When I wrote a piece refusing to ban bossy, a friend asked why the article was categorized under “feminism.” I told her it was because I’m a feminist now! Or maybe because the piece was antifeminist. (I was, after all, speaking out against Sheryl Sandberg, one of the leading figures of the modern movement.) In reality, I had no idea. I didn’t know on which side of the coin my article fell or if, in general, I could categorize myself as a feminist. But it got me thinking: if I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she is not discriminated against based on her gender, don’t I need to be a feminist?
I admit that I don’t know as much about feminism as I should. I’m certainly not well versed in the movement’s history. Other than fighting for equality of the sexes, I don’t have much of a clue as to what makes a person a card-carrying member of the club. The stereotype of the bra-burning, hairy-armpitted man hater persists, but that breed seems outdated (or at least on the fringe). A number of male celebrities call themselves feminists, participating in the Real Men Campaign and fighting for women’s rights. It may be acceptable (and even trendy) for men to be feminists, but I still didn’t know if I am one.
When my daughter was born, my wife and I dressed her in clothes purchased from both girls’ and boys’ departments. This was less a political statement than a preference for science fiction– and superhero-themed T-shirts. We painted her room green and purple and put robots and aliens on the walls. We avoided all things pink and everything Disney. One day, however, we let her watch Snow White. Why not? It’s a classic. Plus, it’s kind of dark and boring. She probably won’t even like it, we figured. Ha! She was enthralled. We lost her forever.
If I were a feminist, would I have taken that chance? Snow White has to rank pretty low on the scale of positive feminist values. There are two women. One is so obsessed with looks that she’s willing to kill her stepdaughter to remain the “fairest in the land.” The other is sweet, beautiful, highly domesticated and needs to be saved, first by seven shorter-than-average men, and then by one dashing creepy prince (who makes a habit of kissing dead chicks). Maybe the fact that I now view the movie through this prism gives me some feminist cred.
My daughter is a girly girl. Saying that is probably a feminist no-no (calling women chicks probably is too). I just mean that she loves all the crap that is shamelessly marketed to girls her age. Despite what my wife and I tried to foist upon her, she prefers pink and princesses and frilly, sparkly things. She also has a keen sense of gender norms. I can tell her only so many times that there’s no such thing as girl colors and boy colors before I just say, “Well, I guess some girls just like blue better.” The same goes for television characters and various activities that are traditionally associated with one gender or the other. I have only so much fight in me when it comes to my daughter. That chick is stubborn!
It’s possible that not only am I not a feminist but that I am even inadvertently reinforcing gender stereotypes. I was once criticized by a relative for letting my daughter play with a toy vacuum cleaner. It didn’t matter that I stay home with the kids and do nearly all the vacuuming while my wife earns 100% of our family income. This relative was just shocked that I allowed my daughter to play with a symbol of female subjugation. It never occurred to me that giving her toys that were similar to the tools of my trade could be construed as sexist. I still don’t think it is.
I support the feminist movement, or at least many aspects of it. There should be more women in movies talking about things other than which guy is the dreamiest. Girl toys should not have to be pink, though they can be. Though I won’t ban the word bossy, girls should be able to be assertive and take leadership positions (without people thinking they are that other B word). When she’s older, damn right my daughter should earn as much as a man doing the same job. And women should always be free from unwanted sexual advances and not shamed for expressing their sexual desires.
In the future I want all these things for my daughter, but right now I mostly just want her to be happy and to have fun. She’s a kid. That’s her job. If that means buying her the clothes and toys that make feminists cringe, I’ll do it without a second thought. I will, however, make sure she knows that her options are not now, and never will be, limited by her gender. I don’t know if I’m a feminist, but I know that I’ll always fight for my girl.