My husband and I both anticipated that we would have a little boy (even though we’d elected not to find out the baby’s sex, we were just so sure), and our surprise when our little mister turned out to be a miss was matched only by our delight. The thing is, I just have TONS of emotional lady baggage, and I didn’t want to pass it on to a little girl. At the very least, I thought that if our first child were a boy, I could get comfortable being a mean ol’ mama bear before having to contend with a baby who also just so happened to be a baby girl.
Because it started in the hospital. After we got our hour of skin-to-skin, the nurses whisked her off to be weighed and measured and inked and swaddled and fitted with a little hat. But not just a hat. All of the newborn hospital hats have a little opening in the brim that allow for a bow, and this extra step was required before returning her to me.
Her little hat was just the beginning. The pink blankets and pink socks and pink headbands and pink dresses started flooding in. She’d barely ventured into the world of lounging in her pumpkin seat at sushi restaurants and the grocery cart before she was a little “princess,” and once, gregarious little being that she is, Miss America.
I didn’t have the heart to tell the well-intentioned speaker that I’d hoped Miss E’s natural charisma would lead to a successful career in interplanetary politics, but I wish I had.
This is where the terror comes in. Because it’s not little girls that I’m afraid of, really, but the way we think about them. It shouldn’t be a big deal for hot pink to be your favorite color (it’s one of mine). But it’s a loaded choice when an entire movement begins around a boy favoring it. Because it’s not just a color. We’ve given it meaning. And what I want my daughter to get out of the things that she likes to do and to wear and to share is that she’s strong, confident, and worthy. Do I believe that’s what every parent wants? Absolutely. Do I believe that’s what we’re succeeding culturally in communicating? Not even remotely.
The way we talk to children matters, and perhaps because I am (surprise!) a woman, I am especially sensitive to the sometimes damaging messages that we send to little girls and what I hope to do to counter them. I can’t, and won’t, try and change whoever it is my daughter becomes, even and perhaps especially if that person loves tutus and pink glitter. I want to celebrate Miss E for the whole of who she is and who she’ll be.
The current Miss America is a remarkable, articulate, and highly-motivated young woman. But she still had to parade across a stage in a string bikini. I can only hope that by the time Miss E is old enough to decide whether or not pageantry is in her future, that will seem as ridiculous to the rest of the world as it does to me.