It’s International Women’s Day next Sunday and, as a father of daughters ...
Sorry. That phrase, “as a father of daughters”. It just falls out of me every time I want to weigh in with my opinion. I saunter up like the MS Word Office Assistant Clippy and nearly say: “It looks like you are talking about women. Would you like me to help you with your opinion?”
Well, this is an AAFOD article, but don’t worry. It’s just about practicalities. Because AABOOB — as a brother of only brothers — I’ve missed out on a lot of girlhood.
I interviewed my daughters about what it means to be a girl. The toddler was unavailable for comment. She had just been given jammy toast, and was hyper and jumping up and down shouting: “I’m not a girl, I’m a little baby.” Which is profound. She is also currently minding a stone (named Stony Woney).
The four-year-old was more forthcoming.
“Being a girl means getting to wear tights a lot.” But “boys can wear tights as well”. Are boys and girls different?
“A little bit different. Girls have boobs and can have babies.”
We told ourselves at the start of this parenting journey that we were going to try and avoid overly gendered toys. I wanted my daughters not to feel shoe-horned into anything that would prevent them from being STEM heroes or World President.
We just let the girls play with driftwood. but somehow the pink things seeped into the house.
The eldest used to be into dinosaurs, then sea creatures, then vampires. And now she’s into princesses and fancy things. She “really really [x10] wants to be fancy”.
She wants to be a ballerina and then a ballerina teacher when she grows up. When she’s doing ballet “I feel like I’m a girl and because I can twirl”. And twirling is just as valid an expression of physicality as hitting someone with a fair shoulder and driving them out over the advertising hoarding.
She got me to twirl. And twirling made me feel fancy. And fancy is a nice feeling.
I’ve had my nails painted, and veterans of the job tell me it’s only a matter of time before my eye shadow is done. Which is fine because I’m feeling a little puffy lately.
We have seen both types of princesses in our reading. There are the modern princesses who rebel against outdated roles. And then there are the fairy stories that haven’t been touched by any wave of feminism.
The eldest likes both types, but has raised questions about why any princess would marry someone so quickly after meeting them.
“Because he might be a bad guy,” which the kind of response to near-strangers all parents hope for.
Perhaps the single most important lesson I’ve learned (which I will expand upon in a day-long seminar on International Women’s day) is about my biases. I wanted to raise girls who felt absolutely no limitations on what they wanted to like. But when they got into princess space I felt a slight disappointment.
“But…what about STEM Hero and World President? I thought. I realised that, in saying “girls can be anything”, it was laced with inbuilt bias against historically girl things.
Having your prejudices revealed is uncomfortable at the start but once you get over yourself, it’s sort of fun. Exciting. Liberating.
Not unlike twirling.
So I look forward to seeing whatever they get into next. And getting my eye shadow done.