Letter From A Reader: What’s So Bad About Being Called A ‘Girl’?

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Sexist NeighborSometimes I get an e-mail from a reader asking for help from the Mommyish community. This just shows how amazingly awesome our readers are, and how helpful and kind you guys always are in the comments. Welp, I just received one, and you guys know what to do!

Our five-year-old son was playing with his friends who are our neighbors; the boy is seven and the girl is four, and our son went to preschool with her. The boy has a tendency to be not very nice, but it’s not bad enough that I don’t let them play together. I don’t know exactly what happened, but the boy called our son “a girl,” and our son told the boy’s father. The father didn’t handle it well, and told our son to call the boy “a girl” as well; all the while his little girl is sitting there. I wanted to say something, but I realized that I don’t know how to address this situation. I want my sons to understand that it’s not an insult to be called “a girl” because there’s nothing wrong with girls. My five- year-old gets insulted when you call him anything else or say that he’s anything other than his name, so that might just have been the problem on his end. The whole thing passed quickly since they were playing and we were eating, but I don’t want to just let it go. I want him to know that it’s not OK to call someone “a girl” as an insult.  How do I explain it to him in an age appropriate way? Thanks so much for your time!

Eve here. You lost me at “age appropriate” because I’m so bad at that. I would probably just say there is nothing wrong with being a fucking girl and leave it at that. I also probably would have said something to the dad like “What do you mean call him a girl? Are you saying there is something WRONG with being a girl?” which is why I would not have been invited back. I feel so bad for the little girl sitting there having her gender used as an insult. I think you just remind your son about what happened the other day and explain to him that it isn’t nice when someone insults one of their friends, but being called a girl isn’t a bad thing because girls are awesome and mommy is a girl and he has friends and people who love him that are girls and that girls are just as good as boys.

Bethany: I totally agree with reinforcing that girls are just as good as boys. You know, this whole scenario is intriguing and baffling to me because I have two sons, and I constantly realize how many situations like this I am going to encounter in the future. So thank you. I would also take this prime opportunity to explain that not everyone in the world is open-minded and kind, but it is still your job to be that way, even when people insult you. I really believe that.

Julia: I feel so hard for that little girl who was sitting there watching herself being used as the insult–it happens way too often and I can even remember watching the boys fling those insults when I was a kid. Being called a girl was the worst thing you could be. I know that for me personally, I always responded well to light hearted conversations with meaning behind them–especially in public. Maybe saying something like “He called you a girl? AWESOME. Being a girl is fantastic” would have been a way to handle it in the moment (and saved you the uncomfortable conversation wit that dad), and then later bring up exactly what you told us–that being called a girl is a bad insult because it’s not one. Everything you said was clear and reasonable, and I think your kid will understand it exactly as you said it. You’ve got this.

 Theresa: First, kudos for wanting to drive the point home; this whole fuckery about who has the better genitalia really does start this young, and can be problematic if you don’t address it early. If you can establish that there is nothing insulting about being referred to as a girl then I have to second the idea of using humor with something like, “You think I’m like a girl? Thanks, dude!” This little boy sounds like he’s figured out how to wound with his words and teaching your son to not let that provoke the desired response is a good way to frustrate future attempts.

Valerie: I think it’s great that you are so concerned about this- more parents should be. My kids are school-age and I hear this kind of thing a lot when they tell me about their day. I hate this notion- that being called a girl or dressing “like a girl” is somehow an insult. That whole idea needs to die in a fire as far as I’m concerned. I completely agree that you need to tell your son to respond with a touch of snark about how there is nothing at all wrong with being a girl. And this father sounds like a real gem- it’s not hard to see where his son is getting this behavior from. How very sad.

Maria: There’s nothing wrong with being called a girl. It’s not an insult. But your son is totally justified in not wanting to be called anything but his name. Good for him. Maybe you can just tell him that the next time the boy calls him a girl to let him know it’s a stupid way to name call because there’s nothing wrong with girls.

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