How To Raise A Strong Female Daughter While Acting Like A Tool

Hammer, how I love thee. (But only in front of my daughter so she'll think that there's no difference between women and men.)

Hammer, how I love thee. (But only in front of my daughter so she’ll think that there’s no difference between women and men.)

As a mother to a little girl whom I’d like to prepare for life in this grand ole Union of ours, I’ve devised a simple set of rules for myself.  They include the following:

  1. Never disparage mathematics or speak ill of science
  2. Never let her see me put on make-up (chapstick is OK)
  3. Never say anything negative about my body in front of her
  4. Never act like Daddy has all the answers
  5. Never accept sexist treatment in front of her
  6. Never ever mention the name Miley Cyrus in her presence
  7. Never compliment her (or any other little girl’s) appearance
  8. Never scold her for being bossy
  9. Never discourage the use of power tools
  10.  Never make sexist assumptions in her presence

Cheery little list huh?  (Note: That’s only  the top 10)  Guess what I am doing to that list today? Giving it the finger because I am tired of trying to clean up a big mess that I didn’t make.  Don’t I do that enough as a mother?

I have been working so hard to reverse some of the cultural assumptions about women that I am (1) taking all of the fun out of parenting my daughter and (2) not being myself.

Like last night. I was dying to tell Jeff how I feel about my latest work project.  I have to do lots of math I sneered under my breath, then worried for ten minutes that Sadie heard me.  Because if she learns that math and I aren’t BFFs, then she won’t want to do math either and then it will be part of that larger problem around girls and math.   And it will be all my fault because I didn’t enjoy the process of computation in a legal case back in 2013.

Right?  I mean, everyone blames the mom so I am hosed no matter what.

So, I am done.  I won’t buy a neon pink poster and jumbo Sharpie so I can make a giant poster that says, “Math can suck it,” but maybe I can stop acting like it’s my job to make up for every gender divide in our culture.  Some of the “rules” I am good at because they’re vitally important to me.  I’m pretty good about the body image stuff.    I don’t run around telling her how I feel about my weight, but at some point she may ask me honestly and I’ll tell her the truth– “Sometimes Mommy gets bummed out and has negative thoughts about her body, but I try to get busy with the rest of my life until the shame passes.”

As for the rest of my stupid rules: the charade is over.  I can’t pretend to love Home Depot more than Anthropologie, or that caulking the bathroom is more thrilling than giving myself a pedicure.   I didn’t create the damn gender biases/problems/divisions so I’m not going to single-handedly fix them.

On this theme, I wrote a post about the time I tried to act like a hammer-enthusiast in front of my daughter.   To find out how that went, check out my piece, “How I put down the hammer and stopped being such a tool.”  It’s free for anyone to read here.


53 thoughts on “How To Raise A Strong Female Daughter While Acting Like A Tool

  1. Three cheers for practicality! You’re right, you didn’t create the mess and you can’t fix it single-handedly… none of us can. I think the best we can do is have candid conversations with our kids about the issues at hand and our own perspectives on them. Explain what biases exist, and remind them that nothing is etched in stone and they should be themselves. I’ve already heard, from Maggie, “Pink is a GIRL color, Mommy. Blue is a BOY color,” and I certainly didn’t teach her that, but all I can do is explain that, to me, colors are just colors.

      • Right? So irritating. I usually try to say things like “SOME people think pink is a girl color, but other people, like me, think anybody can wear it.” Just so she is aware of the different perspectives. I do wonder who told her about the colors… probably one of those kids at summer camp… haha.

  2. ugh, can’t take on the weight of the world.. you’re allowed to not love math. i mean… does she follow everything that you do? Like, I love vegetables, but my kids don’t give a crap.;)

  3. I’m gonna try to remember this–it’s some wise stuff. I don’t have to be “perfect” (whatever I think that is). When I’m willing to let myself be the imperfect me, I’m guessing my kids see something far more normal than when I’m trying to do everything and be everything. I think it’s ok to admit it’s hard to be a mom. I have a career and kids because I want both and I’ve chosen to do both. And that makes life a little crazy sometimes. My daughter loves social studies…not me. at. all. But I like that she loves it. Gender issues took a long time to develop and they’re going to take a while to go away…one mama & one daughter at a time…now where’s my mascara and my Party in the USA?

  4. I love and adore math . . . and my girls don’t. It has nothing to do with me and my enthusiasm. :/ I also enthusiastically wear my makeup. Every day. One daughter could take it or leave it (except for her new coral lip gloss.) The other sneaks mascara at every turn. What I’m try to say here is that you always be you and Sadie will always be Sadie. 🙂

    • Who could possibly shun coral lipgloss? You’re raising ’em right. And someday we’ll have to talk about your love of BOTH math and grammar. That seems like a superpower combo.

      On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 10:30 AM, Outlaw Mama

      • Actually math and grammar are related . . . in the brain, that is. I have always sucked at vocabulary and reading comprehension and writing novels, fanciful stories, etc. because that’s all right brain stuff. Grammar and math are left brain. I ❤ the left half of my brain.

  5. That is a tough list to adhere to, and I think you’re right to give it the finger. I worry a lot with mine that if I go too far in this direction, I will stifle any pride she might otherwise develop in her femininity and her own unique strengths, whatever they might turn out to be.
    This parenting gig isn’t easy.

    • Right. What if she internalizes that I think she’s ugly becuase I refuse to say she’s pretty. I sometimes look at her with great love and adoration and she says, “Why are you staring at me?”

      On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 10:48 AM, Outlaw Mama

  6. I remember once when my daughter was young and she said to me, “Girls are nurses and boys are doctors, right?” I was shocked, because our doctor at the time was a woman, which I pointed out to her. But they get this crap from so many other sources besides us, all we can do is our best.

    • Like my daughter telling me that only daddies hammer. In our particular house, she’s right, but she globalized that startlingly quickly.

      On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 11:36 AM, Outlaw Mama

  7. You can dislike math and still teach it’s importance. There are many things I’m proficient at that I dislike, but I do them because I have to. Life kinda sucks like that.

  8. Thank God that list wasn’t real or that you’ve given up on it. I know there are moms out there who THINK they’re going to do those things and then those who actually DO those things and I totally disagree. Not mentioning our own body, or other’s bodies or looks is NOT going to make young girls oblivious to those things. What it’s going to do is result in them listening to their friends (TEENS) and the media and those exaggerated and immature opinions about these things and have no adult/mother opinions and comments to balance that other stuff out with. Mothers NEED to speak up, be realistic, let their daughters know that YES, we struggle with this, too, as adults and that it is normal. It is normal even when (if) you are perfect, even when you’re older. So we need to learn to deal with these feelings and carry on and function, not act like they’re not there. I can tell you get it, but really, I’m frightened for those who don’t.

  9. I agree. My three-year-old daughter loves planes and cars, dressing up as a princess, and playing in the dirt. She’s “having it all” in her own way!

  10. It’s ok for you to not like math or not want to swing a hammer. It doesn’t mean you don’t think it’s important, or that Sadie shouldn’t learn math, or build things if she wants. They’re simply not your cup of tea. All signs point to Sadie being smart and intuitive enough to understand the difference, once she’s a little older. And if it makes you feel any better, in my house David is the only one who even knows what a hammer is, and it exhausts me to even think about pretending otherwise.

  11. Last night I was watching Bubble Guppies with Lovie and it was a new episode about ballet, which Lovie takes & loves, and Gill, one of the BOY BG’s was dancing on the screen and Lovie giggled and said, “Boys don’t do ballet.” I asked her why not and told her anyone could do ballet. I support her INSANE GIRLYNESS, but I’m not very girly. And I won’t stand for the Boy or Girl do this, wear this, act this talk. God I hate math.

    • Same here. Do you know the book Tallullah’s Tutu? We love it and there’s a boy who does ballet and sadie always laughs and I’m all “Baryshnikov! So shut it with that boys don’t dance talk!” God, I am such a great mom.

  12. My son and daughter are very clear on what boys and girls do or should do. I don’t tell them what those things are and I don’t really worry about them because they go in stages.

    As long as they understand they can choose to be whatever they want I am good.

  13. Oh the gender discussions! For now I feel pretty lucky that my kids think of everything reversed in terms of gender, but I wonder how long it will last. I understand the feeling of the charade or the constant pressure to portray the “right” image. Sometimes I think I’m supposed to just sit around and not say a word — that’s the only way I won’t screw up my kids.

  14. I love this – both the list and screwing the list. I just finished reading “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and it was so great and thought-provoking, but I still haven’t clarified anything for myself. It’s funny how I’ve always encouraged my son in his attraction to things considered “girly”, but I cringe at the thought of my daughter being a fan of such things. Are the things they gravitate to LESS valid if they fit into gender stereotypes? Of course not, it’s still THEM. I wonder if there’s any way I can avoid over-thinking this.

      • All the way through to #10. I liked all of them except #7. Oh, wait. I don’t much like #8, either, I think bossy behavior from boys OR girls ain’t right, y’know? Assertiveness is fine, but… bossy… no, no, I think that’s extreme.

        A “Bossybee” I met in a MMO game I play, she insisted over and OVER that I had to have grits with milk, not chilis and cheese. I’ve had rice, wheat, and oats with milk… why now must a “bossy” woman tell me I lack if I do not eat ground corn with milk, too? No bossy.

        (p.s. She was not from Texas. The Texan gal in the chat, however, heartily approved grits with chilis and cheese.)

  15. I think this is awesome. I think the most important thing to teach my daughter is that she is NOT me. I worried my whole life (and still do) that I was going to grow up and BE my mother. Some of my biggest insecurities I have come from that fear. However, if maybe she had said to me just once, “Well, you are not me, you can do such and such…” or something, then maybe I would have realized early on that I am my own person. I want my daughter to realize that more than anything. That she can be anyone she wants because she is her own unique person.

  16. I don’t know if this is something I never thought about because I have a boy or if I just never thought of it. I agree though that never expressing a negative thought seems like it’s doomed to fail. We have a similar situation with food. Nathan hates everything and won’t try new foods. My husband says I shouldn’t say I don’t like things in front of him because it sets him up to not like things. I disagree in that just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean he won’t and it strengthens the notion that we can all like different things, or to your point, we can all have different strengths. Also, saying you don’t like math but doing it anyway shows a different strength of character.

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