As my 8-year-old daughter threw the football with her father, another unknown father walked by and made mention of her impressive ability. Whether he was impressed by her ability because she was a girl wasn't known for certain though it was certainly implied. Following this "compliment" I heard "yeah, she's got three brothers."
Immediately I flinched. The implication that Emily's football prowess was impressive because she was a girl and the response that it was somehow related to her brothers, hit me in a spot that was decidedly not so tender prior to motherhood.
As a girl I lived with a set of expectations different than the set that was set upon my brother. As a teen I listened to the warnings or my parents often repeated to their daughters and not to their son. As a young woman I knew I would likely earn less than my male counterparts, heard daily cat calls and hollers while I walked to work and again heeded the parental warnings I was sure my brother wasn't hearing on weekly phone calls. I didn't mind the disparity and appreciated their concern. Looking back, I was bothered that I repeatedly heard how cute I was, yet I was very hard pressed to remember praise for something I had achieved. Being small and cute with curly blonde hair was merely genetics. But that was as far as my bother went.
I accepted the ways in which women were not equal to men. Never too overt in my life though at times more blatant, always a discussion somewhere on the fringe yet never the focal conversation in my group, in my family, in my life. The injustice, the imbalance between the sexes had never moved me into action, had never motivated my professional course or personal path in life. Gloria Steinem, I was not.
And then I became a mother. Of a daughter.
Admittedly I will likely tell Emily to be careful more than Ben, I will warn her of dangers lurking repeatedly. The same dangers face my son and merely for the reason that he is male, I will worry less. This I know and won't pretend otherwise. I will teach my daughter that she can achieve in arts, business, science, politics, finance, medicine, academia or sports. I will ensure that she has a voice and that she demand equal treatment. I will teach her that when someone offers praise, cloaked in sexist surprise, that her response can be "thank you" or "I've been practicing." I will teach her that her response does not require further explanation.
I'm not totally living under a rock. Growing up around boys who play catch can help a younger sister hone her skills. As it can for a younger brother. But not all boys like sports, not all girls play with dolls. You can't force a child to want to play and you can't lay claim to your siblings (or anyone else's) abilities and achievements. Plus, I'm fairly certain fathers of young boys rarely qualify their son's athleticism.
My daughter can throw and catch a football because she has practiced and can now adeptly throw and catch a football. Her ability has nothing to do with having 1,2,3 or even no brothers at all.
She does not need to be qualified. Of this I am absolutely certain.
I steer clear of weighty labels and propaganda. But if knowing this and teaching this small and enormous lesson to my lovely, sensitive, strong, artistic, athletic, sweet, funny, smart and undeniably cute daughter bears the label of feminism, that's fine with me.