Can girls have beards? Talking gender with a toddler
“Daddy has a barba [Spanish for beard – this is a Spanglish household],” my two-year-old daughter said over breakfast.
“Yes, he does,” I said.
“I don’t have a barba. Not until I’m bigger.”
My husband and I both paused.
“You won’t get a barba when you’re bigger because you’re a girl,” my husband said finally. “Boys get barbas when they grow up and girls get boobs. Well, but not all boys get barbas. And I guess not all girls have boobs.”
“And a girl could have a barba if she was transgender. Or if she had a hormone imbalance,” I said.
My daughter stared at us.
“It’s tricky,” I said awkwardly.
“I like cornflakes,” she said.
Our conversation about gender ended there, but it won’t be the last one we have. Gender is all over the news these days, from the recent court challenge regarding gender-neutral passports to John Lewis’ decision to remove the boys and girls labels from clothes. The Twittersphere is full of people writing in shouty caps that political correctness has gone too far, and equally angry people shouting back that we haven’t gone far enough. And in the middle of all of this, there’s a girl.
A girl who only vaguely gets the concept of gender, in the sense that she mostly correctly identifies boys as boys and girls as girls. A girl who insists that I read ‘Feminist Baby’ to her before bed every night. A girl who loves pink. A girl who loves trucks. A girl who tells me that she wants to be a robot.
It’s too early to explain to her that because of her gender, she’ll probably end up earning around 9% less than a man. If she has children, she’ll likely earn even less, thanks to ‘the motherhood penalty‘. People will constantly ask her what she does with her kids while she’s at work, but they’ll never ask the children’s father.
“Don’t you miss your kids while you’re at work?” they will ask.
On some days she will. On other days she will be so grateful to be away from them that she’ll barely think of them all day.
Her gender means that she’s the one who has to carry a baby for nine months, and deal with the no-drinking, frequent peeing, exhaustion, back pain, swelling and general ‘well, this is pretty uncomfortable’ stuff that goes along with it, while her partner gets to carry on as normal. She’s the one who has to spend the better part of a day squeezing something the size of a melon out of her bits and then sit on one of those hemorrhoid donut pillows for the next six weeks.
Her gender means that she’ll probably worry too much about her weight and her body hair. Her appearance will matter, even when it shouldn’t. She’ll grow up in a society where women glitter bomb their vaginas and spend far too much time doing stupid shit to their eyebrows, and men are pretty much good to go as long as they’ve bathed and aren’t wearing Crocs.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. On the plus side, she hasn’t been saddled with ridiculous genitals. (Sorry, dudes). She’s unlikely to be expected to discuss sports at great length or engage in ‘bantz’, and she’s more likely to go to university and live longer.
We’ll have plenty of time to discuss the finer points of sexism and feminism and why glitter should not go inside you when she’s older. For now, it’s probably best if I let her imagine a happy, bearded future.