“If they’re both straight” and other thoughts
When my daughter was an infant, a fellow new mom once joked that my daughter and her son (also an infant) were on their first “date.”
“If they’re both straight,” I countered, and she laughed.
With race, my experience has been a general absence of language/conversation (which sends indirect messages about race). In contrast, I have been overwhelmed by the onslaught of direct messages my daughter receives about gender on a daily basis.
A 30-second public service announcement by Verizon showcases the kind of messages that girls are subjected to, including:
“Who’s my pretty girl?”
This relatively innocuous sounding comment is one that I often complain about to my dad who likes to call my daughter, and the things she is wearing, “pretty.” Much of my daughter’s clothing is either unisex (greens and blues) or on the non-frilly/pink side of “girl’s clothing.” So when my dad hones in on a purple/blue butterfly on her shirt and asks her if she thinks it is “pretty,” I loudly protest.
“Would you ask if the butterfly was ‘pretty’ if she were a boy?” I asked in my daughter’s hearing distance. I want my daughter to hear me challenging these messages so that, eventually, she can challenge them.
My dad rolls his eyes, but acknowledges my point with a slight nod.
My daughter will never escape the power of the media’s words—and the words of a multitude of other people in her life—that will reinforce negative messages about what she can do and who she should love. While my contradicting comments might produce eye-rolling or laughter, they are something I can do to challenge negative messages, as well as teach my daughter to think critically around the messages she gets from the media and others.
When my daughter was almost two, I was walking with a group of friends. My daughter toddled ahead and I looked on lovingly and commented, “Look how she runs…flailing her arms like she is about to topple over!”
My friend replied, “She runs like a girl.”
“Don’t say that,” I said.
“Why?” he asked. “It’s true.”
“But you’re implying that running like a girl is a bad thing. I don’t want my daughter to hear that—or your son to hear that.”
Later I sent him a link to another powerful/distressing public service announcement: “Run Like a Girl” features videos of both pre-teen girls (and boys) and teenager girls and boys who are asked to “run like a girl.” The pre-teen girls run fast, strong, and hard. But the pre-teen boys and teenage girls and boys have already internalized “run like a girl” as an insult.
These are not messages I want my daughter to internalize. So I speak up, countering statements that make gendered assumptions about who my daughter should be or love.
For more reading on children and gender stereotypes, please visit Pigtail Pal Blog whose mission is to “redefine girly.”
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.