I have four wonderful, amazing and energetic nephews. They range from age three to eleven. I love these boys with all my heart and so does my daughter. While I know that the boys love my little one in return, sometimes it’s just not cool to play with a three year old girl. Sometimes, they want to be superheros and build forts and tell her, “No, this is Boys Only!”
Now obviously, when this happens, the adults step in and say that everyone has to play together. We’re a family and we don’t exclude anyone. Honestly, I don’t blame the boys for getting a little cliquey. There’s four young boys and one little girl tagging along. It’s a little natural to set her apart. This doesn’t make my nephews mini-chauvinists, it makes them kids. And once we explain that excluding my daughter from the group hurts her feelings, they are always quick to apologize and work harder at including her. It’s heartwarming to see them grab her hand and lead her into the fort with them.
But the fact is, there won’t always be an adult to intervene. At some point in time, my daughter will have to face exclusion because she’s female. I can remember being the only girl in advanced math classes and the awkwardness it provoked. My daughter already gravitates towards engineering and construction, fields dominated by men. She’s obsessed with superheros, which are normally seen as “boy toys.” And well, kids are kids. Call me a pessimist, but I think that preparing her for the possibility of exclusion is prudent.
So here’s what I intend to do:
- Reinforce positive self-image. The logical first step is to help build up my daughter’s self-esteem. Self-assured kids have an easier time dealing with any type of antagonization or bullying. My daughter is an intelligent, thoughtful and wonderful little girl. I intend to remind her of that often.
- Refuse to acknowledge traditional gender stereotypes as “natural”. I have a big issue with the assumption that boys are naturally better at math or naturally inclined to play with blocks. That means that girls who likes these things are unnatural, which isn’t the case at all. My little girl may love dress up and princesses, but her favorite princess is She-Ra, the one who beats up hordesmen. She has an analytical mind, and that comes as naturally to her as any other child.
- Acknowledge that those stereotypes exist. As she gets older, she will realize that people assume girls want to play with dolls and boys want to play with trucks. She’ll see that girls are expected to like literature and boys are expected to like science. Pretending that these stereotypes aren’t out there won’t help her face them. When she’s old enough to talk about it, I plan to let her know that just because it’s widely assumed doesn’t make it right.
- Provide her with some awesome role models. I won’t have to look far. Female professionals in every area are growing by leaps and bounds. Pointing out other successful females in whatever field she chooses to embrace will help her see that anything is possible.
- Teach her that ignorance isn’t evil. It’s easy to say that boys who exclude girls are bad. Or teachers who make assumptions about a child’s strengths is terrible. But these types of gender stereotypes are pretty deeply entrenched. Accepting them doesn’t make someone awful. The best way to change their mind is be positive and successful.
Children will all have to face exclusion in a million ways. Kids form groups. They separate due to interests, socio-economic class, or personality. All of our kids will feel left out from time to time. It’s never fun and I’ll always be there to love and support my daughter when it happens. But I think dealing with the “Boys Only” mentality takes some extra special thoughtfulness, because she won’t just be going against a couple kids on the playground. “Boys Only” can extend well into her adult and professional life. Hopefully, talking about it now will prepare her to show them all the error of their ways later.