I think I’m a feminist. That’s not me pushing back my chair to stand up and make a guilty admission. What I mean is that I think I’m a feminist but probably don’t meet all the requirements, if such rigid requirements indeed exist. I’m interested in the issues and barriers affecting women and will gladly step up on a soapbox or two. Is it terrible then that this afternoon I helped my 5-year-old daughter get ‘dolled up’ for an evening out at the theatre?
This afternoon was special. It was the last afternoon we had alone together before the start of the new school term. With a trip to the theatre with her dad planned for the evening, I decided to treat her to an afternoon of pampering. Or, as it turned out, I gave her a bath and painted her fingernails whilst she watched back-to-back episodes of iCarly. We chose a dress (pink) and a cardigan (sparkly) for her to wear out, selected some of her less tacky jewellery and packed a little handbag (the one that was “more like a grown-up’s”) with a purse, tissues and plasters (of course). Finally, I helped her apply a little bit of eyeshadow and some lip gloss. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or, in this case, freebie make-up sets from a well-known brand of kids’ shoes are.
Did I do wrong? No. Am I betraying my feminist tendencies? Possibly. I think it’s highly unlikely that our afternoon will send her in the direction of wanting to be a glamour model rather than a rocket scientist. Equally, I doubt that she will be left thinking looks are more important than anything else. What we did this afternoon was for her. She’s not interested in what other people think when they look at her. (And I hope that will long continue.) She’s interested in how things make her feel inside. Doing what she sees Mummy doing made her feel more grown-up and thus independent, things most children hanker after whether or not we agree with or support it. It wasn’t about feeling more like a ‘woman’ (with the negative connotation that women are defined by make-up and fashion), it was simply about being on level pegging with an adult. If taking a razor to an imaginary beard could have had the same effect, she probably would have done it.
I’m very much against thrusting toys at girls that could narrow their aspirations. We fought the tide of pink in our household and were eventually overwhelmed. But rather than call wildly for help from a sea of sparkly plastic, I’ve hoisted myself on a boogie board and ridden the wave. Pink paraphernalia, make-up and glitter aren’t going to put my daughter in a pigeon hole from where she can’t see the stars. There are things in our world far more powerful and pervasive that will try to inflict such damage. What matters is her having confidence – the ability to define who she is by herself, rather than be defined. If the biggest enemies to achieving this were the colour pink and a bit of nail polish then the need for feminism would have ceased to exist a long time ago.