I love my daughter’s preschool. I really do. Since she started there a year ago, I think she’s really thrived. She LOVES going to school every day, which was not the case at her old school (you can read all about our tough decision to leave her old school in favor of the new one here).
One of the things that I’ve liked best is that E. seems to hang out and play with boys more than girls. Now, I obviously have nothing against girls, but I just think at this age, I’d like for her to play and play hard — and I feel like, generally speaking, boys tend to do that more than girls. And her teachers have fostered this and I’d yet to witness or hear about a “girls play with this” and “boys play with this” incident. Until today.
When I picked E. up at school, she couldn’t wait to show me today’s art project — crowns and wands.
OK, that seems OK. I know they’re in the midst of a fairy tale unit, so this seems appropriate. But then she says to me, “And look, Mommy. These are the swords that the boys made.”
“Why didn’t you make a sword, too?”
“Because, Mommy, only boys play with swords.”
And just like that, my heart broke a little bit. I know it sounds dramatic, but I’ve tried really hard to avoid genderizing toys and games. I’m not trying to make E. hate all “girl” things, but I silently cheered when she spent the last couple years picking Mikey, Goofy and friends and the Toy Story gang over those spineless princesses. Yes, yes, I know progress has been made (you know, it’s been years since one of them literally gave up her voice for a man she’d never spoken to, but I digress), but c’mon, must everything be pink and focus on making yourself pretty?
So, while the boys made swords, my daughter instead got to attach glittery stickers to a fairy wand. I guess I should just be thankful it’s not pink. Sigh.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. And, to be fair, her teacher was gone when I got there, so maybe E. just got it into her head that the swords were only for boys. But I doubt that.
I’ve mentioned it before, but if you haven’t read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein yet, YOU MUST! It’s been such an eye-opening book for me. And don’t worry if you don’t have a daughter — it deals with gender bias and the genderfication of both sexes.
One of the interesting things she discusses is how powerfully gender roles are shaped in preschool. Simple things, like a teacher saying, “Boys line up over here and girls over there” have significant impacts on how children see themselves and how they interact with each other. A growing field of research shows that daycare and preschool teachers who eliminate such gender identifications and instead say “Kids line up over here” or choose two random sets with mixed gender dramatically changes those relationships. Fascinating! (I’m paraphrasing from memory, so check it out for yourself and prepare to have your mind blown).
Before we left school, I told E. I wanted to take her picture with one of the swords (that’s called Advance Blog Prepping 101). She was not happy. “No, Mommy, that’s for boys.”
By this point, I was starting to get really pissed. And I don’t get it. Know what toys she plays with more than anything? More than her dollhouse? More than all her dolls? More even than her dress-up clothes (which she loves)? Her Legos. That girl spends hours making houses, shapes and castles.
So maybe all hope is not lost.
I explained to her that girls and boys both can play with swords. Sadly, I couldn’t think of any examples from any of her movies or shows off the top of my head (the closest I got was the girl knight with a shield in “Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom.” There’s just so much wrong with the fact that I knew that nugget).
And whether she liked it or not, she was going to pick up that sword, dammit.
Maybe the real scandal is that they were even making the swords at all in a Christian school. I guess it’s Old Testament justice.
I’m just afraid that this is the beginning of Girly Girl Mania. Think I can use her new wand to wish it all away?
Jaci @ Ravings of a Mad Housewife says
Wow. I never thought about how Ariel literally gave up her voice for a man! I’m sitting here with my mind blown. I read the Hans Christian Anderson story and the sea witch cuts out her tongue, and then? The prince runs off with some other hoe (no sea witch tricked him, he was just a dick) and The Little Mermaid quietly commits suicide by throwing herself off the wedding ship.
So I always looked at the Disney version as significantly cleaned up. But I didn’t think about it in that context…
Hey. She-Ra has a sword. And she’s on NetFlix. Elizabeth loves it!
You are the second person to suggest She-Ra to me and I can’t believe I’d forgotten all about the Princess of Power! I’ve got to add some of those to my Netflix queue (you know, before we quit Netflix in protest with the rest of the country).
And I’d read the Hans Christian Anderson version too, and now I can’t decide which is worse! I think I’d take the witch cutting out her throat rather than Ariel voluntarily giving it up! Because really, girls, all you need to do to get a man is follow the advice of Ursula — you’ll have your looks, your pretty face, and don’t underestimate the power of body language. Ugh.
Hiya — popping in from a twitter link. 🙂 She might still be a little young for it, but book-wise, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Bruce Coville’s THE DRAGONSLAYERS, if you can track one down. The protagonist is a princess who wears combat boots under her dresses and definitely uses a sword. *g*
I’ve never heard of that book but thanks for the suggestion! I’ll definitely check it out. Who doesn’t love combat boots?
And thanks for popping over!
Great book called The Princess Knight. She’s better than all her brothers!
There’s a lovely TV show called Jane and the Dragon, and mostly it doesn’t mention that girls don’t usually become knights, just Jane learning life lessons and working hard to become a knight. Every so often she needs to deal with gender bias (which I have mixed feelings about, since I didn’t even want to introduce the idea that girls can’t/don’t _____), but not very often. All three of my children (ages 5 – 11, boys and girl) really enjoy it.
Susie R says
So here’s an idea that I’ve been kicking around. Some girls just like pink. Some of them will, regardless of programming, be into the girly foo foo thing. And that should be okay. What we want is for those girls to know they have other choices too and for girls who aren’t into it to be free to choose as well. We’re all together on that part. What I think we miss sometimes is that you don’t HAVE to choose and that should be okay too. Below are some pictures of a friend of mine in our medieval recreation group that tell a story.
This is Mari. She’s the queen in this picture. The handsome man behind her is her husband Gemini who put on armor, won a tournament and declared her Queen. It was all very pretty. He gave her a wreath of roses and talked about how inspiring her beauty and grace were.
Bear with me a minute. See, this is also Mari:
Where? In the armor. Holding the hand of that nice man who is her good friend. See, in this one SHE is entering the tournament to attempt to win the crown. (She hasn’t done it yet, but she’s getting close.)
Wait- the pretty-pretty princess and the mighty warrior are the same woman? Yes. She’s also a gifted artist. And runs a dojo with her husband. And sings and dances. And crafts her own weapons. She’s earned a lifetime-achievement type award for her sewing. She’s also been knighted for her skill at arms.
Mari is my favorite example of something I think we fail to tell out girls sometimes. You don’t have to choose. You can be both. Sew that pretty surcoat, embroider it with little fleurs-de-lis and then put it on and go whack a couple boys into the mud with your sword. Then put on a dress and let them dance with you. Feel free to lead. 😉
I fully agree. Seems like the REALLY controversial thing is to tell your boys the same thing (you don’t know the grief we take for nail polish on our boys from complete strangers). And I think everybody being free to enjoy activities traditionally masculine or feminine makes everybody more fully human, and more willing to let others do the same.
Amen Gretchen! It’s like that whole brouhaha over the boy in the J. Crew ad wearing nail polish. When are people going to stop pretending that everything is going to “make our kids gay.” Marketers have done such a good job of segregating the sexes that people don’t remember anymore what it’s like just to let kids be kids.
Thanks for your comments and a great conversation!
You hit the nail on the head Susie — choice. I don’t want it to be an all or nothing thing either. Hell, I love pink too (um have you looked at the borders of this site?). But I don’t want me or my daughter to be defined by it either.
That’s what I think is so damaging in our society — the tendency to put things into tiny boxes. Only girls like pink and dolls. Only boys like trucks and swords. Which, anyone who’s ever spent 5 minutes with a kid (particularly toddlers before they’ve been conditioned otherwise) knows is simply not true.
Just as I hate that people think it’s strange that my daughter is obsessed with all things Star Wars (more on that in a post this week), I also hate that boys who want to play with things like dolls and kitchen sets seem to only have the pretty pink versions as options.
Thank you for the example of Mari. She rocks!
I loved the original story of The Little Mermaid, and as usual Disney ruined it. So I have to point out it’s more than him marrying someone else and her committing suicide. The point of the Little Mermaid is that true love is selfless. The story is all about sacrifice. You’re missing a key part in between the prince marrying someone else and the mermaid dying. She was given an opportunity by her sister’s sacrifice of their hair, to kill the prince and become a mermaid again, but she chose to die instead of killing the innocent prince. At dawn (when she was going to die according to the spell) she threw herself overboard with the belief, that like other mermaids she would turn into seafoam at death, but instead was turned into an air spirit, because of her good deeds, and as such would have an opportunity to earn through good deeds an immortal soul like humans have.
It’s that selflessness shown in this story that teaches us when our best friend who we secretly love, (which I think happens a lot in adolescence) loves someone else… teaches us to be gracious to them and their loved one. (Rather than calling them a jerk and a ho.)
I just stumbled across your website today, and I completely agree with everything that you’re saying. I don’t have children yet, but I’m already horrified on behalf of my future daughters. I have some cute baby clothes set aside for when I have kids someday. I absolutely love space and dinosaurs, and it drives me nuts to see that all the baby clothes with rocket ships and t-rexes is geared especially towards boys and is shelved in the boy sections of clothing stores. My girls are going to wear them, regardless, but I already know I’m going to have to tell people, “No, this is my daughter, not my son.” Why can’t girls like rocket ships and dinosaurs? If I ever start a business, it’s going to be gender-neutral baby and children’s clothes for things that are normally slanted specifically towards one gender over the other.
I have a fantastic book series to recommend. Your daughter looks like she’s too young for them right now, but in the future she might enjoy Tamora Pierce. She writes really strong female protagonists. Her “Song of the Lioness” series is about a tween girl who wants to be a knight. In her country, only boys can be knights, so she disguises herself and attends knight school. The book is realistic about how difficult it is, but it also shows that she works hard at it and is as good at it, if not better, than her male classmates. Eventually, she is discovered as a girl, and her efforts cause the king to change the law so that girls can be knights too. Pierce has several other series featuring really strong female protagonists—the “Immortals” series features a girl who helps the kingdom win a war, and the “Protector of the Small” series has another female knight. I have all of the books and I’m saving them for my kids someday.
Thanks for the comment, Katie. I think SOME marketers are starting to get it, but not too many. I’m hoping the groundswell starts any day now. I think we’ve seen such absurd products over the past year, that I hope common sense finally starts to prevail. I just hope it’s not a pipe dream!
Thanks for the book series suggestion. I’ll check it out!