Probably my third thought after finding out my first baby was going to be girl (after oh wow, I really am pregnant and hooray! Now I get to use my favourite name!) was about how I was going to protect her from the world we live in – one that doesn’t allow women to be educated; which stones victims of rape; which marries off 10-year-old girls to 50-year-old men. How on earth was I going to raise her to be healthy and grounded amidst all this madness?
And no, I don’t live in Iran or Turkey, but I do live in a place when 9-year-old girls go on diet and want to marry a rich man and look like Miley Cyrus. And it’s kind of degrees of the same thing. So, I had all these plans in my head – I wouldn’t allow her to dress like a princess or watch American teen sitcoms. I would tell her she was clever instead of beautiful, and I would lead by example by having a career, being with a guy who respects me and regularly asking her questions which would keep her critical of the world we live in.
In reality, I managed three out of six. When I saw what her face did when she came across the Cinderella dress at a toy shop in Malmö at the age of two, no amount of stoning could have stopped me spending my last cash on that mad, pink concoction of tulle and bling. And when she wore it, all the time, over pyjamas at night, to school in the morning, her happy little face wasn’t clever, it was beautiful. And I told her so, repeatedly. How can you not?
Now I have two girls, and I don’t let them watch American teen sitcoms and they understand why, and even though I know they watch them at Granny, the important thing is that they know how I feel about it. We talk a lot about the world we live in, and when Sophie says stuff like, ‘boys are better at maths than girls’, we have discussions around how and why and she figures out sooner or later that that’s just a load of hogwash.
But, they are both girly-girls, as am I, and I’ve realized I have to step back and let them be who they are. Because, as any mother will know, your kids are individuals from the moment they are born. You guide and help and facilitate, but if you’re a sorted, clued-up kind of parent, what you’re really doing is giving them the confidence to be who they’ve always been.
My daughters love clothes and accessories and and dressing up. They’re also clever and creative and avid readers and storytellers, and the two kind of feed into each other. And I don’t think their penchant for pink and sequins is going to adversely affect their lives. God knows, a sparkly top doesn’t shut me up for a second. I know they watch me closely, so I’m super mindful of the things I say and do that will impact the way they understand their role as women. I make sure I have days in the week where I deliberately throw on whatever and don’t wear makeup or jewellery or even look in a mirror. So that they understand that this is an okay option, too.
The world has changed and continues to change, even with the inevitable backlash from certain sectors of the populace. I think, for them – especially if they go to university in Scandinavia – the playing-fields will be more level than they were for me, just a few years ago. And where they aren’t my hope is that their self-confidence will be developed enough to see them through, at least most of the time.
We watched this video together yesterday. No matter how many times I see it, it always makes me cry. And what’s more, they totally got it. More than this I can’t really do.