Ask Her More
My 4-year-old likes clothes. She likes to play dress-up and take her show on the road, which means that often I am wandering around the grocery store with Rapunzel by my side. If I saw her, I would ask her about her dress. If you could see her spinning around in it, you would, too, because it is so clear that she chose it thoughtfully and that she is enjoying herself and the story it brings to her life.
I see no problem in any of that: her love of dressing-up is entirely her own. If you knew me, you’d know that to be true: I was a tomboy who grew up into a tomwoman, if there were such a thing. I’m usually wearing whatever pants, some shirt, and gym shoes. I hardly have on any jewelry, no make-up – whatever. I’m mostly happy to have showered and I need to be able to run after my toddler: the end. I just don’t think about any of it all that much.
My daughter likes lots of things every which way – clothes, dolls, sports, Legos; I have no idea what she is or isn’t, yet. The same is true for my son. He, too, dresses up in various superhero gear and he, too, gets asked questions about what he’s wearing; it’s hard not to ask when you’re being stared down by a kid in a homemade mask. But, the questions for him are different; the variance is faint, but it’s there, if you’re listening. The comments and questions move on quickly from how he looks to what he can do, which super powers he has, etc.
Whether she’s wearing a Rapunzel dress or some other random outfit she has decided on for the day, the comments and questions towards her stay on how she looks. Generally, they are all sweet compliments that she enjoys, but I’m thinking more about this. Even if I practice gender-neutral parenting – supporting my sons and my daughter in whatever toys, clothes, and activities they choose – there are other factors for them. Nature, sure; and also, the nurture they get from the world.
I’m thinking more about this because I do it, too. I have been catching myself in my comments and questions to both of my children to listen carefully to what I’m asking and saying, to make sure that I’m sounding fair. I literally have to close my eyes and think of what I would say to my son if he were in one of his getups and then I say that thing or ask that question of my daughter. I can’t believe that I have to think that hard. I can’t believe that I have to think at all; I can’t believe that I change what I say and how I say it between my daughter and my son. Some might say that I’m saying and asking different things because that is what you do with different people. You’d be right about that, but I hear myself and I know that that’s not the whole story. I am looking at this little girl and putting things on her – things I don’t even know I’m putting on her and things I thought I’d never put on her.
Her femininity is a strength; wearing pink doesn’t mean anything more than she’s wearing pink.
I wrote this to remind myself to Ask Her More.
Ask her what you will ask her because she’s a girl and ask her whatever you’d ask any boy; ask her if she has any special powers, ask her if she has a story behind the dress.
Maybe she’ll be a fashion designer someday; or, perhaps she’ll be a woman who loves to get fancied up before she heads into her boardroom. Maybe she won’t be any of those things. I don’t care at all what she ends up doing as long as she knows all the way through that she can be whatever she wants.
We’re about to listen to so many interviews of Hillary Clinton; no matter whether you support her candidacy or not, it’s going to get boring by the end. It always does. In order to amuse yourself, listen to what the interviewers ask her and compare that to the questions asked of her male counterparts. If we are discussing Hillary’s hair and clothes and not his hair or clothes, we’ve done it. If we are asking her about being a mother and a grandmother and not asking him about the same, we’ve done it again. We think it doesn’t matter, but words matter. Questions can limit just as much as statements can.
My girl is as sweet as pie and as tough as nails, the way most of us – male or female – are at our core. I am hoping she keeps on keeping on however she likes.
Ask Her More
I know how it is when you see her there with her big doe eyes and her shiny blonde hair. How do you not say, “Well, what is that you’re wearing? You’re so cute and such a doll,” and she’s happy to be alluring.
For now, it seems innocuous enough. She’s bright and she’s happy and she doesn’t rebuff.
But we know something happens around age 11 or 12: She’ll start to focus so much on what you’re asking that a part of her dissolves into questions and worries about what she looks like, as if function has nothing over form, and I wonder if it starts right here with these comments and questions about nothing more than what she got in the genetic crapshoot and how she makes the most of it.
Does she learn while answering that her clothes and her appearance mean more than anything she knows or her experience?
She’ll answer you because she’s polite, and she’ll be excited to be noticed because she delights in lots of different things, as does her brother who stands next to her, who gets asked about school and sports and reading and such.
We ask what he likes, what he’s good at, and it’ll be a little bit much for her – not now, but over time she’ll learn that her ideas and her passions don’t deserve a question.
She might have ideas that she learned from a book or that she thought up in her mind, but we’ll never know and she’ll never tell if we ask her only about how she looks and her clothes.
She jumps rope like a pro, she creates stories about the world, she can sing any musical show, but we’ll never know if we don’t ask her more.
Will you ask her more?
She’s like you, like me before. Way, way before we answered everyone.