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Thursday, November 19, 2009

She can

Despite her long blond hair and the dresses she sometimes wears, the girl is just as happy to run screaming through puddles as she is to play house with her stuffed animals. She likes to wrestle and chase balls. She can take a tumble on the hard cement of the basketball court and, before informing the boy that pushed her that he shouldn't push, push right back.

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.


  1. It's a long, long road you're on -- and sometimes it'll feel like it never ends, this battle to teach our girls they can do anything. But you're off to a good start, and that's important.

  2. Hear! Hear!!! Girls CAN fight and usually WE WIN!! While I was setting up for our school Symposium, my kids were all off playing and doing separate things. My Boy was acting like an airplane on the swings, my Middle Child was off with some big girls playing little sister, and my 7 year old girl was playing FOOTBALL with a bunch of boys....and winning!! Girls RULE!! :D

  3. I can put up with a lot but not when people choose to limit my daughter's options. It's a battle we'll face over and over but we'll always do it. But to have to explain sexism to a three-year-old seems wrong. Aren't we in the 21st century? Good calm response you gave.

  4. be sure that i will raise my son a feminist, a boy who encourages girls to do anything and to learn from them, and teach them, and care for them with the up most respect. really, he doesn't have much of a choice in the matter.

    if only all moms would be conscious of how they raise their sons.

  5. Mate - you should have been at my house in the eighties. Me and my sisters used to beat the living sh*t out of each other ;)

    Seriously, that is an awesome post. I love how you think and how you parent your children.

  6. Girl is very strong but grandfather would like some practice for girl before wrestling/fighting with uncoordinated, undomesticated, untrained, possibly ultimate fighting video watching and maybe feral three year old thugs vaguely known to her and not engaged with her in friendship. The kid might have had a intuitive insight into his own inability to manage himself.
    It goes with out saying girls can do anything including not playing with the above. The boy's attitude will disappear over time. Consider him an egg in conception not a being.

  7. Well, as the mother of a boy, I wouldn't read too much into it at this stage.

    The Boy went through this stage (3 to 4), where one of his girl friends had to be a princess because she couldn't be a knight. This in spite of all the adults telling the kids otherwise. And my, how I worked on this one. They grow out of it... and you may find that the girl goes through a "boys can't" stage too.

    The fighting on the other hand... that's a different story.

  8. I really love this. I run into people all the time who look at my big, burly TWO YEAR OLD son and they snicker conspiratorially at me that he's going to be a "bruiser" when he grows up. Like that's a compliment or something. It so deeply ingrained in our collective that men are supposed to be violent that it's as if no one really hears what they're saying about a babyfaced toddler.

    This was a great post.

  9. What a wonderful post! You and your daughter did a fabulous job in that situation and you captured it so well in this post.

  10. Thank you! As a mother of sons, I'm sorry. I've had to correct them more than a few times that there are no girl games and boy games, there are just games.

    Maybe someday all the grown ups will understand that too.

  11. Great post, and I do like how you used a perfect parenting moment to teach your child about fighting.

    I have 3 year old boy/girl twins. I am beginning to develop sense of awareness about how boys and girls grow up and how parents should mold them according to their own individual personalities.

    I think it is important to realize that although both boys and girls can do "anything", they cannot do "everything". It is not about being a boy or a girl, rather it is about our own unique gifts. If, as a parent, you are trying to teach your daughter that she can do "anything" by being with boys or by doing what boys do, then I feel that you are fighting the wrong battle.

    I am adding you to my blogroll; I look forward to more of your posts!

  12. @TwinToddlersDad I agree that she will find that she can't do everything. I hope that she will try to do anything that she wants. In trying she may realize that can't do it because of her height, her size, her coordination or many other reasons resulting from who she is. There will be things that she can't do.
    I have thought about it and I think that what the boy was trying to say wasn't so much that girls "can't" fight but that they "shouldn't". So while my girl is going to find things she can't do, maybe even because she is female, I hate to think that people will tell her there are things she shouldn't do.

  13. Rock ON !! I would clap and yell but I'm at work sooo ROCK OOOON !!

  14. You did a great job. I know being the oldest child in my family my father used to insist that I could do anything I wanted to. And I have taken that with me into my adult years (sometimes to my detriment, I can be bull headed when I have a hard time with things). :)