My daughter Khari is remarkably beautiful.
At two years old, she knows how to flaunt her good looks too, poking her heart-shaped lips out and gazing out of her Bambi-big eyes angelically as she begs for something that’s been pulled out of her grasp. Atop her head lie thick lustrous dark ringlets that, when braided into pigtails, lay placidly against her back, only to swing back and forth as she plays and runs. She makes strangers smile and aunties want a kiss when they see her because her smile is so infectious and her little body so cuddly. Wiry and nimble at two, she is the perfect size to tickle and toss in the air.
Knowing this and watching the hypnotic effect that she has on those around her, makes me sweat with fear at the prospect of her attending school. My fear, though, is not of the trail of adolescent boys who I foretell will bombard my doorstep with requests to date her.
My fear is not my strong belief that she will be engaged in so many social activities that my pocketbook will be drained and my car will be renamed Khari’s Ride. Instead, I look at my baby and think of the haters who will seek to dethrone her from her place of royalty we’ve bestowed upon her.
As my little princess, Khari will, inevitably, one day, meet a witch or two who will try to make my pride and joy feel two feet tall.
I look at her and cringe as I remember my own grade-school experiences where girls, who I didn’t know but who had been watching me, suddenly decided that I “think I’m cute” and need to be put back in my place.
I watch adults ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over my little girl and remember how I would leave my home of warm protective smiles of my Mom and grandparents and people who loved me to travel to school where fingers pulled my long pigtails, scoffed at my eclectic wardrobe, and tried to fight me because, according to them, I thought I was better.
Nowhere near as cute as Khari, but definitely outspoken, self-possessed and as outrageous as I wanted to be, I began and progressed through school believing that anything is possible. However, as the years passed, the mental attacks of envy and unnecessary spite beat like battering rams against my armour of self-esteem. Yeah, I made to where I am in one piece, but with many battle scars along the way. I don't want Khari have to bear what I endured.
But what can I do, other than do what I’m doing?
I hear mothers who speak of training their daughters to turn the other cheek. In my area where some mothers hold the gang mentality of ‘fight or be beat’, I’ve been cautioned to make sure Khari knows how to fight to avoid the definite possibility of getting her butt kicked.
I appreciate the advice, but I think I’ll stick to my own devices.
So, I continue to hug her and kiss her and to tell her she’s lovely. I’ll encourage her to explore and support her when she walks the balance beam and life’s fine lines a little teeter tottery. I’ll listen to her vent and hand her tissues as she cries, but I will never slacken in my words of sincerity that tell her she is loved. I will hold high the expectation that she will treat others fairly and kindly and I will model the sacredness and mindfulness of peace and prayer.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem