With the abundance of bow savvy heroines making a mark on the silver screen, it wasn’t any surprise for me to see my daughter don a hood and fill a quiver for Halloween. What was a surprise, however, was how almost every neighbor narrowed their errant guesses to the confines of gender.
“Who are you … Katniss?”
“Tauriel from the Hobbit or Susan from the The Chronicles Of Narnia?”
“No and no,” she said. “I’m Robin Hood.”
She said it with enough conviction to corral the conversation. She was Robin Hood and the only person who questioned her about being a girl was a 5-year-old boy. Once she reassured him that a girl could be Robin Hood, he turned his attention to her bow and arrows. Next year, he said in wide-eyed wonder, he would be Robin Hood.
Next year, she said, she would like to be a princess like she was two years ago too. The only bow she sported back then was a yellow one to tie her hair back. But the year before that she was a pirate. And the year before that, she was a wood fairy in the vein of Tinkerbell. There are no limits to her imagination, especially those related to gender.
It’s part of a trait I hope she retains all her adult life too — the art of being gender ambidextrous, whereby every decision she makes is made based on passion and aptitude over the societal shakedowns over being feminine and a feminist. Life is complicated enough without trying to conform to a stereotype or work even harder to avoid one.
It seems to me that there is something inherently wrong when our daughters think that they have to ask permission whether or not they can dress up like Han Solo for Halloween. And while the girl who asked was very fortunate to have Tom Burns (who dressed up as Princess Leia) as a dad, it still haunts me that any 7-year-old girl would be so cognizant of gender-flipping costumes.
Kids aren’t really part of the good role model/bad role model debate unless they are indoctrinated by the people who invented it. Sure, some stories might carry moral messages but none of the princesses really auditioned for the role model moniker (and neither did their princely counterparts, who suffer all sorts of severe character flaws).
My daughter feels equally comfortable in a sundress or her fast-pitch softball uniform, which is usually covered in dirt five minutes before the warmups are over. She has an appreciation for art and music as much as for engineering and science. She is just as likely to play with Hot Wheels as Barbies, but is no more inclined to wish for wheels instead of feet than she is for that impossible waistline. She enjoys dodgeball as much as Girl Scouts and, on any given day, can show off a pirouette or hold a plank position.
It’s a freedom that I hope she preserves all her life, not as someone who is gender ambiguous but rather gender ambidextrous. Women should never feel forced to give up a stitch of gender identity to achieve equality. On the contrary, it will be my daughter’s ability to embrace her gender without being made a slave to it that will eventually empower her generation to move beyond the idiocy exhibited at companies like Zillow or Uber.
Robin Hood, after all, didn’t ask the poor to fix the inequality of his era. He wanted the rich to change their behavior.