I have a niece called Laura. She is 7. Laura is bounding and boundless. I rarely see her without a bump, a bandage or a boo boo. The wedding reception was scarcely a hour old when Laura appeared with a cut on her cheek. Laura charges into life and life has not yet learned to get out of the way.
When Laura was about 3 and a half, Steve and Michele, her father and mother, talked about Lauras verve. They agreed that if they were going to redirect this “force of nature, the time was now. But they agreed, without much difficulty, that it was more important to accept her for “who she was and to live with the consequences.
The consequences are pretty delightful. Laura makes free with her feelings. When we were playing ball in the yard, and I missed one, she said, not so sotto voce, “Hes hopeless. Laura does not so much enter a room as pass through it at speed. She does not so much take part in a conversation as tell you exactly what she thinks. Laura continues to charge into life.
This is not the way we used to bring up girls. Seen but not heard. Decorous. Petty, little, unassuming. Compliant, demure and non charging. These were the standard terms of reference. That conversation between Steve and Michele would have been unlikely 40 years ago, improbable 80 years ago and unthinkable 120 years ago. Convention would have put its stamp on her.
That conversation was a triumph of individualism over gender roles. What mattered was not what girls are but who Laura is. This is another way of saying that Laura, not social convention, gets to choose who Laura is. She springs into life, vital, bounding, relentless, and gender stereotypes must now lay down arms and step aside. Steve and Michele are not avant-garde parents, feverishly nurturing every trace of individuality. They are Americans of the mainstream who prize some things more than form.
Every so often we get a glimpse of how fast we are changing. And Laura is very fast indeed.