The Pirate And Dawn Of The Girly Girls

With the number of dads who blog growing, I am constantly meeting new fathers who are all-around impressive,and I'm pleased to have one of them guest posting today. *Seth, The Didactic Pirate, has been sailing the blogging seas for just over a year, and over that period, he's already earned a solid reputation within the dad community. There are two things I have to point out about Seth that I admit to having mixed feelings about. On one hand he's a fellow DC Comics fan whom I'm envious of because he's been to Comic Con. Yet, on the other hand he also teaches English (writing and rhetoric) at a large college, which both scares and intimidates the hell out of me. (I can only imagine the number of times he's wanted to reach for a red pen to correct the way I slaughter verb tenses or any number of other egregious such errors.) Regardless, I'm sure you'll enjoy Seth's guest post as well as his regular writing as The Didactic Pirate. (*pseudonym)

Dawn of the Girly Girls

My wife came home yesterday with new swim goggles for our eight-year-old daughter. They’re Spiderman goggles, and they’re totally excellent. They’re sleek and shaped like the ones Michael Phelps would’ve worn in the Olympics – if he’d been even more awesome. They’re red with a black webbing design, and, they say Spiderman on them, and the packaging says when you wear them you get that tingling Spidey Sense whenever danger approaches. (Before you ask: after searching online, I learned that sadly, they do not make them in adult sizes.)

My daughter Riley loved them right away. “These are totally cool!” she crowed. We ripped them out of the package and she tried them on.

“Do you feel your spider sense tingling?” I asked.

“Of course not, Daddy. We’re in the backyard. There’s no villains here.”

“Ah. Good point.”

We sat on our back porch for a while as she gazed around happily, through the lens of her Spidey goggles. But after a little while, I noticed her mood shifting. Subtle, but discernable.

“What’s up?” I asked her.

“I don’t know if I can wear these at the pool,” she said slowly, pulling them off.

“How come?”

“Well… if I do, other kids will say I like Boy Stuff.”

Huh. Wait. What?

“What do you mean by Boy Stuff?” I asked.

“You know. Boy Stuff. Like superheroes.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. This issue had never come up before, not in a tangible way. Sure, the kid was sucked into the Disney Princess vortex when she was a toddler, but she left that behind a couple years ago, and her tastes have transitioned evolved. In the last year, she’s become a devoted aficionado of super crime fighting. She knows the secret identity names of all past Green Lanterns. She knows her X-Men from her Avengers. And her love for these pop culture cornerstones appears to be an honest, sincere kid love – I swear I didn’t push this on her. She found it on her own. When we’re in the car, she asks which superheroes we should both be that day. When she’s in the bathtub, her action figures are having undersea battles. She no longer dresses up in scratchy polyester Cinderella gowns. Instead, she wears her silver cape and her Action Belt. On occasion, she wields a sword.

What I’m saying is, this is not a Girly Girl. And with all due respect to princesses everywhere, I’m thrilled.

Riley has never been one to let her likes and dislikes be shaped by her peers. She’s shown no interest in things Bieber, Jonas, or Cyrus. And the idea that she might feel like she wasn’t allowed to like something that she honestly did like – well, it really, really bothered me. Especially since this was suddenly about acceptable gender roles. Much as we like to say that we’re not shackled to such outdated stereotypes, we still are. Of course we are. We let girls kick ass… but only if they can look cute the whole time, and not kick ass too much. And it’s same for boys. We all know showing vulnerability and honest emotion on the playground is the fast track to a good pummeling. I have no patience for that crap, any of it. But I know that as Riley gets older, these influence will invade her world, and be out of my control.

So this was a surprise, this sudden concern about how her love of “Boy Stuff” would be perceived by others. Forget about the fact that superheroes are for everyone, duh. My daughter had just crossed the line into the realm of gender politics, which was making her feel self-conscious.

Not to mention putting a big potential damper on her future crime fighting career.

“Well,” I said cautiously, “tell me this. Do you like superheroes?”

It would be fine if she didn’t, of course. It would be ok if this was where she told me that she didn’t really like that stuff at all, but only pretended to for my sake. Sure, my heart would be crushed FOREVER, but that’s cool.

“Yes,” she said, “of course I like that stuff!” She seemed momentarily indignant that I would question her devotion to heroes, and to the ongoing fight for justice in the universe.

“Well, isn’t that all that matters? Shouldn’t you get to like whatever you want to like?”

Her brow wrinkled. “But, what if they make fun of me?”


“Girls. And also boys.”

This was a real concern for her. I could see it in her face.

I chose to downplay the issue, trying not to make a big deal out of it. I didn’t ask if there’d been some incident at school this past year, kids who made fun of her for leaping around at recess pretending to be SuperAwesomeGirl. I kept it simple and casual, telling her that boys and girls were allowed to like whatever they wanted, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. And anyone who said otherwise deserved to get pounded by super hammer fists of fury. (Just kidding. But I did try to be as clear as possible about the first part.)

She seemed to mull it over for all of .35 milliseconds before getting distracted by something else. We moved on to other topics. It was yet another discussion with my daughter where the only person left to ponder the impact afterwards was me.

The next day we went to the pool. It was relatively crowded with lots of little kids around her age. I handed Riley her goggles, and she strapped them onto her head without thinking. She dove under the water to test their durability, and popped back up. I noticed a couple girls around her age, or maybe a little older, looking at her. I chose to believe they were looking at her goggles out of jealousy. They probably wanted to fight underwater crime too. I wanted to tell them they could-- they could battle evil and still maintain whatever level of socially-accepted femininity they chose to embrace.

My daughter dove underwater, squirmed around in some sort of imaginary aquatic battle, and then popped back up again, spitting water.

“These are SO COOL! Do I look cool?” she asked excitedly.

You bet you do, crime fighter.

Seth can also be found navigating the waters of Twitter @DidacticPirate, and he's also a contributing writer at Dad Revolution.

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