May 27, 201112:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Ruby dictates the notes and signs them. She put the "Y" at the beginning of her name because she ran out of room.
I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism recently. It started with all of the signs I’ve been seeing around my office for the Southern Charm Academy. I went to the Web site to check it out – I do love me some Southern charm – and wasn’t really sure what to think. I am pretty traditional about etiquette in some ways (Ruby is 4 and has her own custom stationery, which I use to write thank you notes that she dictates and signs herself; she says “please,” “thank you” and “nice to meet you” as a matter of course; and we both understand the value of an apology) but less so in others (I curse like a sailor, I don’t make her call adults “Mr.” and “Ms.” and I let her get away with fart jokes). But I do like the idea of my daughter having poise, confidence, social graces and maybe even the fashion sense that completely passed me by.
However, I have two problems with the Web site. The first is that is says: “Training in the art of social graces should be a common practice in society today. We used to send our young ladies to Finishing School and then later to Home Economics classes, but the Feminist Movement put an end to that.” I personally didn’t take home ec classes, but I wish I had. It certainly isn’t that they aren’t taught any longer, though; I had many friends in Missouri – men and women my own age – who had taken home ec in high school; these were the people whose mercy I threw myself upon when my pants needed to be hemmed or a button reattached. I think home ec teaches useful skills, skills that both men and women can use. And really, feminism doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t know how to cook and clean and sew; it means that women should also know how to write a business memo, change a tire, preside over a meeting, negotiate a pay raise, craft and proofread a résumé.
My second problem is that it says: “Metairie • Lakeview • Uptown”; the whole thing leaves me feeling like the daughters of Mid-City feminists need not apply at all.
Just when I was trying to parse out exactly how I felt about the charm academy, my dad called and got me all riled up again. He was upset because I had given him a brochure for Ruby’s new school, and the principal, in her bio, had referred to herself as “Mrs.”
“That seems kind of anti-feminist,” my dad said. “Doesn’t that worry you as the mother of a daughter?”
Sigh. Dad, a lot of things worry me as the mother of a daughter. I worry about pedophiles, Barbies, body image, peer pressure, teen pregnancies, boys in Mustangs, boys on motorcycles, mean girls, false friends, self-esteem, tramp stamps, Ke$ha, date rape drugs and bulimia. On a smaller scale, I worry about stepping on Polly Pockets (gads, those things are pointy); how on God’s green earth I will manage to get her into a khaki school jumper next year when all she wants to wear 24/7 are pink “spinny skirts”; and what the hell to do with her crazy mass of blonde curls, so different than my head of boring brown hair too thin to even support a barrette. But her principal choosing to go by “Mrs.” instead of “Ms.”? Seriously? Not even a little bit.
The whole point of feminism, I tried to explain to my dad, is that women can choose what they want to go by. Being forced to take your husband’s name or stay at home with the kids is bad. Choosing to take your husband’s name or stay at home with the kids is fine. There is no one way to be a feminist.
I discovered this a long time ago with my daughter when I finally realized I was being a hypocrite for not letting her just be crazy about Disney princesses. I had been ready to be one of those parents who encouraged gender exploration, letting my daughter play with cars and my (hypothetical future) son wear pink and play with dolls. But Ruby just freaking loves princesses. And Tinkerbell. And My Little Ponies. And babies and dresses and ballet and pink and purple and ruffles and lace. If my mantra as a parent was supposed to be “kids are allowed to like what they like, gender roles be damned,” then I had to live that mantra and let Ruby go princess-fairy-pony crazy.
It’s certainly not hurting her confidence or her ambitions: She told me yesterday morning that when she grew up she was going to be a wife, a mother, a teacher, a doctor, an artist and the owner of the Statue of Liberty. Godspeed, my sweet baby girl. If anyone can achieve all of that, it’s her.
And whether she takes Southern charm classes or not, whether she calls herself Ms. Crawford or Mrs. Futurespousesname or something else entirely, whether she wears a tasteful navy pantsuit or a pink spinny skirt, I have no doubt in my mind that – after we safely navigate junior high and high school – she will be ready to conquer the world. Politely but firmly.