My girl Tink is about to turn 9, and everything is changing. She has always been sassy, smart, and fearless, but until last year, she preferred to do it in various shades of pink.
That is all over. Her new favorite color is black.
I remember when I was that age and a little older, when I started to hit puberty as an early bloomer. I remember my mom making comments - not mean or critical ones, just drawing attention to the changes in my body. In a cutesy tone, she called my emerging breasts "little beginnings" (MORTIFYING) and said the boys were going to start noticing any day, as if this was something I should be excited about (I wasn't). She was trying to be affectionate and let me know she was cool with what was going on, but it was my body, and I wanted to process what was happening to it without unsolicited commentary.
Now that I'm on the other side, I wonder if she was actually trying in her own way to minimize her abject terror at the idea of watching a girl child become a woman in this world. Even though women have better educational and career opportunities than ever before, sexism and rape culture abound. Femininity is still devalued. The media still presents women as ornamental, as accessories to male heroes. Most workplaces still have not adapted to an egalitarian view of gender roles both on and off the job, which affects how domestic and child-rearing responsibilities are divvied in male/female households, even when the parties are well-meaning. I wish I could shield Tink from the frustration and rage and disappointment she's going to feel sometimes when she has to navigate the world in a woman's body. I know what's coming, and I can't do anything about it.
McDreamy told me that he was playing the board game Life with his kids and their friends the other day. McDreamy's daughter was the only girl, so the boys took all the blue pieces, leaving McDreamy with a pink piece. One of the boys said, "Oh, no, you have to play as a girl!" McDreamy, who is a tall, strong, specimen of masculine goodness, looked at his daughter and instantly replied, "What's wrong with that? Being a girl is cool! I'd love to play as a girl!" He mentioned it to me later, concerned about how his daughter would take comments like that, wanting to make sure she understands that her dad values everything about her, including her female-ness. After all, someone - possibly a parent - taught that neighborhood kid to think that girls are inferior, probably without even realizing it
I reassured McDreamy that smart girls quickly learn to ignore stupid offhand comments, seeing them as reflections of the people making them rather than anything to do with them. And that is true, but at the same time, the constant onslaught gets very, very old after awhile. Sometimes sexism feels so pervasive that you're breathing it. It doesn't help when society gaslights you into thinking that demanding to be treated with the same dignity and respect men expect as a matter of course is the same thing as casting yourself as a victim or hating men or wanting special entitlements.
My mom is by no means a feminist, but I have to think all mothers have feared particularly for their daughters, whether they could articulate it or not. I'm nothing if not articulate, and feminist to the core, but it doesn't seem to be helping. What I would do if I could, though, is bottle her fierceness now, so that in 20 years, when she needs an infusion of I-don't-give-a-fuckness to assert herself on the job, in a relationship, or even just walking down the street, it would be there for her. THAT would be a great cocktail.