Sunday, February 23, 2014

Girls Are Lovely

So the other day my little girl came home from school and said something really alarming.

"Boys are smart.  Girls are lovely." she said.

And then my head exploded.

In my mind I was all like, where the bloody hell did you hear something so ridiculous?! Who on earth did you hear this bollocks from?! Where do they live?! I'll show 'em just how unlovely girls can be! Freakin' fools.  Damn.

But I knew I had to tread carefully, because if I went off like a cracker, like I wanted to, she'd just shut down and then we wouldn't be able to have a conversation about it.

I only half succeeded.

Foiled a bit by her mood and her lack of desire to unpack the issue at that moment.  And in part by my inability to keep a level head.

I was calm, don't get me wrong.  But I was probably a bit more zealous than I should have been.  I didn't quite say don't ever let me hear that sort of misogynist rubbish out of the mouth of my daughter again.  But I think she knew I wanted to.

I did say girls are smart.  I did say girls don't have to be lovely.  But at the point in the conversation when she just started repeating, "No, boys are smart, girls are lovely" I knew now was not the time to try and discuss it.  I had to save it for later.

But it will be discussed.  It will be unpacked.  Nothings surer, and nothing more important.

So why do I feel so aggrieved that some anonymous random has filled my impressionable 5 year olds head with such rubbish?  Why can't I just dismiss it as a benign nonsense?

Because while, quite obviously it is nonsense, it is anything but benign.

Because anything that compounds the already forceful message that girls need to be defined by their placid, conforming, agreeable or "lovely" behaviour is dangerous and damaging and not to be left unattended.

Because my daughter is going to have a tough enough time combatting the messages that she has to look a certain way to be valuable.  She doesn't also need to be bombarded by the notion that she's not allowed to be smart but is expected to be lovely.  Not at 5 years of age.  Not ever.

And if I'm honest I think I react to such things because I'm not convinced that I am a great feminist role model for her.  I consider myself a feminist, no doubt.  But sometimes I look at where our family dynamic has landed and I wonder how on earth the gender roles ended up being so stereotypical.  

It wasn't intentional.  Perhaps it was just lazy?  

Or perhaps I was overly confident in the notion that feminism supported women to do exactly what they want to do and therefore our household gender roles didn't need to be challenged.

And perhaps I was wrong about that.

Biology does play a part though, of this I am sure.  And nothing has convinced me of this fact more than having my children.

I was always certain, in that ever assured I-haven't-had-kids-but-I-know-exactly-what-sort-of-parent-I-am-going-to-be way that I would want to go back to work six months after having my first child.

Well, nearly six years and two kids later I'm still only dabbling with the idea of going back to work.  At, I suspect the absolute peril of my career.  

But because I didn't have to go back to work for me the choice was easy.  No way.  No way was I ready to head back to work after six months, not even close.  I wanted to stay with my baby.  As hard and challenging as those first several months were they were also intense and intensely beautiful and there was no way I was giving that up.

By 16 months I was pregnant again and I'd dabbled briefly with a return to work, but gestating one child while raising another?  I had enough on my plate without adding paid employment to the mix.

This is not a decision I regret in the least.  I am thrilled I am able to be there with my kids for their earliest years.  

I say this with absolutely no judgement towards those who make different choices.  In fact in some ways I envy their abilities.  I actually feel like I couldn't have coped with the balancing act that being a working Mother requires - so they get nothing but kudos from me.  But it wasn't for me, it wasn't my choice, and I'm good with that.

There are other things though, other choices that I regret not fighting for.  At the time I felt like it was making mountains out of molehills, that these things weren't that important but now I am beginning to see with a new clarity that the personal is political. And I am questioning whether I am being a good feminist role model for my children.

Like why do our children have my partners last name?  We discussed this during pregnancy and I remember arguing the point that it was completely arbitrary.  Why did it have to fall to the paternal side of arbitrary, when the historical basis in ownership is repugnant and deserves to be questioned, argued and overturned.

Hyphenation sadly, for us was not an option since our last names are multi-syllabic and would have proved cruelly burdensome.

It was something I felt strongly about because I was the last in my family to carry my name and our name ends now that my children and my cousins children have all taken the names of their fathers.  

But then the baby came.  And I recall my partner filling out the form while I breast-fed our baby and just not wanting to engage in that moment in a political, feminist argument.  We had a happy healthy baby.  The rest just seemed like froth. 

But it's these moments in which we need to stand up, perhaps.  Otherwise how is the status quo ever going to change?  How are we ever going to reach a point in which my partner sits at the kitchen table filling out the birth certificate forms and makes no assumption about what our babies last name should be.  Because why should it be assumed?  That assumption is based in an irrelevant, centuries old tradition that sees a woman give up her identity and her ability to claim financial independence.  It is based in the notion that marriage equals ownership.  

So seriously, the personal is political.

And this is why when my daughter comes home with idiotic views that she has picked up at the playground, I cannot dismiss them as the nonsense that they are.  They hit a nerve because they are reminder that within the home too there are lessons still to be taught and learned.

What it means to be a woman in this world is still quite fraught and challenging.  Even from my comfortable, white, middle-class, western world perspective.  So anyone who tells me that Feminism is no longer relevant?  Well, they're welcome to come over to my place and debate the subject.  I'll even bake.

What does Feminism mean to you?

Listen to: No Doubt Just A Girl

Image Licensed Under Creative Commons


  1. Just had the last name discussion with my stepdaughter last weekend as part of pointing out things people take for granted as "the right way" but which is based on the old ideas that men "own" their families. I adopted my son as a single person, then got married later, so my son got my name without argument :)

    1. That sounds like the perfect happenstance! So good to be having these discussions, and yet sometimes so worrisome that we are still having these discussions. Lovely to hear from you Christy.