Mum, are you sure I’m a girl?

 I remember wondering about this when I was 3 or 4. I had short hair, I had a predilection for boy’s toys and I was unaware of the basic rudiments of gender difference. When I look at photos from that time I can clearly see that I could have been a boy or a girl, especially when I was in shorts and a T-shirt. At the time I use to wonder: “What if I’m a boy and my parents don’t know yet”?

All my hesitations quickly disappeared when I fell in love with my neighbour, who happened to be a boy. Then I wanted to do everything just like him. If he liked chocolate, that was my favourite food; if he was an avid comic reader, so was I. To my mind he would notice my existence if I was the perfect companion for him.

What I’m trying to say is that my gender was constructed in a dialogue between the external and the internal, between the life surrounding me and my own development and needs. It was a complex process that took me a long time.

Nowadays girls don’t have this space. The whole of their experience is merchandised and served up ready to be consumed. Girls wear pink, dress like princesses, use makeup and have a certain way of talking in a high-pitched voice that I find very annoying (it’s a mix between seductive and infantile). As Lucila mentioned a couple of days ago, there has been quite a lot of talk in the UK about the excesses of certain clothing branches , but in fact what the high street is selling is what you can find embedded in our culture.

 Last week I found the courage to devote some time to the feminine task of waxing. Following major negligence on my side (please remember that I’m a feminist and feminists have hairy legs on principle) I decided to go a beauty salon. When I left I picked up a leaflet listing the treatments offered, and what did I find?

 Children’s parties (minimum age 10 years) The party includes everyone getting their nails filed & polished and makeup applied.

 You can call me conservative, old-fashioned or just old, but the whole idea of 10-year-old girls being into polishing their nails and applying makeup give me the creeps.

The way these girls are constructing their idea of woman/girlhood is based exclusively on adornment and accessories. There is no room for them to express ambivalence about their gender because by the time they are 3 years old they are already dressed in pink like princesses.

I think it was healthy at that age to wonder why I was a girl, and more than anything I think it’s important to respect that space instead of immersing girls in the whole pink experience as the only way of constructing their sexual identity. Feeling like a woman or a girl is more than wearing certain garments. By pushing girls into identifying so early with their sex we are not allowing them to explore the boundaries of their sexual identity, preventing them from being the women they want to be in the future.

 This whole pink and girly culture is about making girls and women vulnerable to other peoples’ opinions about their appearance. Why do you need to dress your baby girl in pink from head to toe if it’s clear that she’s a girl? Well, the answer is that it’s not clear that a girl is a girl until she is 4 or 5, in some cases. But we’re so eager to make them look like a girl or a boy that we can’t wait for them to discover it for themselves. I think this culture is really damaging little girls, but I don’t see any sign of change. Am I too pessimistic?

Natalia

3 responses to “Mum, are you sure I’m a girl?

  1. I think you’ve put it well…the hurry to push kids into identities rather than letting them discover it for themselves is troubling. I find this very challenging, but in a different way – I want to steer my son *away from* gendered cultural norms/influences when all he wants is to embrace them more & more – often before he’s even been exposed to them. I find it very disturbing and, if the truth be known, disappointing.

    Anyway, I wonder if those parents who work so hard to encourage girls to be culturally “girly” or boys culturally “manly” are trying to work out their own unresolved gender identities? Or do they, personally, value spa time so much that they just want their child to share in their own values as soon as possible? Perhaps so that they will establish some common ground now that might grow into a life-long re-connection point for them (as the parent-child relationship can often get rocky down the road)? Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of questionable, culturally-instituted, values out there. But, I’m just trying to make some sort of sense of it all.

  2. Pingback: Lipstick and Powder « Adventures in Boogieville

  3. Pingback: Lipstick and Powder « Adventures in Boogieville

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