As I waited poolside for my son's swimming lesson to begin, a swimming princess arrived. She wore a bright pink bathing suit with a tutu skirt, along with a pink and orange flowered bathing cap. Her toenails had been painted a matching pink, and sparkly pink studs glittered in her ears. Guess what color her goggles were?
Later that week, I watched my son at his soccer class. The antsy preschoolers bounced and chirruped as they waited their time to dribble. A long-haired petite girl -- currently the only one in the class, although a tall blonde girl used to stand next to my boy, placing her hand on his heart to feel it beat -- announced to the boys, "I'm a dragon."
"You're not a dragon; you're a princess," the boy with the buzz cut said. He had spent most of the practice kicking the marker cone, the wall -- more or less anything except the ball.
In a voice both tiny and confident, she responded, "No, I'm a dragon."
The swimming princess didn't need to be coddled, fearlessly swimming without a belt and jumping off a diving block on demand. The dragon girl, though pretending to be fierce, hung back shyly when asked to kick a ball away from an opponent.
Decades after the first "Ms." magazine hit the stands, can anyone still be amazed that girls are as diverse, complicated and -- let's say it, human -- as boys? Let me reclaim the wool pantsuit of feminism long enough to reassert an important truth: being equal means having the right to be any damn type of woman you want to be.
Pardon my language, but nothing gets me going quite like being reduced to my gender. When I say "reduced," I mean it exactly how it sounds, because nine times out of ten, bringing up a women's gender is an attempt to diminish her humanity, to define her in terms of what her gender supposedly "should" and "shouldn't" do.
Most men nowadays value their gonads enough not to engage in outright sexist behavior in mixed company, but that doesn't mean they won't tweak the women in their life with assumptions about feminine behavior: for example, uttering "Is it that time of the month?" when a woman shows a little human irritability. If, after all the time I've known you, you still find it necessary to remark on the fact that I'm female -- and oh, my god, I menstruate! -- you've never bothered to get to know me.
This is why I love geeks. Male or female, they tend to bond over common interests without regard to what naughty bits you possess. The guys tend to be fairly considerate about restraining themselves from ogling other women openly in front of female friends. This may not be the case if you're a female member of other male-dominated fandoms, like sports (but I'll defer to other woman who can speak more authoritatively about that). You can, however, easily find yourself relegated to "sister" status, so if you have your eyes on a male geek, my advice is to move early before it becomes too icky. Trust me: a male geek will almost never make the first move.
That's not to say there aren't gender issues within the geek community, as well. I've heard of female geeks being dismissed as "poseurs" simply because they like to wear lipstick and style their hair. After all, no self-respecting female geek gets so gussied up.
Hogwash. Or should I say "Hogworts"? We are talking about fandom, after all.
A female college friend and I used to joke that we were drag queens trapped in women's bodies. We liked guys, we agreed, but inside we felt more "male" than "female." Except that we did sometimes like to wear dresses.
Finally, I'd met someone who understood why, when I left the theater after seeing "Superman" as a young girl, I'd been so conflicted: part of me wanted to kiss Superman, while part of me wanted to BE him. I was so distracted I rode over a tree root on my bike and momentarily took flight. In my mind, I've never hit the ground.
Meeting up with another female college friend this past week, also a new mom in her 40s, I told her that '70s-era feminists got it wrong. They were so determined to reach workplace equality that they promoted the idea of the superwoman. Now, we're told that not only can we do anything, but we ought to try to do so. If you're a career woman in your '40s, you'd better either be a supermom or a jet-setting CEO (to make up for all the time you've saved from child rearing). If you're a stay-at-home mom, you should be eagerly making plans to return to a nine-to-five position as soon as the tykes are in school.
What about the fact that all of us are supposed to be able to do what we want to do? To be the women we were meant to be? Isn't that what the years of struggle were designed to achieve?
Honestly, if we really want to help today's swimming princesses and dragon girls, we should instill values of equality, empowerment and self-respect. But most of the time, I think we should just shut up and leave them alone.