Reflections (or some other 1990's yearbook title).

At Descanso Gardens, we're barely out of the car and Z is beside herself with excitement. The train is about to start running and we are first in line. She clutches her Brio "ENNJIN!" and "ENNJIN DWIVER!" to her chest which is covered by a green and brown giraffe t-shirt. Her hair is short and disheveled; on her face, grimy traces of peanut butter crackers remain.

"Come 'ere little boy and we'll size you up" says the elderly ticket lady, motioning toward a wall.

Slightly shocked, I don't say anything, just nudge Z closer to the marking on the wall that proves her small self can ride for free.

Z lets out a squeal, runs toward the front of the train and jumps on. Ticket Lady says: "My! Look how BIG and STRONG you are!".

I smile and get on board too. Because she is big and strong and what do I care if this lady thinks she's a boy? Do I need to correct her?

I jump off to take a picture
and I look at Z, trying to size up her gender as if I didn't know her, as if I haven't studied her every pore every day since she was born. What if I had to come up with a pronoun after a quick glance? Do I just look at the color scheme of the clothes? What about the bows on her pants? The short-in-back girlie haircut?

I've NEVER heard anyone call my dress-clad daughter "big and strong". It's usually "cute" or "pretty" or some other acceptably feminine adjective. It reminds me of when I teach a Pilates mat class and the women squirm and balk when I tell them to "widen their shoulders" or "make their pelvis heavy". It makes me want to scream. Can we not be big and strong too? Can we please have beautiful, wide shoulders and take up some space?

(But I digress...)

Most of Z's clothes are fairly girly though I always veer toward awesome blue dresses and green shoes and orange hats because she likes those colors and so do I. When she was a baby, I quickly dropped my loudly professed plan to outfit her in orange and yellow and bought many, many pink and purple things. She was just a blob and could've been any gender and I wanted to make it easy for people to guess and exclaim. Pink! "It's a girl!" I didn't want to explain or answer any more questions than I had to. At the clothes department there are the boy rack and the girl racks. There are precious few either/or, especially as they get older. I have friends in places like Berkeley and western Massachusetts where parents often dress their children completely genderlessly (Spellcheck, I don't care what you say, I LIKE THAT WORD.). I decided early on that, even in my wildest, most feminist moments, I didn't have that in me.

But now I wonder if I should dress her in gender-neutral clothes a little more often. If only so she can hear "look how BIG and STRONG you are!" out of a few more strangers' mouths.


Kathi McCracken Dente said...

You are right. We don't call women strong enough. Gender roles are so much more complicated than I expected. I tried to make sure she didn't wear too many frills or too much pink. I gave in a bit because I also realized people need the cue to know what to say about your kid. Then Mira fell in love with trucks, earth moving equipment, trains, planes, etc. And I freaked she wasn't girly enough. So now she is 2 and I am embracing the cutesy girl stuff before she gets to completely choose her wardrobe and letting her be whatever she wants to be. Which right now appears to be a ballerina train engineer. :)

Erica said...

I love this post.

Also, can I please have your daughter? kthnxbai.

My Buddy Mimi said...

I love people trying to get their heads around our blue and yellow car seat containing an infant dressed in pink. It sends completely different signals, I suppose, so they end up just asking me point-blank if it is a boy or a girl.

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