A sunny afternoon in then garden and two little boys and a little girl shift play from meticulously posting leaves down a drain to joyously wrestling each other. Belly splitting laughs erupting, cubby arms outstretched as they tumble around like puppies.
The game is interrupted by “That’s not very lady like. I think that’s a game for the boys” The father of little girl.
A loving protective father looking out for his little girl.
But what are my little boys hearing?
That little girls should play differently to little boys. That boys have their games and the girls theirs? That if you want to play with girls you have to treat them differently… more gently, not so loudly.
Play is the defining education of our children’s early years – over time it’s not difficult to see how boys will just start not to play with girls when it comes to wrestling… and then later football… and then political wrangling… military leadership… business … because after all they have been told that girls are not as robust, they have ‘ladylike rules’ to follow. They have a handicap, an embuggerance, a hindrance… but ones which good little boys, with loving parents have been taught to respect.
‘That’s a game for the boys’
And it’s not just single ‘girl prohibiting’ comments that my boys hear…. it’s also the vacuum of any criticism of their masculinity.
I painted their nails because they saw me doing it and being two wanted a shot too…Oooh very girlie… there is literally no word for the opposite…ooh very boy-y? It’s an insult based on feminity that doesn’t exist for boys.
You think I am reading too much into this? ‘Don’t be a big girl, stop being such a girl’
Why when my sons literally NEVER hear any level of societal critic for their ‘boy-iness’ would they not grown up thinking they are the better sex.
On top of that that even when we are being positive towards femininity the accolades are mostly superficial… girls are a ‘Wow you are so pretty/ beautiful’ boys a ’wow you are so clever/brave’.
He is a cheeky chappy… she is a beautiful baby… we are only reinforcing that we value aesthetics in girls and character in boys.
We have moved on massively in terms of gender stereotyping but school children still draw doctors fighter pilots and soldiers as men.
So how do I parent my sons to show that women are just as capable?
Can we say… its ok wrestle Jane with as much enthusiasm as Peter… that’s right hold no punch’s, doesn’t matter if she is a girl?
I mean if she is enjoying it why can she not keep playing? If not, then why are we not explaining that Jane doesn’t like this game (being repeatedly jumped on?)…. because Jane doest like it – not because Jane is a girl!
None of this occurred to me at the time, as I watched my sons dismay as there game ended. It didn’t occur to me to say anything or do anything. But in hindsight it has bothered me. Not just because of that little girls exclusion but because it is one of the first socio-cultural lessons I think my sons will learn that I am relatively powerless to stop.
I don’t expose them to bad food, swearing, violence but seemingly can’t find a way not to protect them from the constant societal undercurrent that decrees that women are just that fraction less, that fraction weaker, that fraction less competitive, less of a threat, less allowed to play… less.
So loving and protective fathers (and mothers!) on behalf of my boys love and protect your daughters by showing them they are just as capable:
• Stop telling your girls to be careful where you wouldn’t your sons. You are only teaching boys that they are more capable of action and better at risk assessment than their sisters…. they might be…but it’s not a product of their sex!
• Running, jumping, wrestling and throwing mud around… let play be play… it doesn’t have a sex! Take playing as equals away and you take working as equals away when they are grown up.
• Protect them because of their preferences as people not because ‘girls don’t like to be pushed’… err NO…’PEOPLE don’t like to be pushed!’
• Bossy is leadership in the making. Don’t diminish it your daughters and encourage it in your sons.
• Stop assuming they can achieve less. Studies show that parents when asked ‘what is the steepest incline your child can crawl up’ show a marked underestimation when it comes to the ability of girls. SERIOUSLY how is this ok. Assume she can do less and she will.do.less.
It’s a beautiful thing that we acknowledge our difference – women should respect men and much as men respect woman… for my sons I want that to be real respect, not polite handling with kid gloves.
#differantbutequal #notforgirls #shacklesofladylike