Growing up I had Barbie and Ninja Turtles. I had Legos and cars and baby dolls and a massive Barbie mansion where all of my toys went to epic parties in. Although my brother did not come for a while, my sister and I were raised for 8 years of my life in a very gender neutral way by today's terms. We had moments when we got dirty and then moments when we were dressed to the hilt in frills and lace and curls and patent leather shoes. I had young childhood friends who only had “girl stuff”. I wondered where the cars and action figures were. Even as a kid, I knew that the way I was raised, was how I wanted to raise my daughters.
Lately, actually always, I've found myself fighting a losing battle with gender stratified and specifically female marketed toys. This is particularly troubling as I like to present a balanced approach to gender roles in my parenting style. In fact I'd rather lead a brood of jocky nerds than a bunch of fussy prisses. I wouldn't know what to do if they decided to cheer for the team instead of play on the team. In fact, I might die. Then I thought that sentiment may be unfair. So instead of dying I might find a way to bring some edge to whatever they chose… want to cheer- you’re doing gymnastics. Want to dance- competitive cheer. Being aggressive and competitive are important to me and I want them to understand that when they compete it’s not for attention- how they look, but intention- what they can do. There’s nothing wrong with being a woman, but there’s sooooo much wrong with what society expects women to do.
My waging a war on princess culture has been a culmination of several battles in my home. My tyrannical sword of balance was no match for the girly glitzy glittery giggley culture of pinks and turquoise. I’ve bought dinosaurs, super hero Halloween costumes, put them in soccer and bought the Barbie alternatives (like Monster High or Equestria Girls- black and silver are better alternatives to pink and turquoise). I was getting tired. Why is it that we always ended up in the doll aisle at the big box stores? It came to a point that I stopped trying to look at the action figures and Legos because I was the only one interested in what was on the shelves. Somehow we always got back to a doll... Until daddy stepped in. I'm glad he did.
This xmas he went nuts with Lego friends. To the point that my daughters opened their xmas boxes not surprised.
One whispered with a very lackluster tone , “Daddy always gets Legos. No dolls.”. I was like, “Are you kidding me, these are free gifts… say thank you.”. How dare these guys, but still an all Lego christmas though?
He was met with brutal resistance. But I commend him because he kept trying. The breakthrough came because he kept asking them to build WITH him. He didn't let them put the blocks away until they had completed all the directions in the booklet. And the complaining and whining was no match for his calm demeanor and encouraging words:
“Look what we made.”
“Wow, that looks really good but you skipped step 4, so you have to go back and do it again.”
“Isn't this fun?”
It’s not what he bought, that got them more interested in making their way back to the middle. It’s what he did. He kept encouraging them to try harder. He showed them that he was proud when they made something really cool or ugly. He took the time (which was a lot) to get their interest going. Now it’s all these guys want to do- build stuff to show me and their dad.
You know what I realized… I can do all the yelling I want. I can fight femininity and vaginal enslavement as much as I please… it’s not going to help. Girls need encouragement from mom and dad. Period. Their father can get them to do things with a softer tone than I can with a soft or aggressive one. I’m not jealous or mad, I’m just glad we both agree on what should be happening.
I think my role, is to show them an amazing example of what a woman, most specifically for us- a black woman, can accomplish with hard work, a balanced realistic nature and a loving understanding of the way the world can be. His role- is there to support them as they fly. He is there to encourage them to just go for it. He is supposed to let them know that if they marry a guy, there is complement in that relationship. He is there to show that men can be loving and masculine.
Women… we can do as much liberating, stomping, fighting, protesting, yelling as we want. And we should, because it’s not quite equal yet. However, if your daughter has a father available, make sure you use his strength to strengthen her. He should be there to support her, no matter what. They should have a loving relationship, no matter what. He has to be on board with putting her on his shoulders so that she can reach her highest goals… That’s what he’s here for.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.