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“No girls allowed.”
Little words that are so often ignored as innocent child’s play. Are they such harmless words?
Where do children absorb these concepts in the first place? Are they learned in schools, from television shows, or on the playground? I’m sure this type of conditioning is found the world over, but I would argue the heart of the issue lies in parenting.
We all know that bullying is harmful.
According to StopBullying.gov, children who are bullied experience “Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood” among many other issues. They also state that “kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood.” Interestingly, even children who witness bullying experience negative impacts.
Today, on her fourth birthday, my sweet little daughter experienced playground bullying. She wanted to climb on the play equipment and had a little boy yell at her that it was a toy that only boys could use because it was a ship.
(Well then. This must be a highly inappropriate children’s playground, a ship that must be steered with a penis? We need to get a petition going on this one.)
My husband and I both calmly intervened. We empowered our daughter and made sure her voice was heard. Still this small boy yelled at us and at our daughter that she couldn’t play. His mother did not even acknowledge there was a problem. The damage was done- he learned nothing.
This is not the first time a little boy has treated our daughter this way, and I know that it won’t be the last. Luckily, our daughter was shown (yet again) that her parents will back her up when needed.
Aboutkidshealth.ca tells us emphatically that parents are the responsible parties when it comes to bullying. When aggressive behavior is identified within a child it must be monitored closely and corrected. It is also important to analyze home life for any potential interactions that may model bullying.
Thankfully this encounter was mostly only upsetting for me and while remaining a blip for my daughter. But was it really a blip? What did she absorb from this situation?
What conditioning took place in that small chance of a moment?
We go out of our way to provide a gender neutral footing from which our daughters can explore their personal likes and dislikes.
We play with tiaras and princess dresses, yes. We wear pink and purple and sparkles. We enjoy the wonder of fairy houses and tea parties with stuffed animals.
We also play with dinosaurs and trains. We wear navy blue and red and dirt on our faces. We enjoy stomping in mud and digging in the dirt.
We are raising girls who can.
Not recess queens, not playground bullies.
Girls who can…
Bake cakes and grill burgers
Identify butterflies and vintage video games
Play with dolls and build forts
Wear tutus and soccer cleats
Do absolutely anything they set their minds to.
If one day we are blessed with a boy, we will raise a boy who can do all of those things as well.
This isn’t boys versus girls. There are challenges with sexism and parenting no matter your child’s sex.
But I am tired of hearing these gender stereotypes reinforced by society.
I can’t help but wonder how these situations inform a child’s identity.
Sometimes it’s not a mean child on the playground. Often it’s an adult- things said generally without any thought whether it’s based on how a girl is being treated or how she looks.
“He just thinks you’re pretty.” (don’t you dare, I might punch you)
“Boys will be boys.” (see above)
“What a shame her hair’s stick straight.” (what the WHAT???)
“You’ll get muddy.” (seemingly benign, but really, let her PLAY, she washes just as well as a boy!)
I hope that you catch yourself the next time you speak of something in terms of “boys” and “girls”- gendering life limits everyone.
According to an article by Natasha Daly featured in National Geographic:
“For adults, play is a break from life. For children, especially in the earliest stages of childhood development, play is life, and toys are the tools of early learning.
That includes lessons about gender. American society has made significant strides towards gender equality over the past century, but children’s toys seem to be moving in the opposite direction, reinforcing traditional roles rather than expanding them. The implications are serious: The way girls play may affect how their brains develop.”
Think about this.
When you say something is for boys or for girls you are limiting the potential interests and talents of roughly half of the population.
Little girls can do anything. So can little boys.
Let’s change the dialogue.
Let’s step in.
Don’t be like that mom today who couldn’t be bothered. Don’t be part of the problem.
Don’t let your words and actions further condition society towards gender norms that steal a child’s sparkle.
Your children are watching and they are listening, whether you realize it or not.
Letting a little boy menace a little girl about what is appropriate for “boys” or “girls” on the playground may seem innocent, but it’s not. You are teaching him that behavior is okay. You are teaching him to have a general lack of respect towards females. You are teaching him that force wins.
This is not okay.
Unless it requires a penis or a vagina to operate, it is for everyone. All the colors, all the toys, and all the playground equipment.
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