I’m so excited for my baby girl. I really am. The other day I bought her a little outfit with a kitten on the front, and it came with a tiny hat adorned with little cat ears, and I nearly died right then. Truly, I am very excited for a little girl.
I’m excited for my little girl for less superficial, and less gendered reasons as well. (Although, I’d put a little boy in that cat outfit too, rest assured.) I’m excited to share my favorite books and favorite movies with her. I’m excited to take her to my favorite places. Someday she’ll come home from school with little-kid pictures to hang on the fridge, where all the people look like big smiley spider blobs. Hurray for little girls, and little kids! (I never thought I’d type that. That is the miracle of life, right there.)
But someday, I want my little girl to grow up. If she’s 25 and still wearing hats with kitten ears on a day other than Halloween, (or unless she’s joined a revival cast of Cats,) I’m going to feel like a bit of a parenting failure.
That seems obvious, right? Someday, little girls grow into women.
Not entirely. Lately I’ve noticed a trend, mostly in the form of celebrities and “lifestyle” blogs, in which the newest, hottest thing is to act like a little girl, but with breasts. Sometimes I call it the Zooey Deschanel phenomenon. Adult women wearing frilly little dresses and lacey ankle socks, legs bowed like they just took their first steps in Mom’s high heels. Their voices are breathy, and their online profiles state “Hubby is a 2L in law school, but all I want is a hot pink swing set for the backyard!” In one particularly disturbing profile picture, the husband sat on a park bench, looking stern and grown-up in a suit and reading The Wall Street Journal. The wife sat on the other end, legs and mary-jane shoes in the air, blowing a big bubble-gum bubble.
Apparently I’m not the only one annoyed with the Zooey -Deschanel- little-girl phenomenon, and Zooey even addressed her critics by stating that “If you feel like dressing like a girl, there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t know why femininity should be associated with weakness. Women should be free to express who they are without thinking, I need to act like a man, or I need to tone it down to be successful. That’s a very good way to keep women down.”
On many levels, I completely agree with Deschanel . I don’t think there is a right way to be a woman, and I’m not even opposed to occasional forays into sartorial whimsy (I have some ballet flats with bows, that’s girly, right?) I also don’t believe the solution to gender inequality is dressing like a man. For me, it isn’t so much the clothes, but the attitude behind them, the attitude, the posing, the refusal to talk about anything other than rainbows and butterflies. It should be noted that the Deschanel quote I used comes from an interview in which Deschanel poses by making wide-eyed kissy faces at the camera.
But Deschanel is absolutely right about this: Femininity shouldn’t be associated with weakness. I think we simply disagree on what it means to be feminine. When I think of feminine, I absolutely think of strength. I think of my Grandmother who gave birth naturally to five children, one of whom was born feet first. I think of First-Lady Obama, looking positively beautiful in a pink sheath dress, with arms so toned she could beat any of the Republican nominees in an arm wrestle. I think of Joan of Arc dying for her beliefs at 14. Joan of Arc should have been wearing ballet flats with bows on them, but she had bigger fish to fry. I think of Mother Theresa, who crossed cultural, social, and political borders to help those who were truly weak. Mother Theresa didn’t need to make kissy faces at the camera to prove she was a woman, and neither should my daughter.
Likewise, I’m discouraged by all the positive praise the recent article, “The Death of Pretty” received. In the article, Pat Archbold claims to be sick of all the slutty “hot” women, and wants us to go back to being “pretty, and innocent.” First, oh look, a man telling women how to dress so that he can feel better! Revolutionary! No. Men, stop telling us what to do with our bodies because you don’t know how to handle yours. Women, stop telling Men it is okay to tell us what to do with our bodies. I don’t want my little girl dressing like a prostitute, but I don’t want her to need to be “pretty” either. She is worth so much more than her face.
Secondly, and more disturbing than the “pretty” comment, however, is the idea of women in perpetual “innocence.” Children are innocent. Yes, to be innocent means “free from guilt or sin,” but it comes at a price: to be innocent means “to be free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil.” I want my little girl to live a life free from guilt or sin, of course, but not at a sacrifice of knowledge. As she grows into adulthood, I want her to be knowledgeable, so that she can know evil, and fight it. I want her to alleviate guilt from knowing how to make it better. To get all Biblical, Adam and Eve lost their innocence when they left the garden, but look at what they gained: the opportunity to become parents, knowledge of good and evil. Sex. Experience. Life. Even if you don’t believe in the literal story, the myth itself is intriguing: Would you rather remain a little girl, or grow into a woman?
Lastly, I will confess that I was inspired to finally publish this post after reading Alice Bradley’s post “On Being an Object, And then Not Being an Object.” In her post she shares this antidote:
“ A year ago I was at a family event and a few of my mom's friends--older women all--were expressing amazement that I would let my hair go gray. One of them--a woman I've known since I was born--said, "Men don't mind it when their hair goes gray, because gray hair makes you look more intimidating. And a woman doesn't want to look intimidating."
Alice Bradley’s response: “Do I want to look intimidating? God, yes. I do.”
So often women are told, sometimes openly, and sometimes in whispered mumbles of “Bitch,” that we must choose. We can be feminine and pretty and girly, which translates into nice, and lady-like, and good. Or we can be strong, aggressive, and accomplished, which must mean bitchy, rude, and ugly.
I refuse to accept that false dichotomy. I refuse it for myself, and I refuse it for my little girl. Baby, you are beautiful for so much more than your tiny, pretty, cat-hat head. You can be brave, lovely, wonderful, kind, confident, accomplished and strong. You can be a woman.