I’m The Feminist With a Daughter in a Pink Tutu

Little Aussie

dress2I am a loud and proud, hear me roar, “no sir, I’ll take out the trash” feminist. I’m also a mother of a daughter.  It’s a girl … right on! I’ve SO got this!  Clearly, she’ll have a full compliment of gender neutral toys. We’ll praise her solely on her creativity, wit, and kindness towards others, not her meaningless (though evident from birth) physical beauty. The media she consumes will feature only positive female role models and will challenge heteronormative assumptions. We’ll surround her with examples of men and women carrying out business usually associated with the other gender. Never, ever, ever shall a single piece of princess paraphernalia enter her line of sight!

So, how’s that going for you, you may ask. Right. So, listen. My kid has a doctor set and a bunch of tools… and a play kitchen and a magic wand. Her wardrobe is oozing pink. I don’t know how it happened. It just appears. I’m proud to say that she sees  her dad loading the dishwasher, but I also scream for him when I see a bug. She sees me putting on makeup, so now she thinks that’s a thing. But, I totally took her to the Fireman Sam movie this week. The only Disney princess she’s ever watched is Pocahontas, but … and here’s my dirty little feminist mom secret … she has developed a tremendous love for wearing tutus. And, I don’t hate it.

I don’t know where her affinity for tulle came from or even how it started sneaking into our home. I’m at a loss to think of when she’s watched a show or read a book with a princess in a ballgown or a ballerina at work. Yet, somehow we’ve started acquiring clothing that, in adult life, would only be appropriate dress code for those two professions. She loves them, along with her pink fairy wings, plastic crown, and the rainbow colored feather boa I got from the Mardi Gras parade. She seeks these items out, and you should see her when she gets into costume. She smiles broadly and twirls around. No joke, she literally twirls. I know she feels amazing.

She comes by it honestly. When I had the chance to design my own wedding dress, this card carrying feminist covered herself in rainbow tulle and ribbons. In that regalia, I felt like the brightest bird in nature, like I was proudly taking up more room than any other lion on the savannah, and that I was part of the wind with all that fabric floating in the breeze. When my two year old spins around and then begins to “fly” around the room, I know just how she feels.dress

So, as long as layers of tulle bring her joy, I’m happy for her to enjoy the feeling – with a few caveats:

Comfort first: She may be an airy fairy daisy petal, but my girl is also a mountain goat, a fearless slider, a cheetah sprinter, and could give a Labrador a run for its money on chasing balls. I won’t let her wear anything that would get in the way of her running, climbing, throwing, or just generally rocking the playground.

-I never tell her not to get it dirty: As tempting as it is for me to want my girl to keep her butterfly wings pretty – mostly to save me the laundry hassles – I have vowed to keep my mouth shut when it comes to dirt. She can wear her swishy skirt to jump in muddy puddles and her lacy pink dress into the sandpit. And, she does. I don’t want her to get the idea that there’s something shameful about getting dirty, and I particularly don’t want her to associate her “girly” clothes with the idea of needing to stay clean.
She picks her clothes: At her age, she often doesn’t have much concern on what she wears, but she’s starting to, and I always ask her, “what are you going to wear today?” If she expresses an opinion, it’s probably for a puffy dress. Who am I to say that’s better or worse than any other option, as long as it doesn’t hinder her play? Today, she loves her tutus, tomorrow it might be a pirate hat and overalls. I want her to feel confident in her creative choices, the image she projects to the world, and for her to literally and figuratively try on different modes of self expression.

Avoid the P word: The feelings of unease that I have about my little girl prancing around in these clothes stems wholly from my feelings of disinterest in princesses, or more specifically, the desire to become a princess that so many little girls can’t seem to escape. Being a princess is just so passive and dull. But, you know what’s not dull? Butterflies. Butterflies are wicked busy and useful. Butterflies have places to go and things to do. So, when the fancy clothes come on, I tell her she’s a butterfly. Or, a fairy (just a “fairy,” not a “fairy princess,” mind you). Now, fairies may not be real, but they spark the imagination. Fairies can have jobs and they probably go to school and play chess. There must be a fairy postman, don’t you think? Have you ever seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream? There’s a lot going on in fairyland. Finally, my favorite is “dancing queen.” My girl loves nothing more than for us to turn on some music, grab a few instruments, and get a dance party started in the living room. Anyone can tell you that dancing in a dress that floufs all the way out is the best ever. We work up a sweat at our dance parties, they’re such serious business, so it only makes sense to dress the part.

Say thank you: My two year old in a tutu attracts a lot of compliments when we go out to run errands or do activities. Now, there’s much to be said about the problems that arise from the way that women and girls are noticed and valued for their appearance much more than men, and how that begins with children as young as my daughter…  sidebar on this topic: if you haven’t read Lisa Bloom’s essay on “How to Talk to Little Girls,” please do it now. It changed my life. … But, there’s also something to be said about a woman’s ability to graciously accept a well intended compliment. So, when a stranger says to my daughter, “I looove your outfit” or “you look so cute,” that’s my cue to show her how to just respond with a sincere “thank you” or perhaps a “thank you! We love this outfit.” Accepting a compliment is a skill that I’ve seen many adult women struggle with, as we too often think we need to deflect or make less of when someone praises us. I have been working on taking a compliment, myself, and so showing my daughter an example of how to accept with gratitude and to own the praise we’re offered is a learning moment for both of us.

Let’s be honest, my niggling unease about my little girl’s growing love of fancy dresses is a problem that exists primarily  in my own mind, though I doubt I’m the only feminist mother who struggles with this. We don’t want our girls to be limited to traditional roles, to be passive in their own lives, or to feel that they gain self-worth from appearance.  My friend Catherine Trieschmann recently wrote a piece for her Parenting and Playwriting series that stuck with me about her experience with very young girls being preoccupied by “the boyfriend plot,” in which the girl’s role is to wait for a boyfriend. I’m haunted by how pervasive these ideas are for our girls. Yet, if I think I’m somehow better at mothering my daughter if she prefers to put on her fireman hat than dance in a big skirt, am I not suggesting that traditionally male pursuits are somehow better than traditionally female pursuits? The bottom line for me is this: there’s nothing wrong with being a girl.To me, being a feminist doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize that differences exist between women and men, but it does mean that we respect that there’s a whole range of experience and feelings for every single woman and man on this earth, and that we should all grow up with agency. If my kid is a girl – or boy – who feels grand in a sequined pink tutu, then that’s wonderful. She (or he) can wear it for dance parties, working in the kitchen, playing with her doctor set, going down the slide, or … no, make that and pursuing her future career as a kick ass police detective. I’ll keep providing her all the tools I can think of for her to thrive, and as long as she’s confident, curious, and kind, she can wear anything that makes her feel she can take on the world.

Photo by Linda Jocelyn

Photo by Linda Jocelyn

8 thoughts on “I’m The Feminist With a Daughter in a Pink Tutu

  1. Amy @ HandbagMafia

    I hear you. I’m a hugely proud feminist and at one stage or another, all our 3 girls went through the princess stage- I don’t mind. Princesses are women, too 🙂 The tween and teen loved superheroes, as well, and cars and bikes and mud. The one boy had his own barbies and monster high dolls. Miss 2 loves it all- cars, captain america, cats, dolls, dirt, fairies, flowers, trucks and yup- princesses. And tulle. She’s happy- I’m happy. We like to mix it up here 🙂

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thank you – love a dress that’s a little different. I thought about going with red, too!
      And, yes, we like to mix it up, as well. My daughter loves her tutus, and she also loves her trains and trucks. It’s a cool combo when I really think about it.
      Thank so much for popping over!

  2. Kimi

    I remember my Mom disdainfully watching me pick out only green and yellow layette pieces because I was NOT going to do “the pink thing.” Cut to a year later when I was washing an entire, dedicated load of pink clothing and had a closet full of “disney – wear. ” It seeps in at a very Freudian level, I’m afraid. I remember having a heated anti – Barbie conversation with equally feminist international educators when my precocious blonde- haired, blue-eyed 4 year old aptly pointed out “What’s wrong with Barbie, Mommy? I look like Barbie…” And it gave me pause. She did look like Barbie…(of course, the *nobody* looks like Barbie convo came later obvs)…and somehow had clearly linked a positive image from the Barbie message….was I to diminish that for her? It’s not about the mainstreaming. It’s about active parenting and mentoring…The more we female role models break the stereotypes, the stronger example we set. I am a single mother overseas. Many people think I am delusional and query “Why would you want to live like that?” The simple answer is one I hope to hear my daughters utter with confidence one day: Because I *want to*, and because I CAN. Raising a feminist doesn’t have much to do with color palette, honestly. It has to do with questioning stereotypes and encouraging girls to follow their own paths, and empowering them with the skills and tools they’ll need to reach their goals.

    1. Cristin Post author

      I was the same with the baby stuff. We didn’t know the sex, so all her newborn stuff was gender neutral. It did not take long for the pink to creep in. Sometimes it seems like that’s all that’s out there for girls, but I do TRY to give her a little variety.
      I love your story about your daughter looking like Barbie. It’s humbling. Great reminder that our job is to show our girls all the things they can be – it’s far less important to worry about what they shouldn’t be. I have to trust with good guidance and role models, she’ll carve her own awesome way in whatever she wants to wear.

  3. Cosette

    The princess thing was not big when I was a kid, but I grew up in a world of pink. It was the 1980s and Barbie ruled. She was an astronaut, a business executive, a rock star, you name it, and she did it all in pink. I like to think I turned out okay and I’m a feminist too. I think what’s more important is the message that girls should/should not do something and also what she sees from the men and women around her. Your wedding dress is gorgeous btw!

    1. Cristin Post author

      I was definitely a Barbie kid, too, and I have to agree – it was inspiring all the things Barbie got up to. 9 to 5 Barbie was my favorite. I couldn’t wait until I could be a corporate mogul, too!
      And, thanks! I did love it, too. Always trying to think of a reason to wear it again. 😉

  4. Samantha

    “She can wear anything that makes her feel she can take on the world.” Yes, love this! I tell you what she already looks deteremined to take on the world in her pink ruffles with sequins on that police bike!

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