I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t think there is anything wrong with traditional femininity or masculinity. But, I want my kids to grow up feeling that they can be whoever they are on the inside, which may include many variations around the gender/identity spectrum. When I see traditional character traits being projected on to them (and I am sure I do it too), it makes me ponder topics like this.
We begin imprinting on our children the moment they come into this world. If a baby cries and makes a particularly scrunchy face–he’s angry. An involuntary smile (that probably happened while passing gas)–she’s sweet. Sure newborns have temperaments and personalities, but they are still largely blank slates. Personality comes only after adding up all of the little experiences, encouragements, discouragements, comments, and other stimuli (and of course the interactions with their genetics).
When our triplets were in the NICU, I could see how differently they were treated, or rather how the nurses and doctors referred to them. We have two boys and one girl. And the thing that really stood out for me was many people called our daughter “princess.”
What made her a princess, though? What does it mean to be a princess? To me, that word evokes femininity, frilly pink clothes, and being protected. It is an indicator of the “girl” corner of the gender spectrum and all of the things we associate with girls.
And if people keep calling my daughter a princess and keep buying her pink clothing and treating her as a fragile treasure, how will her little developing brain respond to this? Will she take on those traits, those things that in our Western culture we associate with the feminine? Or are there elements within her that would come out no matter how she was treated?
I have had many friends with children comment to me how different their boys and girls came out. With so little difference in upbringing, they were amazed at how their boys gravitated towards trucks and army men and their girls got into dolls and frilly dresses. Now that I have my own kids, though, I have to wonder, how soon were people calling their girls “princess?”
For further reading on actual research around how we treat our kids, check out this article in the Washington Post.