Thursday, September 09, 2010

sweat girls

Last week, I woke up from an unplanned exhaustion coma-nap on the couch, particularly grumpy as it didn't alleviate the exhaustion really, to find Clare staring wide-eyed at a Bratz dolls commercial. "What is she watching?!" I hissed at my poor spouse. "Those are SLUT DOLLS! Don't you have any judgment whatsoever?!"

Okay, so among the things wrong with this scenario is being mean to Brent, who, after all, let me sleep. And I have never wanted to be a parent who refuses to let her kids watch TV or go to the movies or whatever because it's eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil; I've always wanted to be a parent who encourages a sort of fearless exploration of the world. And, as Brent pointed out later that night, labelling female figures with epithets like "slut" is pretty judgmental and anti-feminist. Sigh.

But, she's four. And she doesn't discriminate in her susceptibility to commercials. I've blogged before at the hilarity of her wanting a Turbo-snake for Christmas--and just yesterday in Shoprite she berated me up and down the laundry aisle for not buying any OxiClean because it gets clothes the cleanest and brightest. Skechers Twinkletoes, Zhu-zhu Pets, slut dolls, housecleaning products, you advertise, my child wants to Buy.It.Right.Now. I mean, shit.

So, of course, Clare immediately proclaimed: "Mommy I want one! ...What's a sweat doll?"

Double sigh.

I told her that what I meant was that I did not like those dolls, she would not be getting one ever, and that Mommy had said a mean thing that she shouldn't have and she was sorry for calling them a mean word.

But the sweat girls have been haunting us ever since. They are now an ontological category in Clare's developing worldview and they will not budge.

A few days after that it became apparent that Clare had put together that one of the offending characteristics of sweat-girls is lots of makeup. But this was confusing to her, because as little makeup as I occasionally use, Clare has seen me putting it on and has the inevitable corresponding envy/curiosity about it. And worse, my little logician concluded that makeup = sweat girl, Mommy + makeup = Mommy is a sweat girl. And she used it against me as her verbal logic super-weapon to argue me into conceding that she could have one of those godawful dolls.

This is enough to make me sincerely want to dump every bit of lip gloss and zit concealer in the trash, along with the TV and every pair of high heels I own. And moving to a cave and home-schooling and in all other ways super control-freak indoctrinating my daughter in the way that she should go. This is not the mom I want to be. But I have got to deal with the sweat girls.

happy golden princess
Like phdinparenting, I have a daughter who cannot resist anything pink, sparkly, and conventionally girly, and I've already struggled with that. And of course, I'm still engaged in (slightly stalled and currently stowed out of sight) The Great Barbie Project of 2010, which touches on these same problematic gender constructs. And I've sewed my girl a gold lame and tulle princess dress with my own two hands, for crying out loud. And so my basic parental strategy is already set, I reminded myself: subversion, not opposition. Constant, quiet, insistent, hopeful subversion. I can't keep her away from pink and fluff and sparkle. And I shouldn't have to--pink sparkle fluff is fine, as long as what she is doing is enjoying herself, her body, and her imagination in healthy ways. I do think that's possible. It just means my task as a parent is creating the space for that possibility, when the rest of the world doesn't.

But the sweat girls? Are they redeemable? Barbies--frankly--are barely on the edge of redeemability, and possibly out of my reach, given my limited skills and available tools. The Bratz dolls seem less pliable to me--more frozen in their hyper-sexualized, exaggerated features and more locked into rigid fashion-obsessed roleplay.

So in response to my 4-YO's sweat-girl logic-bomb, I sat her in my lap and we had a seriously intense chat about what it means to be "pretty." I told her that there are good ways of being pretty and bad ways of being pretty. I told her that using makeup to be pretty can be good, or bad. I told her that I wanted her to know that she is pretty everyday, just exactly how she is, and that I want her to feel good about how she looks and what she wears, but that anytime being pretty means making an ouchie on your body (like wearing ouchie shoes), that's a bad kind of pretty. Or anytime choosing something because of what someone else likes instead of what she likes, that's a bad kind of pretty. Or anytime wearing something "pretty" means she can't do something she likes to do (climb trees, or run fast), that's a bad kind of pretty.

I'm not exactly sure how much of it got through. But she did stop talking about sweat girls. Praise God.

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