As a little girl, I was the epitome of a tom-boy. I was constantly up a tree or on a skateboard or wrestling my older brother. I hated dresses, still do and until I reached my 30s I was not a big fan of pink. To this day you better not even talk to me about sequins or glitter. I don’t think I was rebelling against being girly, it just wasn’t who I was.
As an adult, I am still not a girly girl. I don’t often wear make-up, hate high heels and have absolutely no clue how to GHD my hair into beach-babe waves. As a feminist, I often feel like these things are not a requirement of being a woman, nor are they necessarily reflective of my femininity. I think I may have overcorrected for my daughter.
Gender neutral to the extreme
After I found out I was pregnant with a girl, I obvs began buying stuff for her. I was very deliberate in my choices – nothing too girly, too pink or too sparkly. Buying her greys, yellows, greens and even black. I found it near impossible to bringing myself to buy pink or lilac. Even her nursery was decorated in white, grey, mint green and a few pops of coral. All very gender neutral.
At my baby shower, my mother, sister and friends couldn’t help themselves. My unborn baby was gifted the girliest of girly garb. Every shade of pale pink imaginable, with trimmings of glitter, frills, gold and tule. It was my worst nightmare. Many of these things, I am ashamed to say, never saw the light of day. I put them in the bottom of her drawer and before she had a chance to wear them she (conveniently) outgrew them.
Despite any of this as soon as my little girl was old enough to have an opinion, she made her choice. And the choice she made was pink, sparkly and had a tutu attached to it. I was horrified. I had tried my hardest to stop her from being conditioned into “girls should live in pink sparkly princess dresses”. And here she was actively asking to be a princess or a ballerina.
Where had I gone wrong, my daughter was a walking talking bedazzling gender stereotype?
So, I doubled down, stocking up on toy cars and engineering toys, shopped in both the girl and boys sections of shops. Balanced her pink with blues and greens. I even reigned in my unicorn obsession to make sure she had as many dinosaurs as she had unicorns adorning her room and clothes. I was fighting a losing battle. No matter how hard I tried, she was always drawn to the pink, the sparkly, the “girly”.
I guess the motive behind my attempts to steer her away from becoming a ‘girly’ girl, was rooted in my desire for her to not be pigeon-holed. I felt that women were all too often stereotyped as weak, superficial, incapable, not worthy of respect or equality. In my mind, if my daughter didn’t behave like a girl, she would not be treated as one.
And then she said something that made me realise I had been wrong all along: “Look, mommy, I am a princess knight!”. I was not losing the fight against gender-fication, cause there was no fight to lose. She was not being made into something pink and frilly after all. She was just enjoying being the many things that girls can and should.
“Look, mommy, I am a princess knight!”
In that moment I realised I had been fighting a pointless fight. Girls can be tough and fierce, even whilst wearing a tutu and tiara. She didn’t have to choose one or the other, she could be both.
Badass girly girls
After reading a 2019 article, I realised how wrong I had been. Heather Mitchell, took a series of incredible photographs. The shoot was in response to another mom’s comment that Mitchell’s daughter was not athletic but girly. (As any self-respecting badass mom would) Mitchel proceeded to prove her daughter didn’t need to be one or the other, she could be both. Her images went viral.
I had actually been perpetuating the stereotype in my attempt to prevent her falling prey to that stereotype. I was in actual fact conditioning my daughter to be less girly or more boyish. This implied that I too believe girls have to behave like boys to be taken seriously. Wow, mind fuck, right?!
Being ‘girly’ doesn’t mean that a girl is weak, or stupid, or incapable. A girl can be both. In fact, the things that make us women “girly” are often the things that make us strong. Traits like our ability to empathise and our softer, more gentle approach to problems. And if some of us like to be strong whilst wearing a tutu and tiara, then so shall it be.
Fearless girls can also be girly girls
And with that I will never pigeon hole my little girl into one thing. I will buy her the princess dress, and if she wants to wear it to her karate class, that’s totally cool too.