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Giving gender stereotypes the finger

Photographer Chris Charousset and I put our heads together to create a series of images showing strength, anger and body hair – three things pop culture rarely associates with women. Here’s a sneak peek!

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Doing things girls aren’t supposed to do

Girls don’t get the same possibilities in life as boys. What can we do about it? Gwendolyn Windpassinger is sharing her strategies designed to encourage her daughter to do things little girls aren’t supposed to do.

“Look how strong you are!”

I try to deliberately compliment Momo on being strong. It felt weird at first, but now I do it without thinking. My husband and I also try not to be too protective around her in terms of letting her do physically challenging things, because research shows that girls lose confidence in their physical strength very early on. I remember a woman telling Momo she looked “like a Hulk” when she was carrying a heavy box around, and she suggested that she might want to stop doing that. I immediately said that I disagreed and that I was proud of her.

“Hush hush!”

Last week I overheard a mum at the playground telling her two girls to “be quiet, you know that I don’t like it when you’re loud”. What shocked me was that, meanwhile, her son was running around screaming his head off, and that was supposed to be completely ok. I try to make a particular effort not to hush Momo unless she’s driving me nuts or she might be driving other people nuts, because research consistently shows that when a boy is loud, he is just being a normal boy. Whereas when a girl is loud, she’s naughty. Just go to any playground and compare the amount of noise boys make to the amount of noise girls make.

Another thing that’s important to my partner and I is to not make Momo shut up by shoving a dummy in her mouth. That’s pretty tricky though, and I don’t think we always get it right. We try and have clear rules as to when she can use her dummy (in bed and in the car). Whether or not to use a pacifier in the first place is a touchy subject though, which I might discuss in a separate post – if I can be arsed, because that’s a debate that frankly just pisses me off and I’m pissed off enough as it is these days.

“Cheeky monkey”

Also, being naughty is tolerated more in boys, and even seen as endearing (“look at that cheeky monkey!”), whereas girls are supposed to be more well-behaved. So, being aware of these trends, I tried to work against them consciously, and now it’s become second nature to compliment Momo on being a cheeky monkey. This doesn’t mean that I’m an anti-authoritarian parent (not that there would necessarily be anything wrong with that -another debate that pisses me off so much I’m not going to get into that). If Momo deliberately goes against something I just told her not to do, she will feel the heat. I’m more talking about cheeky in terms of snatching two cookies out the bag, rather than just one, or throwing soft toys on the floor. In fact, I taught her it’s ok to chuck soft toys on the floor with all her might, and it’s become one of our favourite games to do that together, and it sets us off laughing out of pure mischief.

“It’s ok to be angry”

Also, when Momo’s angry, we have this game where I take out a box and she chucks wooden cubes into it, which makes a lot of noise and helps her express her anger, and not try to bottle it up.

So, what are the results of these techniques so far? Well, I don’t know if it’s got anything to do with what I do, but people are often struck by Momo’s volubility. She just speaks, and speaks, and speaks. Quietly, loudly, happily, angrily… It gives me great pleasure to see her tumble round the house enjoying the full spectrum of her voice and exploring and expressing all kinds of emotions. And as far as her body confidence is concerned, she still does enjoy carrying heavy objects around.

Why we’re dressing our daughter like a boy

“You can tell he’s a boy. He does love playing with that hammer”

“You can tell she’s a girl, she’s got such finely chiselled features”

“Don’t carry that heavy box around, that makes a little girl look like a hulk”

“Little girls should have long hair”

Now these are just a few of the “feminist comments of the day”, as my husband and I jokingly call these sexist comments. Because we literally could keep a diary of them. Every evening when we settle down to eat, one of us will inevitably say “hey, listen, honey, I’ve got a good one”…

So, today’s article is about why we’re making our 18-month old daughter Momo look “like a boy”. In other words, why do we keep her hair short, and why do we mostly dress her in a gender-neutral way? The short answer to the first question is: originally, it was because she was too hot during our Mediterranean summer. And then we kept her hair that way so that it didn’t get in her way, and so there’s no need for painful hair clips or other accessories.  

There’s nothing that drives me more insane than children that can’t see through their bloody fringe. We don’t know what we’ll do with Momo’s hair in the long run, but of course we’ll let her grow it out the day she says she wants to have long hair.

Now as far as her clothes are concerned, we’ve basically got two criteria:

1) Above all, clothes need to be functional. This generally means dresses and skirts won’t work, and neither do delicate clothes, tight jeans that keep sliding down and aren’t flexible in the crotch, tight collars and so forth. We may make exceptions for special occasions, like Halloween and New Year.

2) Generally speaking, we prefer it to be impossible to tell whether she’s a boy or a girl. So we’ll avoid pink and girly stuff. We told our family that if they wanted to give us clothes for her, they should be gender neutral. Or, as my husband put it, “beware that we will dress our next child in this, no matter what sex they are”. People still gave us mainly pink and girly stuff, because “it isn’t really pink, it’s raspberry, or “we know you don’t like pink, but this is a really gorgeous pink”.

It’s the stuff of legends, and I can tell you that we always have a good laugh about it over dinner.

Now, as far as rule number 1 is concerned, the reason is that we want Momo to be able to move naturally. Already, other girls her age are starting to move differently from boys. Some have lost confidence when trying to toddle up flights of stairs because the hem of their dress gets in the way. Or they sit down differently because those tight skirts that are fashionable at the moment mean they can’t sit down cross-legged, but they’re forced to keep their legs together.

Have you noticed how 4 or 5-year old girls tend to sit on the floor differently than boys? While the latter sit cross-legged or move around on all fours, girls tend to sit on the floor with their feet neatly tucked under their bums or sticking out to the sides so their legs are forming the letter “W”, which is really bad for your knees.

I know I’m not objective here. I see everything through feminist eyes. But try it one day: watch a kid play, and imagine that they’re a girl instead of a boy, or vice versa. Would you be surprised to see a girl do the same thing? Would you be surprised if a boy did that?

Even when they don’t wear tight skirts, wearing dresses often means that girls will become body-conscious much earlier than boys because they need to make sure their panties don’t show. So we teach girls about modesty much earlier, and we teach them that the way they look is important. We also tend to compliment girls on their looks, while boys are complimented on what they do. I have noticed that the words people will spontaneously use to describe our daughter is

–“She’s beautiful”. Or: “She’s a princess”. Heard a thousand times.

Whereas I rarely hear people compliment boys on their looks, but instead, boys are “strong”, or they just “are”.

Guys, that just


DRIVES – ME – NUTS.

So this is why we care a lot about the way we dress Momo. So that people (including us!) will see her for what she does, and not for what she looks like. If dressing her “like a boy” is the only way to do that, then that’s what we’ll do.