love the the little tree fort she has up there.

    1. hi samantha,
      your daughter sounds awesome! she and shoshi would totally be pals. she's lucky to have a mama like you, who just lets her be herself. that's what it's all about - it's just crazy how hard that is for some parents to do. thanks a lot for writing & reading!
      love, sarah

  2. Totally, friend. I think I have this tendency, too. For example, my flash assumption that the nurse who did my in-take with glitter eyeshadow and a giant flower hair peice was ill-equipped to do her job, as though spending less time with make-up would retroactively make her education better? Unfair. And, like you're saying, defaulting to the idea that feminine is not strong or capable and thus isn't as valuable as masculine. Way to nail it.

  3. I have a little boy, and I think it's even more difficult with them. I know quite a few mothers who dress their little girls in pants and neutrals and consider themselves oh so feminist. I got all weird looks when I put a pink shirt with an ice cream cone on it on my six month old. And you won't believe how often I hear "oh how typical for a boy!". When he he gets all wiggly at some kind of technical appliance - it's cause he has a penis. Same with cars, toys that are hard not squishy...but they won't hear that he loooves fingering all the fabrics when he goes to the fabric store with me, and actually he couldn't give less about a car. This motherhood thing has gotten me thinking about nature vs. nurture again...I wasn't aware of the fact that almost all people tend to extremely categorize infants according to their gender, even if they consider themselves free thinkers. It's just gross. There's hardly an alternative.

    1. hi lisa,
      man, i didn't even delve into the whole boy thing since i don't have one, but i FEEL YOU. "tomboys" are really quite socially acceptable - it's cool for me to dress my daughter in boys' clothes sometimes, i don't get much flack at all from that socially and many people say how cool they think that is. but i think a lot about how if i had a boy and was dressing him in even just a bright pink onesie, that would be a MAJOR NO. even to a lot of the very liberal people i know! it's sort of a reverse double standard (or something). one of my favorite writers, catherine newman (she writes a blog called ben & birdy that i'd totally recommend) had an article in the new york times about this recently: anyway, thanks for writing! it's great to hear your perspective.