Well What I was thinking about while I wrote yesterday’s What We’re Reading just doesn’t have much of a ring to it does it?
Strange as it may seem Sticker Dolly Dressing Dream Jobs actually seemed rather an apt choice this week off the back of this article from The Guardian which I was reading over the weekend. In it the author talks about having tried to bring up her daughter without any bias towards everything that’s traditionally girly, only to find herself smack bang in the middle of the pinkest of pink princess phases.
And while I can see where Sophie Heawood is coming from in wanting her daughter to want more in life than to emulate Sleeping Beauty (who for the record I totally agree is a bit of a flake, give me Belle any day, and that’s before we’ve got anywhere near Mulan, Merida or Ana), and I equally agree think there’s a very big risk of unintentionally going too far the other way, I don’t think this is the small stuff that we mothers are fretting over because even bigger stuff is out of our control. I think how we respond to a pink princess phase, and how we approach the tidal wave of pink marketed at our daughters does matter.
I’ve never really got behind the whole ethos of the ‘pink stinks’ campaigns and their ilk. Pink is a gorgeous colour. It’s the colour of sunsets, of roses, of smiles, of favourite shoes, of strawberry ice-cream ,and the rosy glow of your cheeks when you’ve been out in the wind. And for the record, it’s an awesome colour for Lego (and Duplo for that matter), it goes very nicely with the bright green bits from the Jake and the Neverland Pirates set, and clashes stunningly with the orange flames from the fire station.
The problem isn’t the pink, it’s the baggage that goes with it.
By pushing too far against the girly girl choices, even with good motives, don’t we end up making them the lesser choice by default? If being a hairdresser or a florist is seen as ‘too pink’, and the real strong women are all becoming astrophysicists and F1 race engineers then what does that say to someone whose passion is flowers, or who gets the biggest kick out of seeing customers step out of his salon with an extra spring in their step after an awesome haircut? that we don’t think they’re as clever? that they’ve given up and sold us out? even that they’re anti-feminist? Why?
If I were to tell my daughters, even by inference, that to be a success they have to emulate the guys, or take on a role in a male-dominated workforce then I’d be making my expectations and opinions more than clear.
But does that mean I should do nothing?
In all the myriad of definitions of what feminism is and isn’t (and all the in-fighting that usually follows) the one tenet I can hold firm to is that it means the freedom to make uninhibited choices. It doesn’t matter what I choose, just that I get to choose, and that my choices have equal weight. That to me is the fundemental point. It’s about equality, not homogenisation.
Like Sophie Heawood’s daughter, Kitty has hit the pink princess age. Her favourite colours are pink and purple, she loves her dressing up clothes, and her little princess dollies and I frequently find both girls running around the house and garden acting out Frozen, well Kitty acts it out, tells a bemused Elma that she’s being Ana and Elma just joins in with a resounding “let it go!!! Slam!” at the appropriate moment.
But while I’d reach the same conclusion in letting the princess phase run its course quietly and naturally, I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons and I’m definitely not doing nothing. To me it is important to be aware of and cautious of the messages to which I expose my children.
But it isn’t my job to tell them what to think. There are toys and characters that we’ve said no to, but I hope not just on the grounds that they’re too pink and girly, not consciously anyway. We try to provide an inviting space to play, balance in their toys, toys that we loved as children and toys that we see them loving, and then the rest is up to Kitty or Elma or Pip. H and I try as best we can to have faith in them, to let them follow their interests and passions and see and support wherever it takes them.
I can see that that might come across as being a little hypocritical; on the one hand I’m trusting my children to follow their dreams, but on the other am I not carefully curating the dreams available to them? Well very possibly; I’m not claiming to have got this nailed by any stretch of the imagination and my eldest child is still only just four. What I’m trying to do is to edit out the inequality, the unofficial dictat that says that Kitty and Elma must want wall to wall princesses, or that Pip will only ever be interested in tractors, race cars and space ships, that arty crafty things are only for girls, or science only for boys.
I have a little girl who can spend a whole morning playing dress up with her sister; twirling and pretending magic with her wand and repeatedly requesting that her tiara be adjusted, and then in the afternoon send the Duplo fireman to “prison” in Cinderella’s coach secured at the top with a clock tower poached I think from Ariel, while Cinders herself sits at the fire station computer “doing blogging Mummy”. A little girl who renewed a Sleeping Beauty board book four times this summer and then suddenly switched her allegiance to another of the Space Rocks series and was furious when I suggested it be returned to the library. Another little girl whose favourite clothes are either “Zoo t-shirt” and shorts or “partee dess”. And a little boy who I am certain I will at some point discover dressed up as one of Disney’s leading ladies if his sisters have anything to do with it.
If, and it’s a big if; if we get it right we’ll have given them a foundation in which all three of them become adults who believe they can choose to follow their dreams; adults who believe in true equality; and adults with happy memories of a childhood spent flapping around the garden in a giant sparkly cloak playing at being a princess.