Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pink Feminists, or "Can I Get That Police Officer's Uniform in Pink?"

This morning Katie informed me that she'd wear the olive green hoodie I dug out from her dresser on this surprisingly chilly morning, but she'd like to get another one that has her favorite colors on it. She didn't have to tell me why. The other day when I pulled out some pants for her to wear while playing in the back yard, she nixed both the brown cargo pants and the green corduroys.

"Those are boys' pants." She stated as if giving me a lesson in reality.

I turned the pants in all directions, looking for a clue. "How can you tell?"

"Because they're brown and green. Those are boys colors."

I'm nearly always amazed by the things that come out of Katie's mouth, so it's not uncommon for me to ask her, "Who told you that?"

"I just figured it out myself." Is usually her answer, as it was this time. I'm usually proud of my child's observation skills, but this time I was sad.

I worried when Katie started kindergarten she'd catch all kinds of bugs from her peers, breaking her incredible health streak. This kid has only had two fevers in five years. We started sending her to a one-hour a week "school skills" class last January, but other than that, she's never had much regular contact with kids her age. I was certain once she began going to school regularly she'd lose her immunity to her school mate's contagions.

I haven't witnessed any sneezing or coughing yet, but something much more dire has begun to rub off on Katie: our social mores. Girls wear pink and boys wear blue. That kind of crap.

I guess I assumed Katie would inherit my feminism just as she's evidently inherited her father's amazing immune system. I'd read that it's a common developmental phase for children her age to recognize gender roles and begin to incorporate them into their own personalities, but I thought having me for a mother could somehow inoculate her against such rigidity. I was wrong.

When I was pregnant with Katie, I decided I'd only dress her in gender-neutral colors. That lasted about a week when reason struck me and I realized most of the stuff that was given to us by friends and family was pink and that as much as a newborn blows through onesies, having lots of extra clothes, even pink clothes, was practical.

I can't fault my friends and family for giving us a bunch of pink gear from the start when that's about all that's available in the girls' department. I'm not a big shopper. I prefer to take hand-me downs or at the most shop at second-hand stores for clothes. Yes, I tell myself it's because I'm so green, but really I'm just cheap. We're lucky that my step-niece has a daughter a year older than Katie, and Will has several cousins with children that give us their goods. So I've only bought Katie a handful of clothes during her five years.

The few times I have shopped for my daughter, I've been disappointed. In order to find jeans that didn't fit tightly and draw attention to my young girl's ass, I had to shuffle over to the boys' department where there were lots of baggy jeans. Once when Katie was three, I compared a pair of size 3T jeans I'd found in the girls' department to a size 3T I'd found in the boys' department. Not only did the girls' jeans have much more bling on them, they were cut so much tighter than the boys' jeans they looked about two sizes smaller. Perhaps children's clothing manufacturers design girls' clothes tighter because it's assumed girls in general are smaller than boys, but I've seen no evidence of such sexual dimorphism at the playground. The only difference I can see is that our culture puts more importance on flaunting girls' bodies than boys'.

So despite the regular dose of children's book propaganda I feed Katie about how all people are equal and anyone can do anything they set their mind to, my little girl is starting to smell the bullshit in my stories. The other day, a couple days before she informed me that she wouldn't wear the brown cargos or the green corduroys because they're for boys, as we were walking to her school, Katie saw a police car drive past us and said, "If I was a boy, when I growed up I would be a police ossifer."

I used to think it was funny when Katie would tell me she wants to be a police ossifer. Funny in the way my friend likes to tease me that she'll end up an Alex P. Keaton since her parents are such free-thinking hippies. I could just imagine a grown up Katie, coming over to her parents' house for Sunday dinner, wearing her uniform. I'd ask her to leave her gun in the car. No guns in my house. And there we'd sit at the table, our rule and order daughter and her iconoclast parents, passing the edamame and refilling our glasses of soymilk.

It always seemed an unlikely dream, not because she's a girl, but because she's MY girl. My vicarious notions led me to hope Katie would grow up to join the Peace Corp, not carry a gun and throw people in jail. But if she grew up and really did want to be a police officer, I'd be the old lady with Bride of Frankenstein gray hair showing off pictures of my daughter to strangers at the park. "She fights crime," I'd boast, because I knew my daughter would be an honest cop and not a pig.

"Girls can be police officers too," I stated simply as we walked along the sidewalk, hand-in-hand.

Katie, wearing her pink My Little Pony backpack over a ruffly top, tight capri pants and glittery bright pink shoe laces, looked at me wearing a green T-shirt, navy sweatpants and my brown Birkenstocks, and smiled like she'd heard this one before.

My daughter is not me. Every day that she goes to school and spends more and more time away from me, she'll find her influences elsewhere. I must not worry. I tell myself that I grew up in our society too, in even more conservative times, and I managed to find my way. I'm a feminist raised in an uber anti-feminist community, aren't I? I'm open-minded, aren't I?

I looked back at my daughter, smiling brightly in her cute outfit. It dawned on me that I'm not as open-minded as I like to think. Who says girls can't wear pink AND be feminists? Isn't that what the fight is all about - allowing people to be anything they want to be?

I squeezed Katie's hand and smiled, knowing it's all I can do.