I have girls. Two amazing little girls with loads of personality, questions, songs, emotions, giggles, energy and just enough (OK, sometimes too much) ‘tude.
They are four years apart — ages 7 and 3. It’s a good age gap, mostly. It’s the stuff like potty training, tantrums and getting them to agree on a movie every Friday night that reminds me how significant their age gap is.
But what’s driven it home lately has been gender stereotypes. You see, my 7-year-old, Ava, is aware of the gender divide — but in a very surface, 7-year-old way. For example, she understands there is a section for boys in a clothing store and section for girls. And the same is true in the toy department. The rest can all be very fuzzy depending on her interest in the subject matter.
My 3-year-old Ella is blissfully unaware of any such divide. At preschool, she is surrounded by friends in princess T-shirts and matching shoes, as well as those donning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirts and Spiderman socks.
Did you know the Mutant Ninja Turtles are back in fashion? They are. I only know this because Ella recently asked my husband to get her a Ninja Turtle shirt — the one like her friend Cooper wears.
I was running errands recently when my husband texted me:
T: Are you going to Target?
Does the man know me or what?
T: Can you pick up a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirt for Ella?
T: She wants one like Cooper.
Me: Great. Wait. What? Where are they?
Stupid question, right? Well, I was already at Target (surprise!) and after his text, I wandered into the little girls’ clothing section looking for ninjas, and was met by Hello Kitty and a slew of Princess wear.
Of course there were no turtles that are ninjas. They aren’t marketed toward girls.
So I made my way to the boys section and found her the perfect shirt. She wears it constantly — and when it’s dirty, well, let’s just not go there.
My 7-year-old finds this pretty awesome. But, let me be clear: She doesn’t want one for herself. The two of them will watch retro Super Friends episodes and even Ninja Turtles, but when it comes to her own T-shirt (even though she hasn’t verbalized it) I know it’s because, in her mind — and because it’s mapped out this way in the store — it’s “for boys.”
And that’s the age gap, in a nutshell. Or in this case, half shell. My 7-year-old is becoming self-aware of what is “girl” and what is “boy.”
But let’s be honest: I’m drawn to girly things marketed to me. I love my running shoes with a little bit of pink. I have pink-lined running capris, running socks, pink shirts and stickers that proudly tell me to “Run like a girl.”
So, why do I revel in my grown-up girly pink running clothes, and wear them like a badge of honor, then expect my girls to shun the pink Legos and princess dresses?
Am I a part of the problem?
I think, for now, my saving grace is this: They see me running, crossing finish lines and kicking butt. They see me running every day. They see me running with boys and girls, alike. They see me out there. And they are out there, too.
As for Ava, the 7-year-old, she’s a taekwondo superstar. She chose this sport over dance or soccer. This Friday, she’ll test for her blue belt which will consist of board-breaking and sparring — with boys. She’ll dominate. Because she always does. This is the same girl who, when spending her own money at Disney World, chose, not Princess garb and Disney beauty salons, but pirate swords, eye patches and handcuffs, me heartie.
As for Ella, she has chosen to play soccer come Fall. She will continue to wear this T-shirt until it is threadbare. She loves to watch Olivia, thinks Elmo is pretty cool, loves pretending to shoot me with Spiderman webs, and likes pink.
She is an enigma. As is Ava. They are unpredictable. Quick. Brave. Loyal. Strong. Agile. Stealthy. Mindful. Human, not Superhero. A wee bit ruthless and totally unorthodox.
Clearly, they are ninjas. I hope they stay this way.
Running log below.