When she was about two and a half, my daughter Alicia began regularly saying — or more often, screaming — “I have to be pretty,” as an explanation for why she had to wear a pink shirt or a dress, and never pants. My instinct was to bristle and tell her she didn’t have to be pretty and that she wouldn’t be able to climb at the playground if she wore a dress. “I don’t want to climb. I have to be PRETTY!”
I believed she had been indoctrinated by the well-meaning strangers on the street who were always saying things like, “You have a pink dress! So pretty!” and I felt like strangling them for not only teaching my daughter to aspire to be pretty above all else, but also for introducing her to a lifetime of being subjected to unsolicited comments on her appearance — the prelude to sexual harassment — every time she leaves the house.
As Alicia’s insistence on pretty intensified, I realized it was not as simple as brainwashing, but was actually an important part of who she is and how she expresses her gender. I realized that my role as a feminist mom was not going to involve helping her row against the tide of pink that bombards our little girls from the day they are born. Instead, it was going to involve supporting and embracing her love of all things girly while continuing to critique the many, many horrible aspects of gendered marketing to kids — an equally difficult task, and one that has forced me to examine my own deep-rooted issues with femininity.