I admit it – I used to look at kids on the street dressed head-to-toe in painful combinations of magenta and purple, sparkly cat head-prints and Disney all over – and silently judge their parents. I mean seriously – who dresses their kids like that? Either they must have awful taste, or no willpower whatsoever to say no to their spoiled kids. But now, as Ania hits the 4-and a half-year mark, I think I get it. Those poor parents are just trying to preserve their sanity.
At least that’s how I see it. Up until this year, I was blissful in my judgemental ignorance. My child obviously was born with great taste, and was super happy wearing all the cool, gender-neutral clothes that I picked out! Mornings were easy, what to wear was a total non-issue. Notice how this is all in the past tense? Yes, that’s right – the days when I could be so smug are no longer. Just like all those other little girls, these days it’s all about pink, and it’s not only a preference – it’s an imperative. There have been mornings when the lack of any clean items of pink clothing have caused crises of unimaginable proportions – we are talking tears, tantrums, and arriving at work over an hour late in full sweat and panic. As an adult, it’s easy to dismiss all this as irrational, childish craziness, and get really angry over it, especially in the stress of the moment. But I actually remember what this feels like as a child – the intensity of emotion, that desire to belong, to define and express yourself the only way you know how. This pink business is no joke.
I really didn’t want to believe that conventional gender stereotypes were set in stone: girls being pink princesses enthralled with make-believe worlds full of aprons and dolls, while boys occupied the realm of superheroes, planes, trains and automobiles. Surely, this happened because parents weren’t aware enough. Or didn’t try hard enough. But even living as I do in a society that is probably more keenly conscious of gender issues than most, where girls are given trains and cars as much as boys are given dolls and toy ovens – at the end of the day, I see now that there is so much more to this which is simply beyond our control. Media, friends, advertisements on the street. What it comes down to is that we parents are no longer the only ones occupying their universe, we’re not the epicenter of influence anymore.
But even more fascinating are the tendencies which I can’t attribute to external factors. Like the way I see Ania so keenly aware of my morning routines – how I do my hair, makeup. How she knows my wardrobe off by heart – and knows right away if I am wearing something new, or that she’s never seen before. How wearing a certain colour, or certain item of clothing – can be a matter of life and death. And how all my friends observe in their daughters this same acute awareness, this same powerful drive – while that impulse is so much less prevalent in their sons. When it comes to clothes, or colours, or any of that – it seems like boys simply just don’t care, or at least not as much. Or maybe just not yet.
And lately I’ve started to ask myself – are we actually making too much out of something that matters very little? A wise friend of mine recently pointed out that nobody ever questions if boys wear too much blue, or play with too many superhero action figures, or spend too much time playing with trains. So why is it that we tend to view the girly-counterparts as being more negative? Almost every woman I know, myself included, once went through a pink princess phase, and that has not made us any less independent, or feminist, or anything. In fact, one of my earliest, most vivid memories is of myself as a 4-year old throwing a huge tantrum over this exact same thing – not wanting to leave the house in anything but some specific dress – and I seem to have gotten over it unscathed. In all our well-intentioned efforts to raise children in a world free of gender biases, I think sometimes we’re just putting our worries in the wrong basket. For sure, the weak-willed, marriage-hunting Disney princess just waiting to be rescued is no role model we want to perpetuate. But it’s also unnecessary to think that wearing all pink to preschool is going to lead to a life of subservience and oppression, right?
So my new motto is, embrace each phase for what it is! If Ania is into pink right now, I’m going to let her have it. It’s just a colour, it’s self-expression, not a future blueprint. And instead of shunning the princess, devaluing her as a role model – we need to empower her. As long as Ania believes that princesses represent strong, smart, inventive, creative, and powerful women that can do anything they want – then I hope she stays in that phase for a lifetime.
It was, of course, her Halloween costume this year. What better time than this, to let her live the dream!
But who are we kidding, it’s not just for Halloween. Comes home from school, puts on the dress, and hangs out in it. Almost everyday since getting it. Best 149-kronor investment ever!
Getting the pose down.
So. Much. Happiness.