My almost four-year old daughter has started to take a serious liking to dresses – one that blurs out pants and shorts completely and is starting to phase out even the skirts. My tomboy self is baffled. And this is starting to become a disappointing reflection of society for me.
My daughter started out her days in a serious absence of pink. My unofficial credo for dressing her was “No dink. No pink.” I even asked relatives to avoid anything from powder pink to fuchsia so she could be exposed to the vibrant diversity of color in our world. That resolve passed as she grew older because there simply is a lack of color options in your average store. When I walk into Target or Fred Meyer, the girls’ racks are monochromatic pink and the boys’ blue. Are we that narrow-minded? What would happen if we dressed our girls in green? Would they start to love trees and broccoli and frogs more than princesses? Smithsonian has an interesting article on the subject here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html.
Now Daughter will wear a dress of any color but prefers her shirts, shorts, and pants to be pink. She said to her Dad the other day that she wasn’t pretty because she wasn’t wearing a dress. Now I can understand that she likes to wear dresses, but when she starts feeling less anything because she isn’t wearing one then I start to worry. Have I inadvertently exposed her to something or someone who is sending her that message? Is she seeing enough female role models of all shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, and backgrounds to get the message that natural beauty comes in all forms AND more importantly that what makes a person most beautiful above all is being kind, compassionate, loving, and thoughtful?
So I do a quick mental rundown of the media that she’s exposed to. Fraggle Rock: the girl Fraggles are pretty functionally attired, ready for adventure in the underground caves. Dora: again, this girl mostly wears clothes suited to climbing Candy Mountains and crossing Troll Bridges. Cinderella: Yes, she’s the culprit. Life changes when she is given a beautiful dress. She is taken away from the world of the oppressive mother figure (Ha! Uh-oh, is that me?) and given a chance at freedom in the arms of her prince. Disney movies and so many other tales for our young ones spoon-feed this B.S. to our children from a young age. I’ve read that playing house is a very natural thing for kids to do to prepare them for the roles accepted as cultural norms within that society…but then what do we make of our little girls pretending they are dressing up for their prince? Didn’t we already break down some of those barriers over the years so girls and women could grow up feeling more self-sufficient?
Why is Cinderella still around? Is she the female equivalent to gun play for boys? What some consider whimsical child’s play while others fret of its longterm implications? Something girls toy with to uncover what it means to be a woman? Or a fable about the transcendent power of beauty? The story is retold time and time again in a slew of uninspiring Hollywood box office hits.
We have tried to have ongoing conversations with our daughter about the books and movies she sees, but often these talks don’t happen until a comment bubbles up showing us how she is starting to see the world. Cinderella isn’t going anywhere, so neither will my obstinate belief in gender equality and girl’s rights to be free of misguided messaging budge.