“This disgusts me,” I said, holding the t-shirt up so my sister could see. Printed on the bright blue shirt was a cute caricature drawing of a wide-eyed white bunny. Above the rabbit were these three words: “Boys are stupid.” My sister laughed at it, a lot less perturbed than I was. “I don’t think this is funny,” I said, putting the bad bunny back on the rack. “If my daughter came home to her brother and father wearing this, I would rip this shit off her and scream.”
“Look at this one.” My sister showed me a t-shirt that depicted a cartoon building with multiple windows and those same white bunnies exiting through the doors. The phrase on this one was “Boys are made at the stupid factory.”
The first thought going through my mind at this was a natural one: imagine this shirt if it had read “Girls are made at the stupid factory.” There would be protests and angry women screaming on news programs. The company would have to flog themselves with an old Madonna weave and be forced to apologize publically. The next thought that went through my mind was when did we get to this point in the country that in order to elevate women, we have to put down men? At what point is it not okay to put down boys, just because they are different from girls?
I have noticed this quite a bit in our culture- this desire to promote women has turned into a culture to demote men. Don’t get me wrong- I get it. History is written by white male victors (and Genghis Kahn). But does that mean that we need to write the future on the backs of men who have done nothing wrong in the past? The vast majority of men I know are fathers and husbands and brothers and your basic “good guys” and most of them would never wear a shirt that says “Girls were made in the stupid factory.” But yet there are grown women walking around with the one I saw in the store.
Now I am worried that this culture to promote girls has evolved to one in which “girlie girls” are targets of a movement that is supposed to elevate females. The engineering toys for girls- GoldieBlox- even has the slogan “The Reign of the Fashion Doll is Over.” This implies that a girl who builds things is superior to those girls who want to make their toys pretty. I get it; for decades females who were inclined towards math, science, and engineering were forced to pick more “socially” acceptable careers and now we are trying to raise girls conscious of the fact that the world is their oyster. But do we need to put down those girls who find the pearl in the oyster to be pretty?
Here is a small (and heavily biased) example of what I am talking about. I have a seven-year-old daughter who is mathematically and scientifically inclined. The last two books she picked out were about the human body and bugs. Her math homework mistakes are not in the solution to the equations but in the fact she always writes her 7’s backwards. I wish she shared more of my passions for art and literature. The struggle to get her to read chapter books has caused me to feel like Mommy Readest. But you know what my daughter does during free playtime at our house? She makes clothes and furniture for her My Little Ponies. She has plenty of access to Legos, Lincoln Logs, puzzles, the outdoors- you name it. But she really, really likes taking decorative tape and tissues and preparing for a pony wedding. Should I look down on her for her fashion doll tendencies? Should I take away her ponies and throw a microscope at her? If I did, I am sure that microscope would be decorated in pretty tape and tissue paper before she would even stick a slide under it.
I myself played with Barbie as a child and became aware in my teens about how some people felt about the doll, also known as an inanimate object. Who cares that the Barbie could become whatever you wanted her to be. Mine was a mom of two kids who owned a McDonald’s and a travel agency and a very non-sensible Corvette as her family car. She also owned a rental property that she so nicely let my sister’s Barbie stay at until she got back on her pointy feet. But somehow, the people angry at Barbie for setting women’s liberation back hundreds of years failed to see that it was about the potential of what your doll could be and not about how she looked.
This concept of femininity and how we define a woman is on my mind as I approach my 40th birthday. Most days I am in my “mom uniform:” jeans, tank top, and flip-flops. But on those occasions I allow myself to do something non-kid related, my ass is in a dress and my feet are in heels. I really feel my best in dresses- feminine, pretty, and desirable (to my husband mostly but if someone else likes what they see, who am I to judge?). Here is where I admit it: I like the way heels make me feel. Oh, there’s also the fact that my unusually high-arched feet mean that every time- every time– I wear flats the heels of my feet look like the skin of a third-degree burn victim by the end of the day. If I could sleep in heels, I would- my husband’s calves be damned by my nighttime kicking.
So, I like dresses. I love heels. And when my hair is styled just the way I like it, I feel the most like “me.” And I am okay with being the “girlie girl.” Then something caught my eye last week. Did you hear that the producers of Cannes Film Festival put the kibosh on flats at their event? And while I thought that this wasn’t fair- let people wear whatever they fucking want to- a link in my Facebook feed popped up about an actress’s opinion about it. Emily Blunt (whose work I admire, by the way) said she disagreed with it the heels requirement. She said in her statement against the shoes: “I think everyone should wear flats, to be honest.” What the fuck, Em?!?! Do heels mean a threat to womanhood everywhere?
My point- and yes I have one- is that I don’t want boys to grow up thinking they are less than girls. Even dressed as a girlie-girl, I have always felt very comfortable hanging with the boys, standing in my heels smack-talking and telling dirty jokes. I am proud that I can make many men blush (or cringe) in the first 2.3 seconds of a conversation. But I surround myself with good men – those who are not out to subjugate women or to feel superior to women. They are just males, a full half of our population, trying their best to succeed at whatever endeavor they choose, be it in engineering or in fashion.
I also don’t want girls growing up thinking that they can’t be themselves- no matter how they choose to dress or what career they want to pursue. It’s about surrounding yourself with those women who accept you for who you are. I can hang with wine snobs who speak of terrior or the bourbon drinking, fast talking gals. I have learned things from mathematically inclined women and those who have read almost every literary book in print. I adore women who bake cookies in the afternoon and those who grill at night (often the same women). And I have stood by women who are comfortable in jeans and flats as well as those in dresses and five-inch heels. From my Vanity Fair readers and to those who subscribe to Popular Mechanics- you are all equal in my eyes. And that’s the girl power we should be promoting.
I look forward to one day seeing a t-shirt that reads “We all visit the Stupid Factory sometimes- and what you want to wear to it is up to you”