Being a Girl: Thoughts from a 7-year-old NYC Girl

New York, USA 2013

"What does it mean to be a girl?"

“What does it mean to be a girl?”

A few weeks ago I asked my seven-year-old American daughter to draw “what it means to be a girl.”

“What do you mean, ‘what it means to be a girl?’” she asked me.  “There are many ways to be a girl.”

“I know.”  I told her.  “But I want to know what it means for you.”

So she drew this, and I was captivated.

For her, “being a girl” means “being yourself.”  It means loving snarky fiction, junk food, pop culture, animals, and action. Knowing her, I know this assertion – and her selection of objects – reflects a pride and a struggle to be authentic in a sea of gendered expectations.

But, like any parent, my child’s assertions tend to captivate me in different ways; this one fills me with wonder, and it makes me worry.  The wonder is personal; not likely of interest beyond our circle.  The worry, however, is social; likely reflecting our moment in time, place, and space: What does it mean that, even as children, Americans tend to experience gender nonconformity in purely individual terms?  What does it mean that, like adults, American children often express gender – and gender nonconformity – through dichotomized consumption?

For now, though, at her seven years, I’ll return to the wonder.

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