How I’ve Failed My Daughter… And How You May Be Failing Yours

GenderGirlsYour Stories 22 Comments

By Matthew Heilman – The pink vacuum cleaner, the pink stove, the pink stroller, the pink doll, the pink princesses, the pink purse. Pink and girly EVERYTHING! That’s what I saw as I looked around the house.

I’ve been surrounded by it all for two years and I’ve been completely oblivious. For some reason my brain started to put everything in a new way as I watched my daughter pretend to cook on her toy stove. What would she do next? Move on and pretend to vacuum our floors? Take care of her baby-doll? Play princess?

Where are the toys my brother and I played with that inspired us to hypothesize, experiment, create, improve, and destroy? I don’t see any building blocks, planes, trains, automobiles, cardboard boxes, dinosaurs, planets, ramps, and forts.

It suddenly hit me, the reality of what I’ve been unconsciously preparing my two-year-old to excel at in life: a career in home economics. My stomach curled, I became hot and sweaty, and I needed to sit down. Now I needed something else pink: Pepto Bismol.

How could this be? Since I can remember I’ve been interested in STEM, way before it was a cool acronym. I’m a full-time technologist and part-time mad-scientist. The house is littered with computers, tools, and electronics. But somehow my daughter hasn’t been exposed to any of that.

It became very painful when I dug deeper and realized I have preconceived notions of gender identity that I’ve already forced on my daughter.

As I reflected on the toys, I realized I’ve thoughtlessly fed into the hyperreality that merchants have created around gender based toys. Boys and girls have separate aisles for toys. The pictures on the containers tell me if the toy is meant for a boy or girl. Sometimes there are clear written guidelines of the intended gender (i.e. Dangerous Chemistry Experiments for Boys).  

It became very painful when I dug deeper and realized I have preconceived notions of gender identity that I’ve already forced on my daughter. I remember getting frustrated the first few months of my daughter’s life when a stranger would say, “He’s so cute.” Internally, I’d scream, “SHE’S A GIRL!!!!” My solution was to pierce my daughters’ ears and never leave the house unless she wore something pink. This has evolved into buying her girl toys and all things pink. I wanted a girly-girl because that makes her extremely acceptable and cute to others.

I’ve discovered a small brown spot on an onion. I know as I peel back the layers I’m going to find a lot of bad stuff. This isn’t about toys. The toys are just the catalyst for an awakening about about my deep-seated and preconceived notions of gender.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that women have a hard time in technology or any of the STEM fields. I haven’t even given my own flesh-and-blood a fighting chance to succeed. I need to rethink everything: how my daughter plays, with whom she interacts, how I interact with women, and how I talk about women.

At the end of the day I don’t need my daughter to love STEM but I want to make sure she has enough exposure to know it as an option. This has lit a fire in me to be the change I wish to see, and I implore you — fathers, step-fathers, partners, and all caregivers — take a very hard look at yourself. If you are like the overwhelming majority of men I interact with, you have fallen into the same trap. I’m certain you want to raise strong, independent, courageous, inquisitive, and happy daughters. You are one of the most influential people in your daughter’s life. I challenge you to join me in committing to raising our daughters to be anything they want to be instead of feeding into the idea of what a woman needs to be. Give our daughters the tools to succeed beyond the home.

This piece previously ran on Women 2.0 and is republished here with express permission from its author. 

About the author

Matthew Heilman is a loving husband, father, and friend. Matthew is currently the Director of Engineering at Dorado Systems where he is responsible for developing Dorado’s strategic direction for technology and leading the implementation and operations of IT services. Matthew holds a B.S. In Computer Science.  Matthew serves as the Treasurer for Paws for Courage and a volunteer for TechGirlz.

You can follow Matthew on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Sarah

    Your problem, Dad, if you have not exposed your daughter to what YOU wanted to. Quit blaming others and society in general. I knew how to use tools, mow a lawn and change a tire well before I was on my own — and that was in the 70s. Just try to remember as well that boys and girls are not the same; and then do what you want and be a man and quit listening to others.

  • John Brave

    Western societies have gone totally mad.

    Feminists want boys to be as touchy feely, sociable sensitive and in touch of their feelings as girls. Basically grow up to be feminized men. And they want girls to be just like boys are now.

    What’s wrong with boys being boys and girls being girls? They’re equal but different.

    If your daughter likes girly stuff, then let her be. If she likes trucks and legos then by all means, buy her those. Just let her be who she wants to be. It’s OK for a girl to be feminine.

    Or you really wanted a boy and are disappointed that your daughter isn’t turning out to be a tom boy? or pretend-boy? She doesn’t like throwing a baseball with you?

    Grow up. Let her be.

    And read “The Nurture Assumption”. Your daughter will benefit if you do.

  • I have a daughter and a son that are less than a year apart (blended family). They have virtually unfettered access to one another’s playthings and are practically inseparable. Playtime often consists of Iron Man and Thor visiting (attacking) Monster High. Somehow it all works out. Point being, there’s not a lot I, as a parent, can do to enforce gender roles on my kids without being a ridiculous tyrant. Yet my daughter is a girly-girl and my son is a tough-guy (this despite his old man being a bit of a cream puff).

    • Lotta

      Yeah, I am not a parent, but I have been around kids, and in my experience, it is little girls choosing the toy dolls and the little boys choosing the dinosaurs about 85% of the time. Adults don’t know much about toys anymore and just want to buy whatever makes their kid happy. Either the kids are forcing gender roles on themselves, or maybe this is just how most little boys and girls are like.

    • cache

      That’s a strange argument. Are you feeding your kids sugary drinks and mac n cheese on a daily basis? Because they likely wouldn’t choose otherwise if it were up to them. Is it tyrannical to feed them anything else?

      When I was young, I, too, dreamed of having a doll and a kitchen set. You know why? Because all of my friends and classmates had dolls. Because all of the little girls on TV had dolls. When you’re that young and trying to understand the world, you’re incredibly impressionable and sensitive to what’s acceptable and expected behavior. You’re not a full-fledged leader, you’re mostly waiting for the world to lead you.

      Growing up in a war-torn country proved to be a blessing in disguise for me. At that time toys were a luxury item for my family. Instead, my mother would try to amuse me in alternative ways. When I was a toddler, she would have me separate different kinds of objects in the house (from marbles and stones to beans and vegetables) based on their shapes and colors. She says it was my favorite activity. Since preschool, she’d take me to a second-hand book store and choose items that would be interesting. She once got me a book on various sailing knots and we tried to recreate them on pieces of string. Another time, she got me a book on different trees and the shapes of their leaves. That kept me busy for months, trying to name every tree I saw. She got me a book on dinosaurs and we’d try to draw them together, talking about how different features like their height or the size of their jaw gave them particular characteristics.

      When I was about 10, she got me a book on essential math problems and told me she’d give me the booklet of answers if I managed to solve 80% of the questions without giving up. I didn’t have to be right. I just had to be patient and curious enough to make an attempt at answering them.

      These experiences had a profound impact on me, which I don’t think would have been possible had I spent my childhood playing with dolls and cooking on a mock stove. This doesn’t mean I was deprived of playing “girlie” games, but my mom was always careful to make it an educational experience. For instance, she’d make some dough, then ask me to make tiny loaves of bread with her. We would then start a small imaginary bakery together. This would involve figuring out the right price for bread, learning about financial transactions, etc.

      Now I’m a research scientist with a reputable institute. From my small town, I’m the only person I know who’s been able to migrate to a better place, get a graduate degree, and have a successful career, primarily because of the skills that my mother helped foster.

      Parenting is about guidance, not tyranny. Your children won’t suffer your guidance. They’ll cherish it. And it’ll make their future so much brighter.

  • David Hammonds

    More fruitcake paranoid psychobabble parenting. Here’s the thing: you can be a glittering princess and like dinsosaurs and tech. Girls envelop themselves in pinkness one minutes then declare they hate the colour and dress in black… or green… or turquoise.

    Let kids be kids.

  • VonFisch

    It’s important to expose her to different things. My father showed me an awful lot in science, nature, history, but it didn’t mean I didn’t like playing with my dolls and dress-up. Take her outside, take her on historical trips, parks, museums, according to her developmental level. That will make a better learning experience than any toy. Let her also do what is intuitive to women, nurturing, which is why even toddler girls like baby dolls.

  • Mike

    You’ve failed your daughter by writing this cuckold nonsense and exhibiting yourself as a weak and pathetic man. Since she won’t feel a sense of security in you as her father as she matures chances are likely that she’ll be messed up from it and turn to drugs or abusive men whose approval she seeks or who knows what.

  • Brian Juntunen

    I remember when my sister wanted me to play dolls with her and I did, but it bored me silly. I couldn’t wait to get back to building a model car.

    • VonFisch

      I am female, hence, my point in our instinctual play as children. 😉

  • Farrar Sanchez

    Femininity, and female interests, are not a disease in need of a cure. Why is pink less valuable than blue, to you? Why are traditionally male pursuits seen as better than traditionally female ones? Who is it, again, that’s sexist?

    • Johnny Rotten

      Totally agree. The assumption that femaleness/femininity are pathological conditions that require a cure is the root cause of the author’s neurotic ideas. It is simply not true, and an unfortunate message to convey to my daughter, that a woman needs to act like a man to be a good person.

  • Lori Day

    Some of these comments hurt my heart. This is a feminist page. Shocking how many people feel it is very important to keep girls in the pink ghetto and attack the author with such vitriol.

    • John Brave

      So as a feminist you’re shocked at how many people have common sense?

      • Lori Day

        As a feminist and decent human being, I’m dismayed by how many people are misogynists. But I’m not really shocked.

        • There’s greater demand for mysogeny than supply. Where’s the vitriol in these comments?

        • Seether

          As a non feminist and a RATIONAL human being, I dub you a misandrist. Dont care if you deny it. You enjoy calling people with dissenting opinions misogynists? Then have a label yourself you cow.

    • Seether

      So you are basically saying, because this is a feminist page, we should allow it to become an eco chamber where you all just patch each other’s backs as you spew bullcrap? Sorry, if you don’t want to hear dissenting opinions. TURN OFF THE INTERNET. Don’t publish on a public medium and expect people to just bow down you this insane ideology. Go see a doctor about that heart pain.

  • Joel Everett

    Oh this is insane; both of my daughters build with Legos, make Forts, but they also enjoy pretend cooking, and real cooking with mom, going grocery shopping with dad; they enjoy painting, and running around the playground. I don’t freak out that one of them loves pink, and the other one really doesn’t have a preference, or that one is into ‘princess’ stuff as well. Relax and enjoy life. I’m a musician, but I’m not expecting either of them to automatically have the same interests that I do.

  • Seether

    More insane radical feminist social engineering bull crap. The professional victim brigade in full force once again with an absolute NON issue again.

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  • Deborah Doyle

    Matthew, I admire your courage to share a heart felt realization about assumptions you feel you have made. These are precious moments as a parent. So many times, before having my daughter, I remembering thinking ‘I will never say that to my children’ when overhearing what seemed unreasonable to me. That you are willing to see what was once unseen, whatever that may be, is what is important.

    Now as a grandmother, it is clear to me that in any moment my job is to do my best at loving her. Sometimes that means realizing that I have been blind to something I now see. Sometimes it means she gets to wear pink and fluffy because that is what makes her happy.

    I admire your willingness to see the distinction between what she may like to wear, and what you have surrounded her with based on your own assumptions. Don’t ever lose that desire to do your best for her. Thank you!