Aug 15, 2018


Hear me out on this—I introduced my ten-year-old daughter to Legally Blonde recently. I wasn’t sure how it would go over, and I get it if you object to the “bend and snap” sequence or you just don’t trust your young child’s capacity to be aware of the lampooning aspect of gender norms. But I let her watch it because it helped me deliver the concept of the unmarked default a day later. We talked about it: what men choose to wear, what women choose to wear, and who’s making sense of all it, and how.

Yes—I’m raising her to invest far more energy in her mind and heart and relationships than in clothing. And we’re lucky that we live in a place that’s pretty free of rigidity around gender norms. So far, anyway. So why talk about this now?

It’s still just so easy to give the unwitting message to young girls that to be serious is to be, essentially, masculine: unadorned with makeup, dressing in “male” clothing, interested in sports and not nail polish. My daughter is still a mix of lots of things, but I know how subtle these messages can be, and I want to ward it off now. My friend and colleague Deb Chachra (whose newsletter is the source of that definition, linked above) has memorably said to me: Feminism is not telling women what to do. And that includes women who exclusively wear dresses and heels and make legal analogies from hair treatments. Reader: when I gave her the most concise definition of marked versus unmarked, my daughter understood fully and immediately.