Saturday, April 07, 2007


Maria... she's all girl and she's alright.

This is a girl post. I have a lot of thoughts, and forgive me; I have no idea where I'm heading. Let's just scratch around here and see what we find. I am thinking about boys and girls and how they are different. Yes, I know they are different, but there are a surprising number of ways I did not know they are unique, and it's also surprising how they are treated uniquely.

I am thinking about being feminine. Maybe it was being a young girl during the seventies that made me so unfeminine, so determined to not succumb to adorning myself in typical girl fashions; there was such a Feminist backlash against femininity, pink, lace, daintiness, vulnerability, pink, dress-up, pretty, girly-girl pink stuff. In my mind, wearing jeans and T-Shirts were the key to retaining sensibility, reason, strength and integrity, and avoiding pearls and classic accessories like lip gloss, hair mousse, faux fur trim, satin, and other high maintenance trappings of girlhood were safeguards against frivolity. Curling irons were unnatural, matching hair ribbons were for fancy girls that didn't know how to scramble up a tree or catch a football.

As I scratch a little deeper, while I must admit that the seventies were largely to blame for my rough exterior, there were other contributing factors to my pink aversion, namely poverty and secret, suppressed envy and denial. I did wear dresses and liked them. I did pose for pictures feeling pretty and polished. When I was about six years old I had a pair of sky blue pants that came with a pink blouse, and at that time, the two colors looked more beautiful together than anything I could ever imagine pairing. I can still recall the confidence and pleasure it gave me to wear them, and the special feeling of pride because they were bought for me; they were not hand-me-downs. I wore them until the blouse strained to contain me and the pants began to look like capris. I don't know how many years I yearned for a canopy bed, matching dresser and night stand, but as I realized those would never be forthcoming, nor black patent leather shoes, or regular shopping sprees at Penney's, well then I naturally snubbed the very idea of desiring fashionable clothes, matching anything or any routine involving curling irons, beauty treatments or new season fashions.

I soon forgot that somewhere, deep inside me was a girl that thought pink is sweet and looks pretty next to sky blue, that lace is amazing, intricate, interesting complex and beautiful, and so are flowers, butterflies, princesses, jewelry, eyeliner and nightgowns. Somewhere along the way those suppressed feminine feelings were replaced with the belief that girls who accessorize, flirt and giggle were trained that way and were in peril of being shallow, losing neural connections and that they were victims of commercial, capitalist conspiracies.

And then I gave birth to three boys, and I thought that I was their prime influence; teaching them that there are no gender lines, to follow their interests and not their societally expected roles. I expected they would wear the colors they like, play the games they preferred and be in touch with a harmonious balance of masculine and feminine emotions and behaviors that were more suitably recognized as simply human, universal qualities. It sort of has worked that way, so naturally I felt a little smug proud, because I had overcome gender bias and created a smart, strong, intelligent home. While we enjoyed and respected traditionally feminine interests, like sewing cooking and floral arrangements, we were not shopping the pink aisle at Target or hanging lace curtains... never would...

And then came Maria.
When people found out we were expecting a girl it began... they said, "A girl," with wispy, heartfelt sighs. They said "Girls are so sweet and easy," and they said, "You're going to love shopping for a girl."

I thought, 'Typical stereotypes and social conventions.' I felt a little different though. I did want to buy dresses, and ribbons look pretty in long hair; did I say 'long hair?' Long, feminine hair, brushed and braided and the ends tied with bows?

I thought, my boys have been easy and sweet, girls don't own sweetness. I felt a little different though. I noticed that Geoff and his boys have a lot to share that actually is unique to guys. They are sweet boys who will grow to be men and have men experiences, and it is a realm that I can admire, respect and observe, but I will never fully know. I thought about being a girl, being my mother's daughter and the connectedness we have by being women. I love relating to my boys and reliving childhood, but expecting a girl opened up memories of not only being a child, but of being a girl. I was remembering that all of my dolls had names that I had wanted to be a princess, wear flowing dresses and flowers in my hair.

Even after having three children, and knowing perfectly well they come pre-packaged with personalities, gifts, attitudes and passions, I still believed that gender roles were assigned and molded by parenting and social expectations. I was wrong. I was naïve.

When Maria was born and we met face to face the first thing I saw, that made a lasting impression, were her lips. They were full and pink, moist, soft and feminine. I would have known she was a girl from just those lips. And how is that possible? She was dainty from head to feet. We dressed her in some hand-me-downs from the boys, but she looked beautiful in lavender. We brought her toys, all kinds, but she sighed and rushed to embrace her first doll. She loves balls and trains and she is wild on the playground, climbing, scaling, and balancing. She also lines her babies safely, comfortably on the bed and pats them when they 'cry.' And when she could sit up and pull things, she began to accessorize and preen. Like a bird, tending her feathers, Maria would adorn herself, adjusting her finery and turning her head to appreciate the affect, she would smile gleefully at her reflection. I had never seen this behavior, even in myself... maybe. Maybe I do remember putting on nightgowns and wearing one on my head for a princess veil, or coveting a grass skirt and bikini top. Maria was not even one year old and she would take any scarf or T-Shirt and put it on her head like a veil, and coo, blissfully glad to be feminine.
Sitting in a shopping cart, when Maria sees shoes her feet twitch and she raises them like magnets drawn to the strappy sandals and cowgirl boots. She makes an urgent plea, "Shoes, shoes, shoes. Off shoes. Pease." She pulls out dresses from the closet and takes them to her daddy, so he'll dress her. Packages in the mail, that come with toys and treats... she finds and pulls out any clothes and hugs them sighing and admiring.

Most days I wear jeans, either the ones with a hole in one knee or the other pair, and I wear a dress that is a sad excuse for a dress by any stretch. If I shower and brush my hair, then I feel lucky. Some days I find my lipstick. Once a month, at most, I put on something newer, cleaner or prettier, and Maria always notices. She lifts the hem of my skirt, looks at the pattern or the lay of the fabric, her eyes meet mine, she smiles approvingly and says, "Pretty, pretty."

So, it turns out it really is about balance, and I have been living out of balance, unappreciative, almost disrespectfully so, of my femininity. What I had categorized as contrived convention, is actually simply another layer of the human experience and it includes, if you like, dress-up, grace, pride, delicacy, flowy gossamer veils and strings of pearls, sparkly shoes, and tea parties, tending baby dolls and cooing at baby bunnies and kittens. My strength and intelligence are neither compromised nor diminished by pinkness and dancing on tiptoes; Maria taught me this.


Tarie said...

Awww, Natalie. I'm not very feminine myself. Thank you for the reminder that femininity is natural and does NOT compromise or diminish intelligence and strength. I more often than not neglect (yes, even disrespectfully) my femininity. I think it is part of my conscious and unconscious rebellion against my beauty queen, former model mom who always complained about how I looked. P.S. Maria is so beautiful!!!!!! P.P.S. Pink is my favorite color. Heeheehee.

Tarie said...

Oh. And there is the fact I grew up with brothers!

Natalie said...

Hey, I'm glad I made sense to somebody... I think I could say a lot more on the subject... sometimes I don't know when to shut up. And ya, I grew up with brothers too, so there's comfort and familiarity in the guy world. Tarie you are so awesome. I think I'll start dropping your name in casual conversations: "My friend Tarie said..."