What Do Feminist Toddlers Wear? The Acessories Installment

When my dear husband was a wee boy of five, raised on Ms. Magazine’s Stories for Free Children, he asked his mother (famously), “Mom, can boys be astronauts, too?”

I share that lest you think for a moment I’m the sole feminist adult around here whatsoever. So not.

Having raised the three longhaired boys, the ones that gravitate toward everything from Broadway to soccer to cooking to art, imagine my surprise at this scrappy, feisty girl, who comes out with lines like this: “Mama, is the house painted yet?” We were driving down our street toward our rather large pale yellow house with green trim. I answered that the house wasn’t painted yet. “Do you want the house to be painted?” I asked. “I want it to be pink,” she informed me.


Despite the fact that for two days she’s kept her pants dry (all day long!), she’s come home from school each morning in a new top. Each day, her dress, which she insisted upon wearing, fell into the potty at some point and got wet. She remained dry. Dave pointed out that at this phase of the potty training process “dresses don’t work as well as shirts.” I shrugged with emphasis. I know, I let him know; it’s just that we really want to wear dresses these days. Come what may. Dave smiled knowingly, and shrugged in return. Reminder: three is not a reasonable age.


When we were in Florida with my mother one of Saskia’s favorite activities was to put on my mother’s (very pretty) earrings and necklace. Between my mother and myself, the bejeweling opportunities are not boundless. Turns out, those two pieces of jewelry, though, provided hours of fun—and beauty.

If I were to list my parenting values (not that I think about it this way, exactly), I’d put support my children’s passions at the tip-top of the list. Indeed, I bought the sunglasses because I knew she’d love ‘em and rock ‘em (and they let her channel my mother’s cousin, Betsy, who is just about as nice and as fun and as kind a person you’ll ever meet so I am all for channeling her).

At the very same time, I am trying hard (because adornment for these small, completely adorable wide-eyed, pink and pretty loving people is so utterly cute) to remember that if you want a girl to feel strong and capable, talking about how she looks—praising how she looks—is not the ideal way to do that. You want to affirm all she does. My girl holds herself up by her incredible arm strength all over the place (a monkey), twirls herself silly, draws intricately for a just-turned-three year-old, knows books front to back, mostly is loving to her friends, tries hard to get the rules of hide-and-seek and creates all kinds of great pretend scenarios. Just for starters.

Seriously, when I am thinking about this I hear Marlo Thomas’ dulcet tones echoing through my head. Because when you get down to it, beyond the not wanting to make Barbie or that plastic surgery girl from the Hills or anyone’s thinking looks outweigh doing an ideal, I realize—as I do when I watch my mama pals (not to exclude the papa pals going through this dilemma) trying to figure out how available to be to the kids—the ones that fall smack in the middle of our lives leaving us the cream that oozes out the sides but barely to do anything and everything else often—that this whole doing ideal is part of what will stead the next generation of girls and mamas to do what they want to do, which could be parenting in a very available way but might also be a lot else (if there are any jobs left, that is, but that’s another story; let’s assume there will be). So, I don’t want to go heavy-handed. I don’t want to pretend there’s nothing at stake, either.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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