“I think she dreamt for so long of having a daughter that she had a very specific idea about what that daughter would be, what she would be interested in, what our relationship would be like, and I just wasn’t that girl in many ways.”
Rebecca grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. She was the third of four children, and the only girl. Rebecca’s mother really wanted her to like dolls. One of these dolls is on display here.
As her only daughter, my mother very much encouraged collecting dolls – it was something she really wanted me to embrace. She repeatedly told me that she wanted to collect dolls as a girl, but her parents wouldn’t indulge that wish. Finally at some point I told her she ought to be the one collecting dolls. She still talks about that.
When she was very young, Rebecca had genuinely enjoyed collecting and playing with dolls.
There was a small period where I was interested in dolls— It was something I enjoyed when I was under 10. But it was short lived, and she very much wanted me to continue my interest. When at some point – I can only guess it was somewhere around 9 or 10 – I’d started to refuse her suggestion that I collect dolls, she missed the cues or refused to accept them. I think because she wanted me to stay little she was refusing to accept that my interests were my own and that I was growing up.
Rebecca did continue playing with Barbies well into sixth grade, which kept her mother happy. But, Rebecca reflects, this is only because her mother didn’t know what she was doing with the dolls.
What she didn’t realize was that my friend Heidi and I were cutting the dolls’ hair into more modern styles and that we would pretend that they smoked and that they were involved in torrid love affairs with one another. So my mom saw it as an innocent thing while in reality we were playing out gender roles and trying on sexual situations in a safe space.
Rebecca’s mother finally gave in when she saw the makeovers Rebecca had enacted on her dolls.
I remember wanting to cut my ‘lile girl hair’ – think straight, bangs, oen put into childlike piggy tails – into a more grown up style. Sadly, the common style was to acquire a perm – very unflattering – but it’s what I wanted. It’s what my friends were doing. My mom said ‘no’ many times, unl she saw my Barbie dolls’ hair – we’d cut them all – and then she finally got the hint and allowed the haircut. At any rate, I’m pretty sure I saw cutting the dolls’ hair as a way to reject her image of what a “little girl” should be interested in.
Mother and daughter simply didn’t see eye to eye.
My mom always 100% supported my interest in art, but she also definitely didn’t find me ‘girly’ enough. Her expectations didn’t jive with reality in many ways. In some ways they did – I don’t want it to seem that she was nothing but disappointed in me, but I think where gender issues lie she was a bit mystified by me. I was a confusing to her! She struggled to just let me be me.
Rebecca takes this into consideration in raising her own daughter.
My husband and I are deeply committed to allowing our own daughter the right to be herself, while still providing clear boundaries and expectations for her. I do try to really listen and notice the clues my own daughter gives me and allow her to be her own person in ways that I think were difficult for my mom for whatever reasons ... I’ve learned to forgive my own mom for the mistakes she’s made, while also trying to learn and correct some of the wrong thinking I feel I experienced. I say that, but I know I’ll screw up in 100 ways, too. But I try to be thoughtful with my daughter, without laying the baggage of my childhood on her. She and I have our own relationship