We Should All Be More Like Short-Haired Girls
I am not sure President Obama had girls like my ten-year-old daughter Mira in mind when he decided his administration would fight North Carolina’s bathroom law, but I hope he knows how much the message matters to children like her everywhere.
Mira is a badass, short-haired little girl. She has her own style, which prominently features trash talk laden athletic t-shirts, hoodies, Fab Five-ish baggie shorts, uniforms for her various sports teams, and a tuxedo for formal occasions. We are not sure where she picked it up, but her favorite word is “genderizing.” When her fourth-grade teacher asked girls in the class to use checkered name tags and boys to use stripes, she found it genderizing. Sideline reporters are all women and sportscasters are all men? Genderizing. Is the Happy Meal for a boy or for a girl? Give me the Transformer, and stop genderizing!
Every day, Mira makes choices that require courage and patience and, recently, tolerance of insensitive adults. A few weeks ago, Mira’s U10 Girls soccer team won a tournament, and twelve elated girls sprinted up to the referee to ask him where they would receive their medals. The referee responded, “You don’t deserve to get medals, because you played boys on your team.” I explained to Mira that he only said it because she and the other short-haired girl on her team played so well that they constituted an unfair advantage, to which Mira responded, “But that means he thinks that boys are better soccer players than girls, and that makes me even madder.” At a game last weekend, the opposing parents vocally expressed frustration that they had lost to a co-ed team, despite being told otherwise. A few months ago, the father of one of her short-haired teammates lectured a complaining parent from an opposing team that he had changed his daughter’s diapers and, in fact, could verify that she was a girl.
I can’t describe the pride we feel when she shrugs these things off and doubles down on following her own true north. We make a point to always correct adults when they innocently refer to her as a boy—because she appreciates it—and generally, she exhibits more annoyance than rage when adults do it snidely like they have at youth sporting events. After that tournament, she decided to write the referee a letter. She concluded with, “First of all you’ve got to get some sense into your head. I mean it’s an all girls soccer tournament. You seriously think that our smart coach would play two boys in an all girls soccer tournament? And second of all the 56’ers are an elite team that definitely deserved to win that tournament. I really hope that you have come to your senses after reading this letter.”
But there is one exception to her fearlessness. Mira hates to go into women’s bathrooms. At summer camp two summers ago, a teenage counselor screamed at her to get out of the locker room while two other little girls pushed her out the door. Since then, she has changed in an isolated bathroom, where she could lock the door. Her experience is not unique. We have spoken with other parents of equally badass short-haired girls, and every single one has had similar experiences. One was told by other girls in a bathroom to pull down her pants to prove she was a girl. Another had to shove a girl out of her way to get through a bathroom door. A third has had accidents, because she dreaded having to explain herself just to use the restroom.
President Obama’s decision is not just important because the law is wrong. The messages that authority figures send—from the president to teachers to parents on the opposing sidelines—matter. Our family is blessed that Mira has been embraced in her schools, on her teams, and with her friends, and we fully understand, as does she, why people assume she is a boy and why they ask. We take no issue with that. But until adults collectively and proactively teach all children that assumptions about gender identity that ostracize or discourage kids for the choices they make are unacceptable, we run the inexcusable risk of diminishing the very confidence, independent thinking, and authenticity we should be cultivating in future leaders. I am quite sure that President Obama’s daughters are fierce like Mira and that he would feel the same way we do. I am grateful that he is standing up for mine.
Last fall, Mira attended an event with Abby Wambach, the leading goal scorer in US history, and had the chance to take a picture with her and get an autograph. There was a huge line, so everyone shuttled through quickly, but when Mira got up to the front, she asked Mira what inspired her haircut. Mira said, “You.” Abby Wambach stopped the line and pulled Mira in to have a private conversation nobody else could hear. When we walked away, I asked Mira what she had said: “She told me, ‘Never lose confidence if anyone ever calls you a boy.’” Later, we watched her interview with a local reporter, who asked, “You told all these kids that you want to change the world. How are you going to do that?” to which Abby Wambach responded, “I didn’t say I want to change the world. I said I’m GOING to change the world. Big difference.” Mira took note, and I hope others do, too.