This afternoon, while AdoringHusband was indulging his man cold, I decided to take Zizi to the movies. She’s not yet at the point where she will watch a non-animated feature in the theater, so I decided on Puss in Boots, in IMAX 3D.
We had a really good time together after the mother with the whining/crying/loud child finally moved away from us after repeatedly being shushed by many of the patrons. Even Zara turned around and offered some shushes of her own. The mother’s response? The typical, he’s just a child. Yeah, like it was our fault that we didn’t accept and indulge her noisy offspring. Sure, I really wanted to pay $35 for two tickets to a movie neither of us would be able to hear.
The movie was cute, Zara was entertained, and I could eagerly listen to Antonio Bandaras read my shopping list. I did spend an inordinate amount of time during the film trying to identify Humpty’s voice (Zach Galifianakis).
Afterwards, we stopped by the empty Coldstone Creamery for mommy-daughter ice-cream bonding. Zizi gushed on and on about the cats, the golden goose and so on. She’s at an age where it is really fun to talk to her. That little mind is just fascinating.
But in between spoonfuls of dark chocolate ice cream with M&Ms, she said something that made my heart sink to my feet.
“I want to be a hero, too, Mommy, but I can’t because I’m a girl.”
I tried to keep my expression relatively neutral but it was clear that I had failed miserably when her eyes widened considerably as they moved from her spoon to my face.
I had an immediate feeling of anger and outrage that little girls in 2011 are still getting messages from the media that courage and heroism belong in the male turf and beauty/appearance and princessness are female turf. I was also very saddened that my and AdoringHusband’s “fierce girl” egalitarian messages were not enough to counter society’s onslaught of genderism. I had hoped that she would never think such a gendered belief, much less utter it as if it were fact. But I knew I had to get the warring emotions under control so that she would not get the message that she had done something wrong.
The first thing I started with was in clarifying why I had reacted to what she had said.
“Mommy is not upset with you about what you just said, honey,” I started. “Mommy just doesn’t like that movies and TV shows make kids feel like the hero is supposed to be a boy and the person he rescues is supposed to be a girl. You are a hero when you put on your SuperZara cape to go rescue people. And you are a hero with your sword and shield you use to slay the dragon. There is no ‘girls have to do this‘ and “boys have to be that‘ in our family. We can all be and do whatever we want. There are no limits.”
She looked a bit relieved that I wasn’t upset with her, and smiled a lot when I recounted SuperZara’s and Zara the Dragonslayer’s exploits. There seemed to be a yeah, I am a hero, recognition inside herself. I took that opportunity to recount Grandma Ericka’s story.
“You remember how I’ve told you all about Grandma Ericka?” I asked.
“Yes, she is up in heaven with God,” she replied reverently.
“Well when she was in school, she decided that she wanted to become a doctor. The problem was that way back then, there weren’t very many doctors who were women. Her teachers kept telling her that she had to be a nurse.”
“That’s silly, Mommy! You’re a doctor,” she interjected.
“Yes I am, but back then you didn’t see women doctors like you see now. And because of that, people tried to tell Grandma Ericka that she was being ridiculous. But you know what happened?”
“What?” she replied, ice cream forgotten.
“She went to her father, my grandfather, Papa, we called him. She went to Papa and told him that she really wanted to be a doctor but that her teachers were telling her that she couldn’t do it. She should become a nurse instead. And Papa, who had only gotten to 8th grade in school told her that if that is what she wanted to be, that she should become a doctor and never let anyone tell her that she couldn’t do or be something if she wanted to. He made her a promise that if she got the good grades, he would find some way to pay for school so that she could become a doctor. He also went down to her school and told off the teachers for telling his daughter that she couldn’t be a doctor!”
“And then what happened, Mommy? Did he beat them up!”
“No, silly! He didn’t have to. Grandma Ericka made excellent grades and got into medical school. When she graduated only 4 of the students in her class were women. Can you believe that?!”
She shook her head, no.
“She became a doctor, and so did Auntie Marsha, and Aunt Jade and Mommy. We don’t care what other people tell us we should be or should do (except for behaving and listening to the teacher’s instructions in school). We do what our heart, brain and soul tells us is RIGHT. And you, my lovey, are just like Mommy and Grandma Ericka: whatever we want to be, we go for it and never let anyone stop us. Right?!”
“Right!!” she chimed excitedly in response.
I know that this was just one of many battles that will need to be fought for her benefit. I also know that ages 4-6 are the prime ages for gender awareness and gender conformity. But good lord…how do I fight Hollywood, the Disney Princesses, hell, our genderist society to give my girl child the best foundation she can have?
I’ve been chatting with another mother during Z’s ballet class time. I’ve made no secret of my anti-princess crusade during our talks and she admitted that she feels similarly about them, yet her family makes her concerns out to be much ado about nothing. Yep, that sounds familiar. Recently her just turned 4-year-old kidlet told her one day before school, “Mommy, I have to wear a dress today because otherwise I won’t be beautiful and no one will marry me!” The child is barely 4 years old and she has already received the loud message that as a girl/woman your worth is your appearance first and foremost. How do we allow this to be done to our girls…to our children?
Some days I just feel ill. But I’ll keep fighting…for her sake.
This is what a hero looks like:
For more information about ways you can help address genderism in the media and raise healthy girls, check out the following sites: