Julie Klausner recently wrote a great piece begging grown women not to be so girly, which I agree with wholeheartedly. If I can get on a Grampa Simpson soapbox for a moment, I think nearly everyone in my generation and younger, regardless of gender, needs to grow the eff up a little bit. C’mon, guys. We can go a day without playing kickball. Let’s do this.
On top of that, there are some particularly thorny issues when it comes to the ladies acting like kids. Such infantalizing reintroduces an element that I thought was dead, the “what do I know? I’m just a girl!” idiocy, a sort of no-wave feminism. Not to mention the creeptacular implications of women acting girly-but-sexy, which we don’t even need to get into. Naturally, Katy Perry is at the forefront of this nonsense, a personality whose schizophrenic sexuality makes Britney Spears seem like Andrea Dworkin.
However, I wonder if, in the case of women, the Girly Thing is something of a reaction to not having much of a girlhood. Boys can remain boys for a long time. Entire industries rely on it. If men couldn’t act like kids–if they weren’t almost expected to–it’d be the end of Hooters, Dave & Busters, Judd Apatow’s filmography, and every light beer ad campaign of the last 20 years. I doubt there’s a female equivalent of the Mancation, at least as a business model. Dudes feel entitled to have breaks from family life–from adulthood, really. Women rarely have this option.
I hope all of this doesn’t come off as Mansplaining. Women don’t need any dude to detail their plight to the world, least of all me. But now that I’m the father of a girl, one that gets older every day (that’s how the aging process works, apparently), I’m constantly confronted by unfairness like this that I was only vaguely aware of before. Abstractly, I knew all of these things already. Now I get to see it act on my four-year-old, see little bits of kid-dom taken away from her day by day.
My first indication of how little of a real childhood girls get came during our baby shower. One of the gifts was a set of wacky bibs that said things like I’M CUTE, BUY ME SOMETHING. But one of the bibs had the disturbing legend of LIL’ FLIRT. Really? She has to be a flirt at age minus-4 months? Can she learn to crawl, at least, before she goes man-hunting?
I’ve also been told, more than once, that my daughter “is gonna be a real heartbreaker.” I think these people mean to say she’s cute, but I don’t know why they just can’t say that, rather than projecting a future of heartache and scorched emotional earth that she will leave in her path. Saying she’ll be a “heartbreaker” implies (whether you want to or not) that she’ll be a manipulative she-devil when she grows up. If you saw a cute baby boy, would you say, “Wow, this kid’s gonna be a total douche someday”? Really, you would? Wow, you’re horrible.
You see this insanely premature woman-ing in Disney Channel fare. Shows like Hannah Montana et al are not aimed at teens; they’re squarely aimed at much, much younger kids. The plots, the broad slapstick, and the overall tone are intended for the elementary school-aged set; girls, primarily.
If you’ve never seen any of them, they’re not completely awful (almost, but not completely). On the positive side, most of them feature girls as the protagonists, and these characters are usually active participants in their lives. Unfortunately, this proactivity is generally limited to the pursuit of boys (even on shows where kids are somehow pop stars, or backup dancers, or hosts of Web shows). And even this wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that, again, the programs are aimed at little kids who really should be many years away from having to worry about stuff like this.
I’m depressingly familiar with The Disney Channel’s star-studded lineup because my daughter’s seen every single one of their shows. I hadn’t planned on letting her watch any of them, at least not this early in her life. For some reason, her day care decided Hannah Montana was an appropriate thing to show preschoolers. Plus, she’s seen it at other kids’ houses. Despite your best efforts as a parent, the world intrudes.
Why do I let her keep watching these shows? I don’t, generally. But every now and then she wants watch Shake It Up, or iCarly comes on after a quality cartoon like Phineas and Ferb. Sometimes I resist, sometimes I don’t. It largely depends on the day and my current tolerance for tears and screaming.
Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I feel like I can’t completely deny her shows like this. Otherwise, she’ll wind up like one of those weird kids I knew whose parents wouldn’t let them watch The Simpsons for some reason. I’ve already made her kind of anachronistically weird by exposing her to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and The Adventures of Pete and Pete, shows from my youth that I’m almost positive none of her classmates are watching. So I feel like I have to make up for nerding her up by permitting her to know what other kids are watching. Plus, by watching these shows now, she’ll know all the top campy gay references of 2023.
I’ve been thinking about Girly Stuff a lot lately because I just read Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which I highly recommend but which will also cause you to fear for your daughter’s future. Of course, there are tons of positives in it for ladies and ladies-to-be. For instance, that Fey was a large part in changing a subconciously sexist culture at SNL–and, I don’t think it’s overexaggerating to say, comedy in general. The dumb idea that “women aren’t funny” may never go away entirely, but it’s much less widespread than it once was, getting less so every day, and she was at the forefront of making this happen. And she did it with a general i-dont-give-a-shit-itude regarding what dudes had to say about her comedy or herself.
However, there’s enough heartbreaking details about Fey’s formative years and adult/motherhood to make you want to slap society, if you could figure out a way to do it. Maybe it took reading about this as detailed by Fey, a woman whose talent should’ve easily transcended such nonsense, to really drive it home. And to send a shudder through me for my own child.
Because, of course, I think my daughter is the most beautiful person in the world. Not just in appearance, but in her spirit. Now I have to learn from Tina Fey that no matter what she looks like, someone is going to decide she’s physically deficient in some way. And it’s just as likely to be another girl handing down the judgment. And she’s going to have to worry about her appearance far earlier than her male classmates. I still barely care about how I look–largely because I don’t have much quality material to work with, but still, I can look like a cave troll and still survive in this world. My daughter will never have the Slob Option.
Plus, she already has a sense that there are “girl things” she should do, in a way that I don’t think her boy classmates do. When I asked her if she wanted a baseball glove, she almost lost her mind with excitement and couldn’t wait to go to Modell’s to get it. And yet, when we got there, she wanted to get a pink mitt because “that’s the girls’ glove.” (I would have begrudgingly accommodated her, except there were no lefty gloves in pink, and so by default she wound up with a black one.) Her favorite thing to “play” at the park is for her to be Spider-Man and me to be Venom so she can put me in “jail.” And yet, she sometimes will tell me that Spider-Man (and similar shows) “are for boys.”
I have never, ever told her that anything is “for boys” or “for girls.” She gets this idea from elsewhere, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. If she ever says something along these lines, I try to reinforce as much as I can that there’s no Boy Things or Girl Things, that she can do whatever she wants. She nods and says “okay,” but I can tell she doesn’t quite believe me.
I don’t think it’s better for her to do traditionally boy-ish or gender neutral stuff. There’s plenty of pink princess-y stuff in our house that she plays with and wears all the time. She can play with nothing but ponies and unicorns and rainbows if that’s what makes her happy. I’d be totally fine if she played with anything for a really long time, before she gets shoved into lipstick and earring and boys. I don’t think I’m being an overbearing, overprotective dad when I say that maybe she should be allowed to be a little girl until at least the second grade. Is that too much to ask?
Because if she’s not afforded the opportunity to be girly when she’s an actual girl, she may grow up to want to wear rompers and put birds on everything. *shudder*