To my darling little woman of the future,
We have been learning about crossing roads, you and I. We are very particular – even if there isn’t a car in sight we will not go until there is a green man.
Yesterday we were waiting at the pedestrian crossing, your hot little hand in mine, and all was well with the world. “Green man means go!” we said in unison when the light changed. “Mummy?”, you said as we started walking. It was your thoughtful tone. The one that always tells me A Very Important Question is about to follow (like, “What colour are dragons?” or “Why doesn’t the sun melt the moon?”).
Then your three-year-old self said this: “Why is it never a green lady?”
Oh my little girl – how often you have the power to floor me with just a few words! Why indeed do we call it a green man when we could equally call it a green lady? I had honestly never, ever thought about that before.
This is a pattern I have noticed developing. A week ago you asked if girls can play basketball, or only boys? The week before, if girls can play with Spiderman, or only boys? A while before that you turned your nose up at your daddy’s pink shirt and said, “Why are you wearing girls’ clothes daddy?” It’s starting. At the tender age of three we need to start teaching you about shaking off the shackles of gender stereotyping.
Oh the responsibility of parenting, my little girl! The trouble is, from where you sit perhaps your little nuclear family looks like a walking, talking gender stereotype. Daddy goes out to work and Mummy stays home. Mummy cooks (not very well) and Daddy takes out the bins (when Mummy reminds him to). When something breaks you say, “I think Daddy can fix that.” A little echo of my own voice coming back to me. Have we unwittingly taught you, already, that your options are limited as a result of your gender? I fervently hope not.
I want you to know that, for you, both your daddy and I have become committed feminists. (And if you think men can’t be feminists just have a listen to this guy – when you’re a bit bigger!). To us, feminism means unreserved equality. It means you can be what ever you want to be, and no stereotype need ever hold you back. That doesn’t mean you have to rail against the so-called norm if you don’t want to. Feminism is for everyone, and you can wear it like an armour always. Play sword fights in your pirate costume and shimmy up a tree, but on the days you feel like donning your tiara and calling yourself a princess, go right ahead. There is nothing wrong with being a princess!
In your home you have an example of a “traditional” parenting set-up, but now that I can see you starting to take note of these things I plan to make absolutely sure you know this: I stay home with you because I really, really want to. It’s my choice; I sacrifice other things so that I can do it and, even on the most smarties-up-your-nose, toilet-paper-all-over-the-house of days, I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s my feminist prerogative, and the rewards I reap are summed up in you saying to me, “I think I want to be a mummy when I grow up.”
In mid-2016, our world is at the edge of something revolutionary. By the end of this year, the leaders of three of the world’s most powerful nations very well could be women. I pray that by the time you have daughters of your own this won’t be a progressive concept. I hope it will just be.
In raising you and the baby sister who comes behind you, my little women of the future, I vow to parent you as consciously as I can. I want to help pave the path to your destiny, whatever that may be, by teaching you to kick aside the preconceptions that will clutter it along the way. I promise to ensure that our conversations about what girls and boys “can be” are gently reframed in terms of what “girls and boys want to be”. As well as telling you how beautiful you are (because I can’t help it!) I will make sure you know your value far beyond the way you look. As my favourite literary character, Aibileen Clark (The Help), said: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” – and that, my sweet girl, is all you need to know.
Oh, and also, from now on we will cross the road when we see the “green person” – and not the “green man”.