By SE Harper
A couple of months ago, a family friend innocently said to my six year old daughter, “Haven’t you got nice little hands?”.
It was intended to be a compliment, she is his God-daughter after all – so it was well-intended. They were colouring-in quite intensely at the time, therefore he’d seen a lot of her hands in close-up, so it was all in context, all good. At least he thought so, the poor fool.
Unfortunately I was too involved in chiselling fish fingers, nuggets and other orange- things-that-come-frozen-in-a-box off the oven tray to rescue him. Quite frankly, he should have known better anyway.
Her response was so ferocious it almost dislodged the gungy gunk from the lid of the ketchup bottle. Almost. But not quite – nothing beneath nuclear can shift that stuff. The second roar was milder, maybe just a paltry 3.7 on the Richter Scale this time, but I still feared for his life. Thankfully, before any blood was shed, he rescued himself with,
“Don’t worry, I know you are still a warrior princess”. The colouring resumed, slightly more intensely than before, but at least he was safe. He was lucky, that time.
But it got me thinking, as I stirred the baked beans. At a very feisty six, it was clear that my daughter could sense possibly sexist comments a mile off, intentional or not. Would she have been happier to have been simply called a “Warrior” instead? Possibly. Or just “Princess?” Definitely not. That would have led to murder. But if our daughters are that gender-sensitive already, is that a good thing?
“Of course!” the raging, radical feminist inside me would proudly declare, whilst banning everything pink and fluffy from the house with immediate effect. So in that case, should her Godfather have referred to her as a “Warrior Prince” instead? No, that seemed wrong too – and possibly even camp. Maybe he should have played it safe and stayed completely gender-neutral with something like, “What adequate-sized hands you have. However, should I have caused any offence with my labelling, please remain assured I fully acknowledge you as a person engaged/experienced in warfare, by the way. Is this yellow felt-tip still working?” (The poor man, once he’s read this, he’ll probably never dare speak again.)
So is my daughter engaged in warfare, not the daily type with her brother, but more of a deeper, media-influenced, society based battle? To a certain extent, yes, she probably is; just like the rest of us as we wrestle with our self-image, weight, career, parenting abilities etc etc in our perfection-obsessed culture. Yet despite the politically-correct image the Media likes to think it has, watch any early morning ad break and you can see the lazy gender stereotypes shouting right in your exhausted face. Apparently, boys are still as into dinosaurs/big trucks/ building stuff as they were in 1978 whilst girls are not complete without endless pet-shaped, pink fluffy things to collect and make over. Okay, I accept that sometimes you will see a token girl in a skateboard ad or maybe a boy in something related to a cuddly toy but it’s still pretty rare. And how can this stuff not influence our kids?
None of it is straightforward anymore. As the kids play on oblivious, as parents we need to be careful we don’t dwell on it all too much (too late for me, clearly). The Media has a lot to answer for and this is another parental pressure that is as welcome as a bad nappy-leak in a traffic jam.
Deep down, I know my daughter can be pretty “pink”. Am I a Bad Mother because her favourite game is (still) Mummies and babies with her pink pushchair and dolls or, more to the point, am I a Bad Mother because watching her play it makes me cringe inside? Thanks, Media.
Mind you, some might say her “blue” side is innately strong too. It shows itself when she boxes with her punch bag (a necessity), plays with her cars and proudly burps, farts and scratches her bum in front of the TV.
Am I a Bad Mother because I am not raising my daughter as some sort of trendy non-gender-specific person with a secret identity and politically correct toys? Am I Bad Mother because every time she wants to play My Little Ponies I am not forcing her to play with action figures instead, you know, in case she gets too girly? Or perhaps I should take the whole gender-balance thing further and replace her Crossbows and Catapults set with Bratz dolls (the horror!) in case she swings too far the other way and becomes too masculine? Or should I just forget the whole thing and only let her play with Lego because that seems to sit nicely in the middle (as long as she doesn’t build too many cerise houses. Or navy spaceships. Or anything else that could be labelled as too “Pink” or too “Blue”)?
So before my head and conscience implode, I’ve made a decision. If, according to one side of our society, she still has to be pink, then I’ll embrace her pinkness. And if, according to the other side, she needs to be blue as well, then I’ll embrace that too. Because, as I watch her now, out in the garden hand-plucking the caterpillars off the broccoli, I’ve realised something. She’s not pink, despite the very pink party dress she chose to wear this morning. Nor is she blue, although her favourite wellies are (but she’s so muddy now, it’s hard to tell). Because she’s the perfect mix of both. She’s my favourite colour. She’s perfectly purple.