Like a Princess

This summer after traveling the world and attending three different conferences, I visited my motherland, my birthplace, Romania. I truly love being there, it is such a beautiful country, full of wonder, yet frayed, still in the making, still in the process of rebuilding after being destroyed by a crazy dictator merely decades ago. And perhaps what is always so evident and frustrating for me: still so hung up on traditions built upon religion and patriarchy. Every time I go there some new goddamn church is being constructed: bigger than the one before. And I just shake my head in disappointment. Think of all that money, all that effort, being put to orphanages, schools and hospitals instead. But alas, no, people apparently need more space where they can pray to an invisible man in the sky. Oh well.

While there, I visited an old friend who now has two children, a two year old boy and a four year old girl. I had brought with me two stuffed animals for them, which they seemed to love, and they were playing joyfully with them in the living room, running around, throwing themselves on the soft rug placed in the middle. They had a nanny, an older woman, must have been 65+ I assume, who kept a watchful eye on them. While their mother went upstairs to get something, the children kept playing and I just looked at them, smiling. Then the girl started saying “poop!” and I laughed with her, cause come on, poop is a funny word. But the nanny was not impressed, she told the girl to not say such things, which of course, only made her say it more, cause she is a kid, and kids, as I have noticed, seem to like pushing boundaries and say things they “should not say”. I did not mind it at all of course, but after a while the nanny got a bit angry and grabbed the girl towards her on the sofa, she told the girl: “Now you sit here and behave, sit pretty like a princess”. The nanny placed the girl beside her, making her sit down with her legs together, hands on her knees. The girl struggled to break free but the nanny just grabbed her again and put her back on the sofa: “No, sit here nicely like a princess, show our guest that you can behave like a princess.” I was already feeling uncomfortable after the nanny first grabbed the girl, but now I was getting pissed off. And even though it might not have been my place, I still felt the need to say something, so I did, I said: “Maybe she does not want to be a princess.” The nanny looked at me, a bit confused, she let go of the girl and replied: “No, maybe not…” She turned to the girl and told her, with a bit of spite, that she was not a princess. The girl went back to playing on the rug with her brother.

Now this incident might seem small and inconsequential, however, think of all the young girls in this country, in this world, who are STILL being told to sit nicely, quietly, like a fucking princess, instead of running around, playing, being kids, taking space, just the same way their brothers and male counterparts are allowed to. What breaks my heart is that this girl is part of a new generation, but she is being taught what to do and how in the ways of an older generation who does not seem to have spent one single thought on gender equality, who thinks that things are the way they are and have always been, and will always be and everything is just peachy. To me, that is just so very sad and depressing. Because if we do not do better with our kids than our parents did before us, and their parents before them, then what exactly are we doing? Isn’t the point of procreating also progressing? Why wouldn’t we want new generations growing up with more possibilities than us, more freedom to be themselves? Sure, some might think I should not stick my nose in how other people raise their children, however, I live in this world too, and if I ever have kids, then the way others raise theirs, will also affect my own kids. Because kids do not only learn about structures from their parents, they also learn from other kids. We are all in this together, basically. So what kind of world do we all want to live in? One where girls act like nice and quiet little princesses who do everything they are told, while boys do whatever the heck they want, or one where all kids are taught to be whatever they are comfortable with being?

I vote for the latter.

princess

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Talking to girls

I was bored and perusing Facebook when I came across this interesting blog post.

The fact that we talk to girls and boys differently shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but it should upset us all. The social norms we live by are not something we are born with, it’s infused in us as children. We learn early on how girls and boys should look and act, respectively. These norms are then passed on from generation to generation, from fathers to sons, mother to daughters, from our teachers, friends and even strangers. We all learn to conform to our gender. But gender, be it masculinity or femininity, is just something we have made up, so what is stopping us from reinventing these age old norms? Well, nothing really. The problem is that norms that are so deeply rooted are difficult to break from, they are engraved in our minds and our selves, therefore we have to actively think and decide to act differently, in order to make any change. This is not an easy task. I know. But it’s still worth it. If we can try changing bit by bit, making it possible to talk to girls about what they like and do, instead of how they look, asking boys about their feelings and stop pressuring them about being “strong” and “manly”. How great would it be if both girls and boys were encouraged for the same things, being complemented for the same achievements?

This issue is also deeply related to media and advertising, since ads reflect our culture and society, therefore reinforcing the norms we live in. So many ads are portraying women and men like the stereotypical image of gender we have been taught growing up: Women are beautiful and passive, Men are strong and active. As John Berger put it:

“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision:
a sight.”

Growing up my mother always told me I was beautiful, being her child of course she thought and said so, as any mother would. This probably gave me some form of confidence boost that girls get from (being taught) hearing that. Still, more than praising my looks, she always encouraged me to use my brain. As a kid I was good at math, which thrilled my mother, and in the 4th grade it was me and this boy who were the best in class. However, while he was praised and acknowledged about his math skills, I was not. Needless to say, this really upset me so I told my mother about the boy and he being “better than me”. There and then, she made me a proposal: “How would you like to beat him at math and be the best?” I don’t know why but something in me triggered that day, my competitive instinct kicked in, I was sold. Of course I wanted to beat that boy in math, what ever it took. So from that day on I studied harder than before and sailed through the entire math book, I got so far ahead that in 5th grade I was reading the 7th grade math books. All the while my mother kept encouraging me and pushing me forward, praising not only my looks but also my smarts. So yeah, I did beat the boy, and that gave me a bigger confidence boost than any compliment about my appearance ever has.

I love my mother of course, but even more I am grateful for the way she raised me, being a strong independent woman herself, she always encouraged me to think, act and do. Not just be.

Thank you mom.