Raising a girl
Posted on 7 November, 2017
When you haven’t blogged for nine months it’s hard to know whether to start with a grovelling apology to, an explanation of your time or to blatantly ignore it. I’ll opt for blatantly ignore it. Phew, glad that’s out of the way.
When Freya was born it brought about a moral panic that I didn’t feel when Ewan was born. Why? Because I believe that the world will open it’s possibilities to her brother in a way that is not available to her through no fault of her own and I panicked about what I would do about that. I believe she will be held to scrutiny in a way her brother will not. In childhood he will be expected to be boisterous, loud, strong, muddy and wild. Basically, all the fun characteristics of childhood. She will be expected to be pretty, well behaved, polite and caring. I hear it everyday in parents and childminders. There’s the despair at out of gender characteristics, expectations that children will grow into their roles. “She’s more like a boy these days but hopefully school will help her calm down a bit”. “He’s really gentle isn’t he, not like the rest of the boys”.
In adulthood every statistic across the board says that Ewan will be hired more readily, paid more and promoted faster. Already people point out how Ewan is not a typical boisterous boy. But the truth is he doesn’t have to match any stereotype of a boy or man to have the odds stacked in his favour. His genitalia has decided that. This doesn’t mean women and girls are to be pitied but you can’t look at the wealth of information available and say that the world will treat them the same regardless of their genitalia. It’s just not true. But yet I feel like it can’t be how things really are. Not for my little girl. She has as fair a chance as any man at interview. Statistics say otherwise. She could lead the world if she wants to. Statistics say otherwise. She’ll have her body autonomy respected by those she meets. Statistics say otherwise. She won’t be judged on her looks any more than Ewan will be. Statistics say otherwise.
So, what do I want Freya to know heading into this world?
After reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s suggestions on raising a feminist daughter I had this sinking feeling that I’m already letting the side down! I didn’t even get past her first suggestion without feeling inadequate.
“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person…You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfillment that come with doing and earning. Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive.”
Feck, staying at home is not in the manual! I’ve dropped the ball on the first suggestion in raising a daughter and I fully understand her reasoning.
When Freya was born I felt like I wanted her to know that I was more than this. I wanted her to know that women can be more the child carer’s, more than keeping the house somewhat tidy-ish, more than a part time blogger. That women have options, greater more valued options than the ones I have chosen.
But as the months move on I’m learning more and more and her strength is teaching me a thing or two. From hours after her birth the nurses and midwives didn’t comment on her looks but on how strong she was. Her body showed it’s strength from a few short hours after her birth. I revealed in their words. I soaked them in and I knew them to be true of her. At nine months doctors were saying she has under developed hips that require intervention yet she was crawling and standing holding on to something and trying to pull herself up onto every object within reach. When Ewan hurt her in play she turns her head and screams at him in defiance and rage. When she drops something she will screech to have it returned to her, we leap with haste. We bow to her will for we know this lady is not for turning.
So as she grows and the world starts to look more at how she looks, her red hair,her weight I think back to those early hours of when her strength was her defining characteristic and I wonder how I exemplify it for her.
In truth she has strength in spadefuls but for me, I’m learning. For now strength means holding my position and owning it. I want to be at home. I want to be near them when they are so little and the world is so big. I want to be the one picking her up from her nap. I want to be here. We can afford for me to be here at home and I choose it. Too often I try and excuse my time. I think of this time as a gap in my life. I explain my choice with half finished sentences and utterances about the productive things I might do soon. But it is not a gap, it is life in it’s fullest and most mundane. I’m a statistic of a woman who will not progress as quickly as my male peers. I am a statistic of a woman who will struggle to get back to the workforce when the time comes. I am a woman who has chosen this way to parent. It is not the right way or the wrong way but it is my way. I have chosen it. I am still a full person.
I am strong enough for her. I am strong enough for myself. I am strong.