Being a good “feminist”, when my daughter was born three and a half years ago I was determined to bring her up in the feminist mould. Her father and I tried our hardest not to gender her. She was dressed in blues, greens and oranges. We made sure she had toys that were appropriate to both genders, and a range of books that weren’t just about glittery princess ballerina bunnies.
Then comes nursery, and contact with other girls. She explodes into a deep and long love affair with all things pink. She tells me she is not pretty unless her hair is in a bobble. Last month she asked me why I wasn’t beautiful, and on further questioning explained to me that I wasn’t wearing a skirt. Then two weeks ago I finally gave in. At her nursery fair she was very keen to get a hideous “singing lady” which turned out to be some kind of Bratz doll and, believe me, compared to that doll five second hand Barbies or Barbie-likes for £1 was much more acceptable.
I’m afraid to admit, that of all the toys I have purchased her, those ultimate anti-feminist icons have been the best. Why? She used to get up early. Very early. For the first six months of working after maternity leave I was regularly up at 4.30 am. Recently I have made it to 6 or 6.30am before she rushes through, demanding that I get up immediately and make her breakfast… until I wearily give in and get out my warm bed to do so. How has Barbie changed my life? She now gets up and plays with her dolls. She plays quietly – sometimes until 7.30am! She never did this before, because she hadn’t been allowed a toy that she loved. Really loved, loved so much she wanted to be with it more than with me. At the end of the day, I was forcing my own political beliefs on my daughter and not letting her follow her own interests and her own paths.
I realised that my child does not grow up in a vacuum, and if I try to mould her to my world view then I am not letting her be herself or discover things for herself either, and we all know what lies down that road – rebellion – that’s how Artists end up with children who become Accountants. It’s also not about feminism, which, to my mind anyway, is less about telling women or young girls how to behave or what to be (no matter how left-wing your ideas are) and more about letting them make their own choices and mistakes.
This isn’t to say that just because I’m getting more sleep I suddenly think Barbie is a good role model, either boys or girls. Or that I have given up hoping to teach my daughter how to become a strong and confident woman. I’ve just decided to do it a different way, through my actions rather than consumerism. By surrounding my daughter with other strong and confident women, and men who know how to respect them (and do). As well as people who generally have bodies in realistic proportions.
It is not a bad or unrealistic thing to try to raise a feminist child, whether they are male or female, but to constantly fight the world by trying to push them down a path that is not yet theirs to even tread lies frustration. She’s only 3 and a half, she has plenty of time to discover it.