This originally appeared on the Princess Free Zone. Republished here with permission.
My daughter loves sports and has played soccer and baseball, and is currently playing basketball. She’s a really good athlete—highly coordinated and focused. Coaches love her. There are a few girls in the basketball league she’s playing in, but she is the only one on her team. And the only one with really short hair.
Last night, after practice, she told my husband and me that one boy on the team would not leave her alone. Last week, she told us, was when he first asked her if she was a girl or a boy. After she told him she was a girl, she said, “He moved away from me.”
This week he continued to ask her questions and make comments. He asked why her hair was so short, to which she replied, “Because I like it that way.” Then he asked, “What are you doing here?” She told him, “The same thing you are.” When she explained this to us, she said, “That was such a stupid question, ‘what are you doing here?‘ What does he think I’m doing here? Playing basketball!” Then she said to us, “You know, boys and girls really aren’t that different. Why doesn’t he get that?”
While it’s upsetting to me that my daughter has to continually defend herself as a girl just because she has short hair and plays sports right alongside the boys, I do understand how her appearance can sometimes confuse people, children especially. In general, we have come to accept that confusion and Gabi is now quick to respond without taking offense. She is comfortable in her own skin and always has been. I have warned her in the past that some people might ask her not just about her gender, but some might even make fun of her, or worse, bully her. She is aware of these potential situations, but it has never stopped her from expressing her true self. And I’ve watched as she has become even more confident about who she is. Most of the time she is fine with people asking; it is only when someone seems to reject her statement—that she is a girl—she tends to anger.
For instance, over the summer, while she was playing volleyball with some boys at our local pool, she ran down from the volleyball court crying telling me that the boys didn’t believe her when she told them she was a girl. They called her a liar. What I discovered was that she was bothered more by the fact that they were calling her a liar than anything else. This is one thing she will not stand for and I can’t blame her. In this instance, I asked her if she wanted me to say something to them. She said yes. So I went over to the boys who were now sitting on the grass and introduced myself. I told them that she was my daughter and that, indeed, she was a girl and that she had not lied. They nodded their heads without meeting my eyes.
Last night, she let us know that she wanted us to say something regarding this particular boy. I am thankful that she is able to communicate her feelings with us and tells us how we can help. We plan on talking to the coach to let him know what is going on and let him address the team. As for the boy, we told her to let it go and simply walk away if he says anything to her again. I told her she does not have to prove to anyone that she is a girl. I said, “This is his problem, not yours.”
I can’t imagine the level of frustration in having to persuade others of your identity all the time. I applaud my girl for her strength of character, her absolute resolve, and her self-confidence. At 7 years old, she already knows that she is enough.
Michele Yulo is the founder of Princess Free Zone, Inc., a brand and blog that offers an alternative to all things princess for little girls by addressing issues of gender and gender stereotyping. She is also the author of the children’s book “Super Tool Lula: The Bully-fighting Super Hero.” She has a master’s degree in English from Georgia State University and enjoys writing and enlightened discourse. You can visit her website at www.princessfreezone.com, join PFZ on Facebook, Twitter, or email her at michele@princessfreezone.