The other night, as I was folding laundry, Tiny-Small ran over to me and said, “You’ll never be president, Mom.” I turned to her and was about to respond, but, before I could, she said, “…because you’re a girl.” Now I have no desire to be president and obviously never will be, but to have my four year old daughter state so confidently that girls cannot be president just made my blood boil.
I decorated her nursery in yellow and green to keep it more gender neutral. I bought her toys from both sides of the Toys R Us store. I’m a huge advocate for gender equality and human equality. I am raising a little girl during a time period where a woman very well may be president. Fingers crossed. Prayers answered. I am hopeful to see that happen in my lifetime.
Sadly, I am repeatedly shocked by how little an impact my beliefs and values seem to have on my daughter. She is completely rooted in gender stereotypes. She likes pink and ballerinas and thinks boys cannot be pretend princesses and should only have “boy” hair.
We have had long conversations about whether boys can have long hair or even wear dresses. I told her that, despite what she thinks, some boys do wear dresses, have long hair, and even wear makeup. We have also discussed at length that some girls have short hairstyles and drive trucks and even play with swords. To really blow her mind I told her that men marry other men and women marry other women. She couldn’t fathom it. We live in a place where she doesn’t see these things happening very often. So she often doesn’t believe a single word I say. She has to see it to believe it.
I asked her to explain why women couldn’t be presidents. She said, “Because they don’t dress like presidents.” That’s when I realized what she was getting at. The other day when a bunch of men in ties walked by she said, “Where are all of those presidents going?” She clearly believes presidents wear ties and that wearing a tie means you must be a president. She doesn’t see people in her life wearing ties too often. We are pretty laid back in the West. People often joke that to dress up is to wear “new” jeans. She mostly sees men in ties on TV during elections and Presidential debates. For her, clothes truly make the man…or woman.
I try not to worry about what our culture is teaching her about men and women. I hope the examples we set at home and the conversations we have (or she overhears) will help form her opinions, but sometimes her perceptions are truly a slap in the face. When she said girls couldn’t be president I had no woman president to show her, as an example (or proof), that it was possible. I mean, we haven’t had a female president in this country yet. In some ways what she says rings true…I find myself wondering, can a girl really be president? She’s right about other things too because what people wear really does seem to be an important factor in how they are perceived by others. When Tiny-Small wears her pink tutu and has bows in her hair people stop to compliment her. When she shows up in sweatpants and a Batman T-shirt nobody says anything. She is paying attention. She knows, at the age of four, that embracing gender stereotypes is rewarded with social acceptance. She has witnessed another parent berate his son for wearing a dress and pretending to be a princess during pretend play. She sees the writing on the wall and there is little I can do to persuade her otherwise. At times it feels like there is little I can do to prevent her mind from being polluted by harmful social and cultural expectations.
The other day I went to a thrift store and bought a bag of doll clothes for Tiny-Small to play with. When we opened it we discovered a child-size clip on tie in the bag. Later that day as I came around the corner she had her dolls set up on the coffee table. She was wearing the clip on tie and delivering a speech to her audience. I almost cried because finally she believed she could be a president. This gives me hope that maybe at four years old her brain can only process so much information and that as she grows and has new experiences her ideas about the world will change. That her world will expand beyond what she has seen in the small town she lives in. That she won’t feel limited by stereotypes, or judge people by the clothes they wear, or think she cannot be president even if that is what she truly wants to be.