Equal Time for Girls

What to do about the Power Rangers? What to do about violent play? What to do about aggressive little boys? As I hang out more with early childhood educators, I get an earful of concern about these issues. Now, don't get me wrong. I think they are real issues, and important ones. The messages directed at little boys from all directions in the culture--that we are the good guys and the bad guys must be destroyed, that the way to solve every problem is by fighting, that violent conflict is fun and exciting and glamorous (and totally lacking in negative consequence)--are scary. Of course our little boys play them out, and of course thoughtful adult intervention is needed--both to help them with their play, and to challenge those messages at their source.

What makes me mad is how that concern can slip into a perspective that sees the little boys as the problematical ones. A pre-school teacher, writing recently about the (real) problems of violent play in the classroom, began generalizing to "wild and aggressive" play, which then generalized to play with lots of "running and shouting." Now pre-school classrooms may not be set up to handle "running and shouting" play very well, but it's certainly an intrinsic and positive part of any childhood experience. Running and shouting is fun. It's good that little boys know they want to run and shout. We could all benefit from some good hard running and shouting play.

And it makes me mad that nobody is talking about the girls. Little girls are bombarded with cultural messages just as pervasively as little boys are. While they are learning to kick and destroy, the girls are learning make-up and fashion and romance and the necessity of being attractive to succeed at life. And they play out those messages just as little boys do. They just don't make as much noise about it.

So little girls are perceived as non-problematic. They don't disrupt the classroom. There is no campaign (that I'm aware of, at least) to get "little girls" toys that are heavy on romance and sexual innuendo off the shelves. Little girls doing make-up in a corner get positive feedback for cooperative behavior (if they're not simply ignored) while little boys doing ninja kicks in the center get pointed out and agonized over.

What if we saw it as a problem that little girls played out endless beauty/romance scenarios, just as we do with the play of the little boys? What if we felt it just as necessary to put lots of energy into thinking out ways of intervening and offering alternative possibilities to this play (or maybe ban it altogether) just as we do with little boys? What if we were worried about little girls who seem unable to run and shout, just as we are worried about little boys who seem unable to sit still?

After all, this is a new century. I say, lets not stop thinking about the boys, but let's give the little girls equal time. It's only fair.