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Gowns for My Daughter

My daughter Risa is turning two next week. When my mother, a Jewish feminist who went to law school at age 40, asked me to accompany her to a toy store to pick a gift, I agreed. She asked me what Risa enjoyed most these days, and I admitted “dress-up.”

In spite of (or maybe because of?) the fact that my husband and I have given Risa an androgynous wardrobe, puzzles instead of dolls, and books about interesting girls, she likes to dress up in princess costumes. As my mom stood in the toy store, sifting through hyper-frilly gowns with purple and pink flowers, we wondered if this was okay. By giving her dresses, were we encouraging looks over substance? And then my mother, who taught me to have my own bank account and voice my opinion, said: “This is what will make my granddaughter happy, so I’m going to buy them.” She didn’t look altogether certain, I found it hard to argue, and we paid for the dresses a wee bit bewildered.

This week Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street”) announced they were adding a new character to their line of muppets. It’s a fairy-girl named “Abby Caddaby,” who unapologetically wears pretty dresses. Liz Nealon, executive vice president and creative director of Sesame Workshop, described the character like this: “Abby Cadabby owns her own point of view, but she’s also comfortable with the fact that she likes wearing a dress, and as we’d tried to model strong female models, we neglected that piece of being a girl.”

Ms. Nealson goes on to claim: “My daughter is comfortable with clothes and hair and makeup and totally embraces her femininity, but can still be strong and completely competitive in a world populated by men and women.” Are we at a stage now where feminism accepts that girls can play with Barbies and wear princess gowns and still love math and spiking a volleyball? Certainly, balance plays a huge key in happiness, and maybe it’s time we allow for a more “well-rounded” girl? What do you think? Is this a step forward or a step back?

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3 Comments

My daughter is turning 14 this week. Starting when she was two until she was ten she loved playing dress-up with the frilliest clothes imaginable. Sometimes she would change her clothes 3 times a day. This has always struck me as healthy and fun for her.

I have always believed that young people are very smart about play. They are experimenting with different roles and trying out different ways of being. I try to communicate delight with all the children in my life as they play and follow their own minds (except when they are hurting themselves or others).

As a teenager my daughter is still experimenting with how she dresses. Sometimes she is in open rebellion with my feminist ideas. She clearly wants to figure this out for herself. At the very same time she wants my approval. I have learned through some painful experience that it helps our relationship and her when I approve of her choices in dress and everything else. I try to do that most of the time. IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢ve learned that my words are more effective if spoken less.

One exception that turned out ok--I told her when she wore a very low-cut blouse, that boys would get confused about her, because they have a difficult time thinking when they see breasts. They would be less likely to see her as the real her, and instead they would only see her boobs. My daughter had a good laugh about this.

Sometimes when I overhear my daughter talking with her friends, she points out how certain songs on the radio are dehumanizing to women. I'm pretty confident that she'll be okay.

The Boston Globe has an interesting op-ed on this new Sesame Street character, which points out that the character is more stereotype than well-rounded 21st century girl.

I played with barbies with gusto and ended up becoming a software engineer (geeky and nerdy). So that's not even a question for me.

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How to cite this page

Cove, Michelle. "Gowns for My Daughter." 8 August 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/gowns>.

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