December 2, 2011

Boxes

The other day, someone said to me, "You don't think SB will turn out to be a t-o-m-b-o-y, do you?"

She actually spelled the word out. As if it was so terrible she could not stand to utter it. Or perhaps, if SB heard the word, she would be doomed to become one.

At the time, SB was playing with a doll and wearing a pink tutu. I have no idea what prompted the question.

I was so flummoxed, I could not come up with a decent response. What I should have said was, "SB will be whatever she wants to be. And I will love her and accept her."

Now, the person in question is much older than I am. From a completely different time and place; two generations separate us. To be fair, it probably was frowned upon in her era for little girls to be tomboys.

In fact, I imagine it was strongly discouraged, in ways people of my generation would not be comfortable thinking about. But to ask that question in this day and age seems absurd to me. I thought we had come farther than that.

Perhaps I'm overthinking the statement. Or maybe I'm being defensive because I myself was one. I mean, as far as I am concerned, I turned out just fine. And SB will to, no matter what she chooses to be.

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, a time of great change for women in our society. I wanted to do more - be more - than my mother's generation had. And I had so many more options.

Years later, when SB was born and I was filled with a strong desire to stay home with her, my world was turned on its end. It went against everything I had believed most of my life. It was an agonizing decision, but I followed my heart.

Eventually, what I came to believe is that feminism is not about a woman working or staying home. It is about her having the opportunity, the power to make that choice. And many others as she charts her own course.

I want my daughter to have the freedom to make the choices best for her life. But how many options will she truly have if our society stubbornly clings to the "blue is for boys, pink is for girls" mentality?

Must we insist on containing both boys and girls in strict, defined boxes? Does that serve them well? My generation of women grew up wanting to blaze new trails for our daughters, and sons.

And yet it feels we continue to fight the same battles as the generation before us. As well as manage to create entirely new ones. We fight one another as much as we do the confines of the boxes our culture has placed us in.

Maybe my daughter's generation really will do better. Go farther. Will they be inspired by us or learn from our mistakes? I think a bit of both would be the best outcome.
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