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This Southern Mama is Happy She's Not Raising Girls in the South

Photograph by Twenty20

Recently my four-year old daughter received an illustrated children’s book titled “Gracie’s Gift” from an older, Southern relative. The story is about a small girl who gets annoyed because her mother always wants to put a bow in her hair. The mother explains that presents are wrapped in bows—and as the daughter is a “gift from God,” the bow is a celebration of that gift.

On Amazon, it has a 100% 5-Star rating, and here is one of the reviews with the subject line:

The perfect book for Southern Mommas:

"This book could not have come at a more perfect time in my daughter's life. My Madilyn Claire had decided that she was too big to wear bows in her hair because she turned 7 years old. I think we may have squeezed another 3 years into her wearing her bows just from her reading this book. Thank you for this book. I think that all Southern born Momma's should read this book. I highly recommend it."

This is bullcrap.

The bow did not become a thing because God puts bows on gift; God doesn't give presents wrapped in clever prints from Target.

I was born and raised in the South and I know that the big, Southern-style hair bow is about making your daughters look appropriately 'sweet' and 'feminine'. This book is the equivalent of emotional blackmail to make sure the reader’s mother gets what she wants — the Southern version of an Instagram-ready family. The bow did not become a thing because God puts bows on gift; God doesn't give presents wrapped in clever prints from Target. The bow is a thing because a group of bourgeois moms decided it was cool and everyone else jumped in and stayed on that bow-laden bandwagon.

If it was only for special occasions or Sundays, I’d happily play along. After all, it is a mark of respect to dress properly for such events — not just to the institutions but to the people you care about who respect them. But it’s not just about the bow. As a young woman, I began to question whether making me wear a foot of intricately tied grosgrain on my head was a sign of respect or something much more manipulative.

This is why I’m glad I’ve moved out of the South to raise my children, particularly my daughter.

Having lived in several parts of the country, the South is more obsessed with the appearance of its girls, rather than their independence, maturity or well-being, than anywhere else. Some mothers insist on smocked dresses for birthday parties, when shorts and a t-shirt, minus a cumbersome hem, would be more appropriate. Some enforce ballet lessons just for the sake of the sweet tutu. Encouraging girls to “be sweet” rather than stand up for themselves is a practice I'm happy to not participate.

And yes, I know some girls just like being girly. My daughter’s best friend refuses to leave the house in anything but a dress. I know that some girls won’t wear pants, and some girls only want to wear pink, and some girls love ballet. Other girls have no interest in those things, and as moms we should not only respect that, but celebrate it. Just let them be who they want to be, and give them the space to figure that out.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “You’re talking bows and dresses here! Relax!”

Maybe so. But according to RAINN (the largest national sexual assault hotline), 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime—how can we justify telling our girls that she has to do something she doesn’t want, for no other reason than that we want her to?

All of these Southern expectations—join the cheerleeding squad, get into the right sorority, marry the right man—all start by forcing our girls to wear the bow. If my daughter wants to be girly, I will buy her all the sequins and pearls she wants but I’m not going to force her to do anything just to make me happy. At least where I live now, well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I know she won't feel that insidious pressure from me or her community.

You might wonder what I did with the book. For the record, I stashed Gracie’s Gift is in our attic. While I may disagree with it, a gift is a gift—I appreciate the effort, if not the premise, that went behind it. After all, as a good Southern girl, I wasn't raised to be rude.

*Editorial note: the writer name is a pseudonym. The mom who wrote this post wishes to remain anonymous.

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