Family

My Mother-in-Law Likes to Do My Toddler’s Hair and Apply Fake Makeup

She’s making it hard to raise our daughter without traditional gender norms.

Two young girls dressed like princesses have a tea party
Alina Demidenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus

On Wednesday, the hosts of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting, gathered for a live video show and fielded questions from viewers. One question, adapted from the show and edited for clarity, can be read below.

Question: We have tried to raise our 2.5-year-old daughter without traditional gender norms, colors, princesses, and so on. She has decided on her own that purple and pink are her favorite colors, which is great. My mother-in-law has taken this newfound preference for purple and pink as an excuse to start doing hair and giving her fake makeup and jewelry because she “likes it.” How do I diplomatically ask her not to without hurting her feelings? Or am I thinking too much about it?

Jamilah Lemieux: You’re not thinking too much, but you’re thinking the wrong things. What I’m hearing here is a negative connotation to things that are coded as feminine. I’m not sure if that’s your intention, but when people talk about gender-neutral things, they usually mean things that are marketed toward boys. There’s nothing wrong with femininity. This doesn’t mean she won’t be progressive or strong or that she’ll suffer from internalized misogyny. She might just like pink and purple.

Elizabeth Newcap: I agree. In general the point of gender-neutral is to allow the child to make choices, and sometimes those choices will be inline with a typical stereotype. Maybe the issue here is with the mother-in-law, and you feel that she’s overstepping. It’s OK to let your daughter share something she enjoys with her grandma. You’re giving her a bigger picture of womanhood and femininity.

Dan Kois: I relate to this question a little bit. For some parents of girls, it can be really frustrating to see them sucked into a certain mode of gender presentation that feels so overwhelming in our culture. It doesn’t have to do with thinking pink and purple or girly things are bad, so much as it can feel like the only option for self-presentation for girls. We would push back on that to counter the messages our daughter was receiving everywhere else.

Jamilah: There are so many ways to be a girly girl. You can be a princess and tough. I get that it’s jarring to see your daughter fall into the stereotypically feminine things. Unless she’s a damsel in distress or vapid, feminine things don’t have to mean weak. This is a longstanding feminist argument—just because women embrace a traditional presentation doesn’t mean they’re at odds with the principles of feminism.

Watch the full video chat—with more questions!—in the player below.

You can see Jamilah Lemieux’s weekly live show, The Kids Are Asleep, every Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern on YouTube and Facebook.

See more of Slate’s live events archive or upcoming events.