“My Daughter Wants to be a Boy!”
When my daughter turned out to be a tomboy rather than a princess, the feminist in me was relieved…and then worried. Is life harder for girls who defy gender roles and blaze their own trail? Plus: How kids learn gender identity
On the first day of school after winter break, all of the girls at my daughter’s preschool were sporting their new Christmas duds: Sarah with her pink cowboy boots; Jane in her sparkly cardigan; and my daughter, dressed in her white button-down shirt (“like Daddy’s”), draped over a Spiderman t-shirt, and her navy clip-on tie with a pattern of white reindeer. She had asked Santa for a solid black tie, but we couldn’t find a toddler tie quite so…adult.
The Anti-Princess Problem
This outfit had been her lone Christmas request, the apex of a gradual, year-long shift toward all things boyish. Enna, 3 and a half, had spent her first couple of years at a daycare where girls were dressed in Disney princess outfits with their nails painted purple and pink. We noted with humor that Enna always looked a bit like a drag queen in such getups, with those frilly, fluffed sleeves drooping over her lumberjack-inspired plaid jacket.
When she switched to a preschool where such outfits were verboten—they keep strips of fabric that can be imagined into any costume—she announced almost immediately that she no longer wanted to play princess. Or, rather, she would play princess with the girls—every single one of whom engineered those malleable yards of gingham or tulle into something from a royal fairytale—but only if she could be the dog, or the police.
My heart swelled with pride. I mean, my only hesitation about having a girl was that I’d have to endure the dreaded princess phase. And—lucky me!—as it turned out, we’d be skipping it.
She insisted on being Spiderman for Halloween, and on getting light-up superhero sneakers “like my friend Luca’s” when she needed new shoes. They told us at school that she gravitated toward the boys, and though she is quite small for her age, and not particularly hearty, they told us she could hold her own with the rowdy bunch of them.
And again, I thought, “How great is she?”
Well, okay, 90% of me said that. The other 10% thought, “uh-oh.” As she started to announce in ways both subtle and direct that she’s a boy, and ask me questions like “Why can’t boys have vaginas and girls have penises?” the ratio of heartwarming to heart-sinking has shifted.