The Shadow of the Lego
“I want boy-Legos, not girl-Legos,” says my redheaded seven-year-old step-daughter.
And I am swept into my childhood: into wanting boy-Legos and not girl-Legos, into hating dresses (what if you suddenly need to run or do a cartwheel or climb a tree?), into wanting to play football, not take dance classes, into wanting to be outside, riding my bike or shooting baskets, not wanting to carry a purse, not wanting to wear makeup, not wanting to pretend to bake pies or brush a doll’s hair.
Into being asked “why don’t you act like a girl?”
As a kid, things were clear to me. I thought this question made the person asking it look dumb. I was a girl. Obviously, everything I did had to be “acting like a girl.” It couldn’t be anything else.
But as I listened to my step-daughter say “I want the boy-Legos, not the girl ones,” I suddenly wondered what price I’ve paid because of my need to choose away from “the girl-things”.
I want the boy one.
But I am not a boy.
But I don’t want the girl one.
That one, the boy one, is the real one, the first one, the tough one, the powerful one.
But it isn’t supposed to be for me.
If I’m a girl, but I don’t want the girl one, then who am I?
I’m not like the other girls who want the girl-thing.
I’m not like most girls.
I’m not the kind of girl I’m supposed to be.
But I’m not a boy.
Something is wrong with me.
I don’t fit in the world.
I don’t belong.
This post by Rachel Wilkerson is about the experience of being a biracial woman and trying to find a pair of nude-colored dress shoes. After much searching, she finds the shoes. This is what she says [emphasis mine]
It’s hard to explain why I was so excited about this. They’re just shoes, right? Well, no, they’re not. When you have spent months saying to the designers of the world, “Here, take my money!” and essentially heard them say, “Er…no thanks, we’d rather not,” then they are more than just shoes. They are validation that you exist. We’ve all looked for those unicorn-esque clothes or accessories that just don’t seem to exist outside of our heads or at our price point, but it’s different when you know that the reason you cannot find them is because you’re “Other.”
She struggles to find the shoes because her skin tone is “Other” than the the color that shoe-makers are catering to. But what if the shoes were made in the correct color, but they only came in flip-flop style? Then there is a two step problem: something IS aimed at her, but she knows it isn’t the style with power.
When a girl chooses “the boy-one” there is a double whammy of knowing that there is an item marketed to her, but feeling the need to choose against from it. The girl doesn’t experience the thing she wants not being there; she experiences it being there, for her, and choosing away from it. It isn’t the choice of one out of five options. It’s a binary choice: the girl one or not the girl one.
Girl, or not-girl.
The girl is forced to choose against herself, to self-annihilate.
Of course, none of this thought process happens consciously. It is a gradual erosion over years of associating pastel colors, “taking care of x,” needing assistance, being a helper, with being a girl. Wearing boys clothes because girls clothes fall apart with any physical activity, or they bind and don’t allow movement. Years of fighting away “girly” gifts given by acquaintances, girl pushups, and princesses needing rescue.
Years learning that “girl” things are not okay.
For me, there is pride in the fight. The pride of identifying with being different, being strong and independent. But there is also great confusion. What if I want to act in a nurturing way? After years of rejecting behaviors that are traditionally “acting like a girl” it is difficult to allow them without feeling that I will lose any power and strength I may have in the world.
The redheaded seven-year-old says “I want the boy-Legos, not the girl-Legos.”
And I think, “They are plastic molded and dyed blocks. Why the hell is there a difference? Why can’t she choose Legos and get all the colors?”
Why does she have to choose against herself?
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