Years ago, in 2013, when my three girls first came to live with me, but still before the adoption, I was tasked with getting them something to wear for a superhero themed party.
I was so excited. It was the first party they’d been invited to and they were thrilled to no end. Off I go to Target to find appropriate superhero costumes for my girls.
I head to the toy section. I see Superman. Batman. Spiderman. Iron Man. Hulk. A pattern is forming, right? Then I realize I’m in the boy aisles so I go to the girls’ toys section. Lots of princess stuff, but no super heroes. WTF?
Then I think to go to the clothing section.
The boys have t-shirts galore. Again, the whole list of superheroes is there. All of them. I stroll over to the girls’ section and I find their entire female superhero collection.
It consisted of one red hairbow with the “S” from Superman or Supergirl on. That’s it.
I wound up piecing together an outfit and the girls went to the party and had an absolute blast.
Examples and people to look up to are important. Often, after parents, children look to fictional characters for their aspirations and inspirations.
Girls are no different. There are so many great examples, but at four-years-old, it can be difficult to explain why a Rosa Parks is a great example and someone to aspire to. Rather, they want Wonder Woman. Or Super Girl, Bat Girl, etc. (Why are they always girls?).
But when I went to Target that day in 2013, the message was loud and clear. Girls are princesses. Boys are the heroes.
As a father, I work hard to be a good example to my daughters. But just their mom, or just me, is not enough. They need other examples of courage, success, heroism, and character. Some of these are or will be fictional. Some real-life. They need to see examples in life, relationships, education and more.
I grew up in a house with a mother who was a strong woman. Yet, it was a traditional household. Dad brought home the money, mom ran the household. Their marriage crossed the 50-year-mark not too long ago, so they must be doing something right.
I think the example of my parents taught me that you just treat women like they are people. It never occurred to me to look down on a woman for any reason. It was difficult for me to understand gender-based pay gaps, sexual harassment, and similar, though I know they exist.
But at that moment in 2013, standing in Target, I realized quite clearly and in a deeply personal way, women are treated differently.
Now, I’m not bashing Target. I suspect they were pursuing market trends and sales trends. Wonder Woman had not dominated the box office yet. But I was rather put out that what they saw as Supergirl shirts were actually Superman shirts from the boys’ section.
For the first time, I felt like someone telling me my girls couldn’t be something for no other reason than they were girls.
And that is highly unacceptable.
It’s real. And as my daughters grow up, I find myself battling the perceptions and views more and more.
However, my girls are tough, smart, kind, and capable. They understand they won’t be kept down by anyone.
And that is the best example I can show them.