On Raising a Girl

We found out at the 20 week scan that Little Bear was a girl. Obviously I was delighted - this massively reduced my future chances of getting my face pissed on during a nappy change! That afternoon, I went into work and when people asked how the scan had gone, I told them. The baby was healthy, we had seen loads of details of her lovely little body on the scan. Did you know you can clearly see all four chambers of the heart at 20 weeks?! Yes, everyone replied, that's great, but what are you having? 'A girl!' they squealed, 'congratulations! You must be so excited about buying dresses!'

This was my first proper realisation that LB's life would be different because she had a vagina rather than a penis (a twinkle rather than a wobbler...what are people calling their parts these days?). It made me really sad, and it still does, that people thought that the most exciting thing about LB's immenent arrival was dresses. I mean, fair enough, I do like dresses, and fair enough, no one could actually know what the baby would be like as a person, so they could hardly say 'you must be so excited about watching her play football' or, 'bet you can't wait to indulge her obsessive interest in dinosaurs'. It's also true though, that when you tell people you're incubating a tiny female, dinosaurs and football are pretty low on the list of their predictions.

A couple of weeks ago, Little Bear and I were on the bus and an old man came over to put money in her pram (this still happens pretty often even though it's supposed to be a tradition for newborns, I think it must be because she's so little). LB was wearing a navy blue T-shirt and a white knitted jumper so he started to coo over what a smashing wee boy 'he' was. Little Bear responded by doing a massively loud fart. The guy was delighted; what a proper man's man LB was! I smiled and didn't correct him, but inside I sighed, because although I can't be 100% sure, I'm fairly certain his reaction would have been different if he had seen that she was wearing pink leggings.

In many, many ways, Little Bear is lucky. There has never been a better time to be born a girl in the Western world. The leaders of the three main parties in Scotland (SNP, Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservatives) are all women; Hilary Clinton is running for President and women like Nicola Adams, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Ronda Rousey are proving that being strong and fit and physical is just as desirable for a woman as for a man. LB is actually more likely to go to university than she would have been if she had a todger. She's growing up with a father who is teaching her that babies and housework are just as much a dad's job as a mum's.

But. This week, Novak Djokovic announced that male tennis players should be paid more than female players. Donald Trump, potential future President (go Hilary, go!), said in 2013 that the sexual assault of women in the military was to be expected when men and women were both permitted to join the army. Women only represent 12% of the workforce in STEM disciplines, a fact which Nobel laureate Tim Hunt feels is a good thing because 'only three things can happen when a girl is in a lab: you fall in love with her, she falls in love with you, and she cries when you criticise her.'

I have no doubt at all that the tide is turning. By the time LB is my age, it will be even more frowned upon to make comments like Hunt's than it is now and I know that as she grows up, she will be told that she can do anything a boy can do. But as our friend on the bus showed, while she will officially be told that she is no different than a boy, life will show her that she is expected to behave in a certain way and reach for certain goals because she's female. When I go clothes shopping for LB, this cultural difference is very noticeable. The girls' section is overwhelmingly pink; the clothes are frilly and have bows. They have slogans mentioning princesses, beauty, sometimes even dating. They feature animals like bunnies, butterflies, mice, squirrels and birds. The boys section is mostly blue, but also has a mix of bright, primary colours. The slogans here talk about being cheeky, being strong, being loud and brave. They feature prints of animals like crocodiles, lions, bears and monkeys.

This is how most retailers seem to advertise to mothers of girls.

I know that this is a small example, and probably doesn't seem very important. But if I'm going to tell LB that she can be anything and do anything; if I'm going to encourage her to be strong and brave and independent, then I have to also show her that these things are just as much in her grasp as they would be for a boy. I can't do that by making a big deal out of it, as though a brave girl is something extraordinary, it has to be a daily thing, a given, that she's a strong girl, a clever girl, a cheeky girl and not just a pretty girl.

Little Bear, my lovely daughter, I promise I will teach you to be anything you want to be. I promise I'll dress you in lions just as much as bunnies. I'll take you to science fairs as well as book fairs. I'll buy you Lego as well as dolls. I'll play football with you and I'll dance with you. Life will always hold potential for you, my mighty girl.

(Most of all though, I promise I'll never be less encouraging of your farts than I would be if you were my son.)