I grew up in a sexist family. They subscribed to an extreme sexism that justified rape and torture of little girls and women. It was the worst kind of sexism. My father was very clear that all things feminine were not just bad, but evil. Of course, his idea of the feminine was fed by society, so even his choice of what to hate was distorted.
He let me know that my body was evil. My body caused him to rape me. My body caused him to have desires that he could not control. My body was a source of shame and guilt because I was a girl. Keep in mind that I was younger than 10 years old at the time.
He assured me that my feminine strengths were useless in the real world. My intuitive, creative and nurturing instincts were forced down deep inside of me. I was ashamed of them. I was told that I must figure out how to succeed at the traditionally male-dominated school subjects and careers. At the risk of sounding condescending, that wasn’t that hard. My left brain works just as well as my right brain. I mastered math, science and all the other logic-based fields in our society. It wasn’t an issue for me.
But I had no balance. I had been told that my feminine characteristics were evil and dangerous. I had learned to hate them. So I refused to use them. I faced life with logic only. I was shut off from my heart. As anyone can guess, this served me well in my career, but the rest of my life was a disaster.
I shunned all that was feminine in all aspects of my life. My only female friends were those that had learned the same techniques. Mostly, my friends were men. I hated everything society called feminine. That included pink. That included dolls. That included babies. That included housework. That included fashion and decorating. I swore to myself that I would never embrace what I hated.
And then, I gave birth to a little girl. In the early years, I taught her how she could be anything she wanted. I taught her that she could be a scientist, an astronaut, a mathematician or a doctor. I taught her that she could like any color she wanted. I thought I was giving her the best possible options in her life. She would grow up to be a powerful woman knowing that anything was possible.
But there was a problem. She was a girl. She loved pink. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up (which should never be asked of small children), she answered me truthfully. She wanted to be a princess. The first time I heard that answer, I was shocked. It was the last answer I expected. I didn’t know what to do.
And then it hit me. I didn’t have to do anything. I wasn’t leaving all the options open for my daughter. I was telling her she could be anything she wanted as long as it didn’t involve the feminine. My version of feminism was no different than the patriarchal oppression of all that is feminine. That’s not feminism. Feminism is not about demonstrating that women can be more like men. Feminism is embracing everyone for who they are.
I have been reading some backlash about the GoldieBlox toy recently. Some say they won’t buy it because it is still pink. Some say they won’t buy it because the stories are promoting traditional feminine roles. I bought it for my daughter a year ago. She likes pink. She likes princesses. She does not like these things because she was told to like them. Believe me, I didn’t encourage it. She likes these things because deep down inside, some aspect of her being is attracted to them. But she also likes building things. She likes making things move. She likes creating new things from scratch. And she loves stories. And so, I will let her embrace all of her strengths. Not just the strengths that work for or against our societal norms.
One day, my daughter may decide to be a princess doctor or an engineer with a closet full of pink sweaters. Or she may become a nurse or a social worker with a propensity for wearing black. I will support whatever she wants to be. To me, that is feminism.