She likes to play with boys. Two of her best friends are boys. He favorite kid at school last year was a boy. She can keep up with boys, my girl.
The only other kids at the park this afternoon were a group of four boys. She knows these boys, has seen them in the park and around the neighborhood, but has never played with any of them before. One of her friends are usually around. But today, after waiting for awhile on a park bench for the boy she wanted to show up, she gave in and decided she wanted to play with this group of boys.
The girl has gotten a little shy lately about approaching kids. Grabbing my hand she pulled me towards the boys, telling me that I should talk to them. If you want to play with them then you have to ask them yourself, I said. But I will come with you. Of coarse she didn't like that. I persisted, she resisted. Finally, she gathered up the courage and walked over to where the boys were playing on the grass. Hand in hers, I stood beside her.
Will you play with me? she asked the boy she knew the best.
Well, he said and went on to mumble something long and rambling, most of which I couldn't quite catch. I caught enough of it though. The gist of it was that the boys were fighting and no, she couldn't play with them.
What's he say? she turned to me and asked.
He said that they are fighting, I replied. We don't fight though, so maybe we should go and do something else. How about we go on the swings?
We're fighting, he said.
Boys fight, said the boy to my girl. But girls don't fight so you can't play with us. Only boys fight.
Overcome by a brief moment of blinding rage as a cherub looking three-year old told my daughter that she couldn't do something because she was a girl, I contemplated encouraging her to engage them all in a battle to the death. But I refrained. I took a deep breath.
Actually, I said, fighting isn't something boys do just because they are boys and not fighting isn't something girls do just because they are girls. Girls can fight. We just don't fight because it isn't a good thing for boys or girls to do.
But boys can fight, said the boy. Not girls.
Boys and girls can't fight, said the girl emphatically to him. Because we don't fight, she said looking at me.
Grateful that the girl was listening to my attempts to promote pacifism over his attempts to outline the acceptable limits of her behaviour I thought This is it. It is beginning.
It starts with a three year old saying she can't play fight because she is a girl. By six, girls can't throw the ball properly. By nine girls aren't good at math. At eleven girls don't know how to play video games. By fifteen it's jokes about what exactly girls can do.
I remember. It wasn't that long ago. And obviously not too much has changed.
I wanted to engage this three year old boy in a discussion of feminism. Hear his arguments as to why my three year old couldn't play with him and his three year old friends. Counter all his points. But I didn't. I let him go.
No longer interested in a boy who just stood there talking instead of taking her up on her offer to play, I managed to lure the girl away with the promise of milk and a treat from a near-by coffee shop. Once the wagon was out of the park and the gate locked behind us, I knelt down beside the girl and the boy.
Fighting isn't just something that boys do. Girls can fight too. But we don't fight because we don't want to hurt our friends. But girls can do anything. And if anyone tell you that you can't do something because you are a girl, then that is called sexism.
I know that she didn't understand what I said. I needed to say it for me. To remind myself that I will teach her, am teaching her that she can do anything. She can.