Care and Feeding

I Encourage My Daughter to Play With Barbies and Wear Pink. I’m Judged for It.

I’ve been told it’s not feminist to encourage her behavior.

A little girl wearing a dress sits on the floor having tea with her toys in front of a large dollhouse
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by FamVeld/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How do I politely tell people it’s possible for me to be a feminist who also wants to play Barbies with my daughter? I have no problem with nongendered clothes and toys, but I have always wanted a daughter whom (amongst other things) I can clothe in pink, play dress-up with, braid her hair, etc. I know one can do these things with a boy, but it’s not the same for me. Lucky for me, my Julie is your quintessential princess. I’m not forcing her into anything, and if she ever wanted to get rid of her girly stuff, that would be fine.

My problem is certain other people in my life can’t let the gendered nonsense thing go. Some of my husband’s friends and family have commented on how it’s setting Julie back to have her play with dolls and wear dresses 24/7. But that’s what she wants! I’m just lucky that it’s what I want, too. I’ve been told it’s not feminist to encourage her behavior. One of my husband’s friends in particular always brings her blue clothes and toy trucks. They end up getting donated after six months because she’s not interested.

I’m sick of the judgment, and it makes me understand why people can’t stand the obsession with gender and are starting not to care about these people. If Julie were Julian, my husband’s folks would love that he plays with dolls and would be over the moon to buy him glittery boots and makeup sets. It’s frustrating, and I don’t know what to say when they are in my home and making digs at me in front of my child. Or buying her crap she doesn’t want, just to force an agenda.

—Pretty in Pink Exhaustion

Dear Pretty in Pink Exhaustion,

If you feel like you and your daughter are being judged for her interests, then you should be prepared to express that to anyone who criticizes her for liking dresses, dolls, and princesses. There’s nothing wrong or anti-feminist about her interests, and it’s fine to make that assertion whenever necessary.

If you want to approach this politely, as you’ve suggested in your letter, you can start by not comparing your daughter’s experience to those who express their gender differently. Despite how things may seem to you, your daughter is still part of a protected majority. As a cisgender girl, she won’t experience discrimination or harm just for wearing dresses and liking “girly” things. If you feel like your (or her) feminism is being challenged, you are free to remind people that feminism should champion equity and encourage choice. It’s great to have such reminders from time to time.


More Advice From Slate

At my recent wedding, we had our guests sign a matte surrounding a picture of us getting married that I had intended to hang in a prominent place in our home. Unfortunately, a friend of my husband’s chose to celebrate the occasion by depicting a very crude rendering of male genitalia on the matte. My husband says it is OK if I want to bring it up, since my feelings were hurt and he will support me, but he will not broach the topic on his own. In order to continue to socialize with this person, I feel I need to clear the air.