I have four children (YES, Four!) and the first three are adventurous, mischievous, brave boys. Although, truth be told, they are basically men. Somehow, they grew up, without really pausing to ask me if that was acceptable or not… Frankly, it is ok, because that is the goal: for them to grow up and be productive, creative, and compassionate members of society. I just wasn’t ready for it to happen quite so quickly.
So, I have three men and one girl. She’s not a woman yet; she just turned two. Because, as I am often reminded, God has a wicked sense of humor and my four children span the ages from 21 years to 2 years, I am never going to be an empty-nester or retire. Of this, I am certain.
My daughter is also adventurous, mischievous, and brave.
And dirty. Very, very dirty.
The other evening as I stripped her of her clothing, to bathe her, with her face and hands covered in silt, after she had spent an hour climbing, digging, and playing in a pile of crushed rock and soil that would be used to fill in the infield of a baseball diamond, I remember thinking, “I don’t want you to grow up and be a lady.”
It rose up in me like a promise to her, and a plea to myself.
Everyone assumes that after birthing and raising three boys I’d be ready for tea parties, princess shows, and pink tutus. I’m not opposed to any of those things in practice, but I am opposed to keeping her clean, calm, and pure simply because she’s a girl.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want her to learn manners and etiquette and the truth that sometimes you simply must wash your hands. But, I want my boys to know those things too. And they do.
And, the boys have most likely ingested enough dirt over the course of their childhoods to build an actual baseball infield.
But, that evening as I washed the day’s adventure from her face, all I could think was, ‘Don’t loose this part of you.”
I celebrate her mischievousness, and her bravery, and her sense of adventure in a different way than I did with my boys. Society automatically encourages boys and men to be brave, and mischievous, and adventurous (which can have its own downfalls and I have written previously about it here), but it doesn’t automatically encourage the same in girls and women. This is simply fact.
Trust me – do a quick scan of T-shirts at your local Target Store and you will see that traditional boy clothes promote power and traditional girl clothes promote looks. (Often we end up buying her firefighter pajamas in the ‘boys’ department because that’s the only place to get them.)
My own parents did encourage me to be independent and to push to boundaries and I am thankful for that, because even with that encouragement I still melded into the expected manner of a ‘lady’ for many years. I worried if I was pretty enough or thin enough, somehow assuming I wasn’t smart enough, strong enough, or able to be independent.
Smart. Brave. Independent. Mischievous. Courageous. Strong.
These were, and are, all adjectives used positively to describe boys and men.
These were, and are, all adjectives used [mostly] negatively to describe girls and women.
Quiet. Helpful. Pretty. Cute. Sweet.
These were, and are, all adjectives used to describe girls and women. These are ‘lady adjectives.’ I can’t decide if they are positive or negative. Maybe they just are.
But, it is clear that they are negative descriptors for boys and men.
I’m not raising a lady. I’m raising my daughter to be who she wants to be.
I’m letting her eat dirt and bake cookies.
I’m encouraging her to climb trees without worrying if she will fall and to sit quietly and read.
I’m telling her she’s courageous when she does funny tricks and tries new things, like climbs up the couch, through the kitchen pass-through, to get to the counter, so she can get a cookie, because what’s not to love about that type of ingenuity?
My heart melts when she insists on wearing a baseball hat like her brother, and it also melts when she wears a sweet frock on Easter Sunday.
And when she loudly voices her opinion, even if it’s her insistence that she should have chips for dinner, I quietly celebrate her opinionatedness. But, she still doesn’t get chips for dinner.
She’s not going to be a lady, because we’re doing our damnedest to raise a woman to be reckoned with.