While folks of a more old-fashioned bent might disapprove, mostly people tell me they think my daughter’s name is adorable. It doesn’t go the other way at all, though. No one thinks it’s quirky and charming if you name your son Clara.
When my partner was about three months pregnant, we got together with some friends of ours who were also expecting a baby. Inevitably, we ended up chatting about our hopes for our future children. None of us knew what flavor of baby we had on the way, so we speculated about sex and gender and what those things might mean for our kids.
“I’m kind of hoping it’s a girl,” confessed the dad-to-be. “There’s so much cultural baggage with a boy. I’m not the macho, teach-my-kid-to-throw-a-football type. I don’t want to feel like I’m letting our baby down by not showing him how to be appropriately masculine.”
I agreed with him. “You can teach girls to like trucks and science and butterflies and ballet, all at once. If you let your son play with dolls people think you’re weird. I want our kid to feel unrestrained by gender roles, but that would be a lot harder with a boy.”
Both of our children were designated female at birth, so on the list of the thousand and one things every new parent has to worry about, at least none of us have to be concerned that we’re not raising our kid to be masculine enough. Gender stereotypes are a double-edged sword, but this one cuts the way I’m familiar with.
We named our daughter Bradley, a recent addition to the litany of traditionally boys’ names that have crossed the gender line. It’s not a new development; before today’s spate of female Ryans, Kyles, and Elliots came the mid-20th-century androgynous nicknames like Sam, Chris, and Charlie, and even earlier men’s names co-opted by women, like Stacy, Shannon, and my own name, Lindsay. While folks of a more old-fashioned bent might disapprove, mostly people tell me they think my daughter’s name is adorable.
It doesn’t go the other way at all, though. No one thinks it’s quirky and charming if you name your son Clara.
Because we have a daughter, we’re more free to cross gender lines in our parenting. We dress Bradley in whatever we think is cute, which is sometimes pink and flowers and sometimes blue and dinosaurs. (Dear children’s clothing manufacturers, why can’t I find a onesie with a pink T-rex on it? Do you think all dinosaurs were male? If so, how exactly did they reproduce?) As our daughter grows up, she’ll be surrounded by female role models who will teach her to read and love nature and do science experiments and play sports and pursue whatever other interests and talents she has. I’ll be proud of her if she’s a practical, low-maintenance femme like me or a flannel-wearing butch with a secret predilection for glitter like my partner. Scrappy or sensitive, artistic or athletic, I never want her to feel limited by her gender.
I’d like to think nothing would be different if she were a boy, but I’m not certain my hypothetical son would rock as much pink as my daughter does. There’s much more cultural resistance to raising a boy to like masculine and feminine things equally. It’s hard to picture myself putting Bradley’s hopefully-future brother to bed in her hand-me-down sleeper with the pink and purple penguins. I want to be able to picture it. But I think of my friend whose toddler son was scolded at preschool for wearing Frozen pull-ups because they were “for girls.” There’s no question in my mind that we police boys’ genders more harshly than we police girls’.
Does that mean it’s easier to be a girl? Is it proof that feminism won and we can all go home? I don’t think so. Rather, I think it’s an indication of the casual misogyny that still permeates society at every level, influencing us even before birth. Feminine things are still devalued. We all know that fields that primarily employ women are underappreciated and underpaid compared to their primarily-male counterparts, but that’s just one of the more obvious manifestations of this implicit sexism. It’s also why telling someone she’s “not like other girls” is seen as a compliment.
When girls want to wear “boy” clothes and do “boy” things, the more progressive among us will often accommodate them, but it’s not because we don’t see gendered differences. It’s because we subconsciously see “boy” things as better than “girl” things; thus, it makes sense for girls to want them. In earlier generations, feminine things were openly considered less valuable than masculine things, so girls, being marginalized by sexism, were stuck with them. In the newer model, girls have just as much right as boys to seek out better options—but “better” is still coded “male.” For boys, femininity is a step down.
I want to raise my daughter to believe that masculinity and femininity are equally valuable, and that she has access to whichever will give her most joy. I also want to raise her in a world that will validate that message. There’s not a whole lot I can do about that second part, but I can work hard to make our home and family a place where all gender expressions are honored and uplifted. I don’t want to steer her toward pink and princesses as though they’re her only options, but I also don’t want to steer her away from them and teach her that being strong means rejecting girly things.
And if someday in the future I have a son, I’m going to steel myself against the world’s opinion and bust out that pink-and-purple penguin sleeper again, because you know what? It’s motherfucking adorable.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).