I wasn’t raised by proclaimed feminists, but I was surrounded by strong and self-reliant parents who gave me the freedom to define my own boundaries. I am still figuring out those boundaries, but one of the things that have become increasingly important to me is the role that feminism plays in raising my daughter.
If I were to rely on mainstream media, I would probably have a little girl who engulfs her room in pink chiffon, rhinestones and tiaras and thinks drowning her sorrow in talking mice and teacups is what happens in real life.
The outcome of some of these actions are my daughter is not a princess fanatic – phew! She doesn’t care about prince charming and has asked me several times where Cinderella’s friends are (especially when she was drowning her sorrows with the talking mice). She still loves twirling and dressing up, but on most days she wants to play with her collection of dinosaurs and dragons.
Here’s how I know I am doing something right – Last month my daughter and I celebrated Halloween at school. Following this, we went trick or treating at a gated community in Bangalore. This was a first for both of us.
A few days before Halloween we sat down to decide what costume we were going to make together. Before I could say a word, she said “I want to be a dragon, I want to be Toothless (of How to Train Your Dragon fame)”. After a few moments of stunned silence on my part, she repeated for effect that she can only be a dragon.
I vainly tried to reason with her, saying no one would understand her costume, let alone who Toothless is. Perhaps she could go as the ‘Hiccup or Astrid’, the human protagonists. She didn’t relent. Three sleepless nights later, I produced a Toothless costume. She was delighted – and I was too!
As expected, none of her friends understood. I had to keep explaining to mothers that she was in fact a dragon. All her girlfriends showed up as princesses from various Disney cartoons – there was snow white, Cinderella and Rapunzel even. The boys on the other hand had interesting non stereotyped costumes – there were zombies, mummies, spiders and bats. It got me thinking about why gender stereotyping is so pervasive for little girls as opposed to little boys of the same age?
The entire episode also left me a little uncomfortable. While it’s nice to have a daughter who has a mind of her own, it’s also hard as her mother to swim against the current. It was exhausting walking behind her explaining her costume to ‘treaters’. I had to answer a few uncomfortable questions about why she looked like a bat. I also had to keep explaining to perplexed faces, that she was in fact a little girl inside that dragon when people asked me “What is his name?”
In the end, I am figuring it out and I already see my influences rub off on her. My only hope as a parent is that she keeps what feels authentic to her and finds her own self.