“Remember, you’re a boy. You have to treat girls like flowers!”
I overheard this recently while I sat with my son at the playground. A woman who looked about my age (early 30s) was speaking to her toddler son and made this statement as he ran off to play. She was trying to tell her young son that he had to be gentle with girls, and maybe not treat them as roughly as he treats little boys his age. While I understand her intentions were good, hearing her use such wording at a crowded playground made my blood boil a little bit. I didn’t engage her in dialogue, I didn’t even know what I would have said in such a moment.
Now that I’ve had some distance from the incident, and clearly it weighed on me a bit, I know what I would have told that mother and her son, and what I hope I’m telling my son — not with my words but with my actions. Girls, and by default women, are not flowers. We are fucking trees. Flowers are delicate, fragile. Trees, on the other hand, trees get shit done. They spread roots, they are homes, they provide oxygen, and they live for-fucking-ever. They stand tall and strong, and they weather the toughest storms. Trees get shit done in a way that flowers can’t.
I so badly wanted to tell that mom to stop teaching her son that girls are delicate beings who should be “othered” and instead teach him to view them like equals. As the mother of a son, I feel that it’s my responsibility to shape how he treats girls and women as he gets older. I never tell him to put women on a pedestal in a way that makes them fetishized rather than simply respected.
More often than not, my son is drawn to playing with girls, and I remind him of the exact same things I tell him when he plays with boys: Keep your hands to yourself, be respectful of personal space, and say please and thank you. The little girls who my son finds himself playing with are the kind of girls I hope he always surrounds himself with: They are fierce little ass-kickers. They take no shit. They don’t want to be treated like delicate little flowers. They are strong and mighty like little saplings that are starting to take root and become secure in their abilities. They give zero fucks about the boys they’re playing with. They know that they are capable and strong, and it is amazing to witness.
I am awed when I see one of my son’s female friends put him in his place over and over again (my son is incredibly bossy). When he comes to me almost in tears because she has asserted herself and stood up to him yet again, it is hard for me not to want to take her aside for a high-five because I am just so proud of her. I just remind him that she deserves to take up just as much space in this world as he does. He’s not her boss. He’s her friend.
One of my best friends has a daughter who is almost 2. She is really the only little girl in our circle. When we all get together, she is right in the center of the action, demanding to be included in whatever is happening. We tell the boys to go easy on her only because she is younger than them, but we know that she is perfectly capable of handling herself. If her brother or my son try to hug her and she isn’t interested, she just pushes them out of her way as if to say, “Back off, fuckers. I don’t have time for you right now.” She is not fragile by any stretch of the imagination. She is a take-no-prisoners, unabashedly badass small female. And she’s not even 2! I look at her and simply marvel at her confidence. She is a goddamn tree, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And she wants to make sure everyone knows it.
It is that kind of confidence that I feel is important to instill in girls, and by extension, let our sons see. Young girls should start out as saplings, small yet strong, set up deep roots within themselves to understand their value and worth, and then just grow, grow, grow. By nurturing them, we are giving them the space to spread that power into the world like oxygen. By giving them roots, they are able to be a safe haven for others — protection against the elements in whichever way they choose. And those roots and love will live on forever.
Girls are not flowers. They are goddamn trees.