On Saturday, while at our park, my four-year-old daughter was asked to pull down her pants by a five-year-old boy. I was 200 feet away and yet I didn’t see it until it was too late. When I asked her what had happened, she told me he had told her to do it in exchange for the stick he had. So she had, no big deal. Even though, her father and I have told her numerous times that her private parts are just that; private. Even though her father and I have told her that a request like that is not ok. As I told my husband what had happened and how we needed to speak to the parents of the boy, he hesitated for a moment, “Isn’t that just what little boys do? Ask for stupid things? Not think about the bigger picture.” I thought of our own son and how this is not what I expect out of him. That he better know better because that is how we raised him and so I carefully explained that perhaps that is just what some little boys do, but that does not make it ok.
Because those little boys grow up to be big boys. And those big boys continue to make stupid comments that we, as girls, as women, have to just shrug off as if “boys will be boys.” Because those little boys grow up to think that it is okay to say whatever they want, to ask for things they shouldn’t ask for, all because it doesn’t hurt to try. No harm done. Just kidding.
I see it with my students. How our girls are continuously expected to just take the crude jokes. To be told that they are not as strong as boys, to try so hard to be accepted by the boys they adore and forget about who they are in the process. I see it when they don’t stand up for themselves. I see it when otherwise wonderful boys push them out of the way, take their spot, take their things, eat their food, or make a comment about their looks. I see the acceptance when they don’t speak up, when they don’t fight back, when they roll their eyes and move on. And it is not all of the boys either but only some, those who feel that this is the expected behavior if you are a strong boy. Those who dole out harsh words when they view another boy as weak and shrug when I get upset that they just used my gender designation as a put-down. Boys will be boys alright.
I see it my own life, still to this day. I see it when I think of how many “innocent” comments I have endured. How many times I have been subjected to borderline behavior and I was too nice to point out my own discomfort. I was too worried about how I would be seen. I didn’t want to rock the boat, because I didn’t want to be seen as an overreacting female and perhaps get a reputation of not being nice. How I have been told on numerous occasions that it is wonderful to see someone as pretty as me out speaking. How it must be nice to be chosen because I am female. How my message may not be that new but people love it because of the whole package I present, how well put together I look. How big I smile. How pretty my hair is. How the work I do, how the truths my students tell me, get dismissed in one comment about how beautiful I am and yeah what I said was nice too. And I smile, and I thank them for the compliment, rather than point out how dismissive those comments are of all the work I have done. I hold my tongue because I don’t want to cause a ruckus when it was just one little comment, one little thing, and perhaps they didn’t think about it as much as I now do.
And I look at my daughters and also at my son and I realize that perhaps our focus needs to be on the little things more than the big. That perhaps female, or any child’s really, empowerment and self-validation are too often damaged in the small every day. In the comments, in the hallways, in the lunchroom, where we are reminded of what our role should be; pretty, quiet, willing to give up whatever we have. That all of our children look to us and so it is up to us to figure it out. To find the courage to speak up, to speak back. To claim our spot and not stand for being told that we got the spot because of our looks, our gender, or who we know. Because while boys may be boys, we have to realize that right now, those boys are watching, as are our girls. They learn from us. So perhaps it is time we learn it for ourselves.