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.
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 and use makeup.
Last week my daughter came from school crying because she was called “tomboy”. I never thought that in 2021 I would need to have this conversation with my own daughter. It made me sad.
A couple of years ago, I saw in a beauty salon a leaflet that said:
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 makes me really nervous.
The way these girls are constructing their idea of woman/girlhood is based 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.
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 ( or even choosing their own gender).
This whole pink and girly culture is about making girls and women vulnerable to other peoples’ opinions about their appearance. Why do we need to dress our baby girls 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.
In our culture, dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity is very difficult to tolerate. I really think that the best way to helping girls to become who they want to be is creating a space in which they don’t need to fulfil our cultural expectations.
So if you are person who help people to navigate uncertainty, if you tolerate and celebrate ambiguity as part of the process of growing up, or if you thrive in uncharted territories, I want to say thank you, because we need more people like you.