I think I'm a feminist. You may now be picturing a roomful of hand-wringers with me standing, chair pushed back, making my guilty admission. Yet guilt is not my reason for being hesitant. What I mean is that I think I'm a feminist but I'm not actually sure if I meet the criteria. I'm passionate about the issues affecting women and will gladly clamber onto a soapbox or two. I huff and puff about Page 3 and I get my knickers in a twist when the world is more interested in a woman's lipstick than her achievements. As the debate over 'pinkification' rages on, is it a terrible desecration of my principles then that I encouraged my 6-year-old daughter to get 'dolled up' for an evening out?
It was the last afternoon we had alone together before the start of the new school term. With a trip to the theatre planned for the evening, I decided to treat her to an afternoon of pampering. Or, as it turned out, I gave her a quick bath and painted her fingernails badly whilst she watched back-to-back episodes of teen TV unsuitable for her age. We chose a dress (pink) and a cardigan (sparkly), selected some of her (less tacky) jewellery and packed a little handbag (the one that was "more like a grown-up's"). Finally, I helped her apply a dash of eyeshadow and some lip gloss.
Did I do wrong? I don't think so. Am I betraying my feminist tendencies? Possibly. It's highly unlikely that our afternoon will leave her wanting to be a glamour model rather than a rocket scientist. I doubt that she will be left thinking looks are singularly more important than anything else. What we did that afternoon was for her. It made her feel special. It's no different to the escapism I see my female friends desperate for when, after apologising for their child's behaviour for the nth time that day, they grab the phone and book a spa treatment. At that point do we consider ourselves to be betraying womanhood? No.
My daughter is not interested in what other people think when they look at her. (Long may that continue.) She's interested in how things make her feel inside. Doing what she sees me doing makes her feel more grown-up and independent - something most children hanker after whether or not we agree with or support it. It wasn't about feeling more like a 'woman', with the negative connotation that women are defined solely by make-up and fashion. It was simply about being on level pegging with an adult. If taking a razor to an imaginary beard could have had the same effect, she probably would have done it.
I'm very much against thrusting toys and imagery at girls that could narrow their aspirations. We fought the tide of pink in our household and were eventually overwhelmed. But rather than call wildly for help from beneath a sea of sparkly plastic, I've hoisted myself onto a boogie board and ridden the wave. Pink paraphernalia, make-up and glitter aren't going to put my daughter in a pigeon hole from where she can't see the stars. There are things in our world far more powerful and pervasive that will try to inflict such damage. What matters is her having confidence - the ability to define who she is by herself, rather than be defined. If the biggest barriers to achieving this were the colour pink and a bit of nail polish then the need for feminism would have ceased to exist a long time ago.