Like any parent, the journey into motherhood completely turned my world upside down. And for me, this passage into motherhood occurred in France with my French husband, far from my family and the culture I know. My two children are the loves of my life. They have a capacity to drive me to the brink of sheer insanity and at the same time fill me with unconditional love, peace and utter bliss that can only be explained with one word—motherhood. Those of us in this unspoken club know all too well the roller coaster of ups and downs it entails.
But becoming a mother sparked another journey for me – that of coming to a realization about sexism. It opened my eyes wider to the inequalities between genders with all its nuances. It led me to question the established patriarchy, particularly looking at the effects of gender stereotypes on children. I found myself trying to understand how these seemingly unimportant things, especially the blue and pink divide in children’s products, have such a big impact on how our children perceive their futures.
Sexism then and now
Of course, as a woman, I had experienced sexism. On many different nights out with my girlfriends, I had ignored the incessant catcalls as we walked down the street. I had learned I was being paid far less than a male peer with the same degree and years of experience. I had a client tell me he would most certainly sign the contract IF I slept with him, to which I replied I would find another client. And I had the unfortunate experience of sprinting to the safety of my apartment while being followed by a strange man after my yoga class late at night.
It’s sad to say, but these events hadn’t shocked me at all; in fact, they were so ingrained in my normality that I hadn’t thought much about it. But as a mother with a fierce, animalistic desire to protect her child, gender inequality took on a whole new meaning.
While I could somehow accept these things for myself, I didn’t want that for my daughter.
Fortunately, my husband is as passionate about equality as I am. So, we set out on a mission to show our lively, headstrong daughter that she was more than a delicate princess. And this mission began by asking a lot of questions. How could we show her she could be and do anything? How could we teach her that the true measure of beauty is what’s on the inside and she’s so much more than her external appearance? And most importantly, what could we do as her parents to model egalitarian behavior to make the world a better place for her?
We thought very hard about the world to which we would expose her. We would choose her toys and clothing very carefully. Her wardrobe would be more than pink, pastels and sparkles; we would make sure she also had Batman shirts and other goodies from the boys’ aisle. She had dolls, yes, but we would propose a wide variety of toys and games, wood and Montessori, so she could have the freedom to choose what she liked best.
My husband, an engineer, spent hours on construction projects with her, showing her how to build and how electronics worked. Of course, every gift we received was pink and princess-y. My personal favorite was when our neighbor offered her a toy iron so she could “iron just like her mommy!” (NOTE: I do NOT iron. It’s something I just don’t do.)
In the meantime, people constantly called her “princess” on the street, to which my husband would respond: “Pourquoi princesse? Pourquoi pas astronaute ou pilote ou skateuse?” (Why princess? Why not astronaut or pilot or skater?)
Most people were completely baffled by this response and just walked away. Others asked, “Well she is a girl, isn’t she?”
Why are there no dresses with car motifs?
And just like that, I gave birth to my second child. This time it was a little boy. While his sister was boisterous, passionate, and hyperactive, he was calm, cuddly, and reserved – the polar opposite of his sister. With his birth, I had more questions. How could I raise my son to be a good man? How could I teach him to be an ally with great respect for women? How would I explain to him that a man’s true strength isn’t physical, but lies in his ability to show his vulnerability?
In the delirium of my maternity leave with my son, my true aha moment occurred. While I was reorganizing drawers to make room for the baby, I noticed that my daughter’s pajamas were all pink and sparkles with bows, hearts, and stars, while my son’s hand-me-downs were covered with robots, cars, and dinosaurs in blue, brown and black. I thought girls like cars, robots, and dinosaurs too, so why can’t their clothing reflect that?
Then, one day, my daughter who loves princesses and dresses, but equally loves tools and airplanes, asked me for a dress with race cars on it.
After searching everywhere for this dress, I discovered it didn’t exist.
I started Pourquoi Princesse because the messages we send to children through their limited clothing and toy choices DO MATTER. Through cool clothing and fun books about daring female role models shattering glass ceilings in male-dominated careers, we seek to inspire and empower girls to be and do anything they want. By talking about the amazing feats of pioneering women as mothers, workers, and leaders, we hope to teach our boys to respect women and seek out heroines as much as heroes.
The birth of the #metoo movement in October 2017 had a profound effect on me and it convinced me that creating Pourquoi Princesse is the right one. For me, my new venture is so much more than a lifestyle brand. We’re building a movement for equality and girls’ empowerment. Not only do we offer products that don’t exist anywhere else, we’re also partnering with associations to deliver engaging workshops for parents and children, building a community around our work. Our challenge is to get everyone thinking more critically about how seemingly little things can really influence our kids and the way they see their possibilities in this world.
Nowadays we’re a lively family of four. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am trying my best to figure it out. At Pourquoi Princesse, we’re on a mission to create a world where my daughter and my son have access to the same opportunities. After all, they both deserve it.