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Girl + Bat = happy

By Monica Crumback

My little girl is Batman.

It's Halloween and she sits out on our porch, a four-year-old with bulging delts and pecs, accepting applause while handing out candy. Moms and their teenage girls line the walk to get a look at the diminutive superhero whose long, caramel-colored locks sprout from underneath her cowl like fine spider's legs. They all have that oh-brave-new-world type gape on their faces; a few brandish cameras. They snap their shots while their own little ones hike up glittering skirts and wee crinolines in order to scale the porch steps.

My Sophia says, "Look Mom, it's Cinderella, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine, Jasmine…."

She grows short of breath. And still they come.

By the time we extinguish the candles and take down the giant tarantula, I hope to never see the color pink again. My eyes are raw from all of the sparkle dust and wand feathers wafting through the night air.

The next day, I draw a breath of relief as I send my girl off to school dragging her Caped Crusader backpack behind her. When she was a timid three-year-old, I remember her carrying a more subtle Dora pack to her first day of preschool. By the middle of that year, however, she had seen the 1966 camp classic Batman: The Movie. Immediately thereafter, Dora's plain charms were augmented with dainty clip-on Batmen. This year, one of her boy cousins came up off of his own Dark Knight fetish and handed over the aforementioned vinyl Grail. I believe that I heard Sophia whisper a prayer. Her dad and I nearly wept with joy.

And then she took it to school and one of her princess-toting fluff-fanatic classmates asked her if she was a boy.  She would pretty much have to be, 'cause only a boy (note the implied "yuck") would like Batman. Well, crap on that.

"What did you say to her?" I calmly inquired.

"That girls can like anything and boys can like anything," she recited.

"That really is true, you know," I reaffirmed.

"I know," she said. But she was looking down, and I really hated that.

She came back around, though, as various women in her life professed their own deep love for millionaire Bruce Wayne and his crime fighting alter ego. In almost no time at all, we had coaxed her back into her black codpiece and yellow superhero's tool belt. And as reward for our effort, she dug in and redoubled the zest with which she declared her father and me to be vermin and vowed to take us down. She repeatedly proved herself to be a loud and frenzied enforcer. Best of all, when her grandfather asked her if she wouldn't rather be Batgirl, he was met with a hearty guffaw and a flippant wave of her hand: "Who's ever heard of Batgirl, Grandpa?"

Indeed.  And who could give a damn about castles, pumpkin carriages, invisible waists, enormous breasts, beast princes, overblown songs, or wicked stepmothers?

For Christmas, Sophia asked for and received Batman on a motorcycle, Batman on a glider, a Batmobile that shoots disks, Batman pajamas, a Batman ornament, and a Batman fleece blanket. (We did hold off on the Batman lava lamp, however, explaining Santa's aversion to little girl's homes going up in flames.) She loved them all intensely, particularly in those first five precious minutes when everything still worked. It all seemed such magical, wonderful, glowing evidence that one small family can hold its own against the Disney Princess machine.

Oh, she had seen the movies…well, one of them.  But all that had come of it was her
crying at the end because, she said, the girl was now so beautiful. I didn't like that equation: girl-plus-gown-plus-prince-plus-money-equals-beautiful. All done, then. Back to Batman.

And back in her classroom in January, where all around her was that awful day-glo pink, she was resplendent in black. Batman sneered out from her shirt, swinging through Gotham on his rope and daring any of those bambi-eyed insect-bodied freaks to take issue. None did. She was the smallest kid in her class and yet she ran with the big boys -- literally. At this point, I think that I may have been in love with Adam West, so grateful was I for his inadvertent contribution to my daughter's self-esteem.

It helped that every mom everywhere seemed to share my affection; each and all of them finding my little girl to be absolutely enchanting in her too big boy's t-shirts. There were screeches at the park, squeals at the grocery store, and extra stickers at the doctor's office. In fact, I could take nary a step out of the house with her temporarily tattooed self without receiving countless nods of affirmation from my fellow uber-fem moms. I let this go to my head and began to fancy myself an honorary Steinem or Wolf. Now, I thought, watch out world because here come the others!  This is the time when mamas in my conservative Midwestern city will rise up and choose images of the powerful for their girls while eschewing those of the pretty! I mean, right? Won't they?

No.  As it turns out, they won't.

As thrilled as everyone professed to be with our supporting Sophia's non-traditional choice in Batman and for as often as they cooed over her cuteness, no one seemed willing to follow suit. Even when other little girls asked right in front of us to have their own Batman anything, their mothers would pat them on the head, call them silly, and then hand them all-things-Ariel to put on, play with, and carry. "She loves these princesses," they would assure us, "just loves them." Oh, I see. So, you're kid's not queer in advance then? No social freak, your Hannah-Emma-Eva? Why, you simply must run right home and pat yourself on the back with your lilac-scented feather duster. I scoffed at what antiques these women were -- such wretched throwbacks!

Yet even as I scoffed at them and their entire loathsome ilk, their treacle spread through me and soured into doubt.  I started to wonder despite myself: Could it be so? Was I really keeping Sophia from something that she would love, just love all in the name of my own feminism? Come to think of it, she had spent hours at a faux make-up table during a recent visit with her cousin. And she did oooooh! over pink boas. Was I shooing her away from her more girly instincts and making her a (gulp) spectacle in the process? Maybe? Well, crap on that, too.

I figured that there was only one way to know for sure. This would involve defying my own nature. I would need to ignore any women's studies type thought process that I may have goin' on and throw my tomboy a Perfectly Pink Princess birthday party.

No, really. I actually did.

And she loved it…well, part of it…seemed to like it well enough, anyhow. At least as far as she likes any present with her name on it, she was delighted. And so the evening passed in an even manner as Sophia unwrapped her gifts, starting with a nightgown and matching tiara. And following those were the miniature princesses with rubber clothes and sliver-sized stilettos, the giant book of princesses, the princess comb, the silver, glittery, pink-buttoned cell phone, and so on. She smiled and seemed pleased; she even beamed over her new pink sleeping bag. But when I look back at the pictures from that evening, I can't help but think that she looked out of place at her own party -- like Batman in a dress set adrift on a sea of tulle and lace. I can't speak for her, but the whole thing made me rather sad. I mean I know that I can't stop my girl from changing, but I don't want to force her or hurry her along or even choose which direction she'll go. Had I done something this awful? Well?

No, apparently I had not.

I watch her very carefully for any sign of fractured superhero pride. Happily, I detect not a one. After the party, she does play with her princesses. Only sometimes, but with an air of downy contentment. Always, Batman sleeps at the end of her bed -- although he now wears a homespun, floral apron. Occasionally, she will don her old costume and haul us vermin in. Every day, and on her own pitch-meets-pink terms, my Sophia is becoming her own girl.

---- : ---- : ----

Unbelievably, my baby is a kindergartner now. As she rushes down the school steps to meet me at the end of her day, I note her favorite jumper and tights. When she reaches me, she slings her beat-up Batman backpack over her shoulder. She inquires after her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt. Is it clean? She would like to wear it. She thinks that maybe she'll bring her Whitney doll for next week's show and tell. In the car, she presents me with a litany of reasons why she needs new shoes. But not Princess shoes again.  Maybe Dora this time. Or, no. How about Diego from Dora? Sophia has a friend named Diego. He sits at her table. She loves him. Would Diego shoes be all right for a girl, she wonders. They'd be fine, I say.

In fact, they'd be perfect.

Mmo : December 2007

Monica Crumback's essays have appeared in Brain, Child Magazine and on hipmama.com.  She lives in Michigan with her husband and daughter.
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