When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she came home one day and told me she sat between Isaac and Tyler at lunch. It was not out of the question or odd that my daughter would choose to sit next to a boy or even between them. She has always been a social kid, confident in groups, and just as easily and happily attaches herself to boy friends as much as girl ones. But it was odd that she sat between those two particular boys during a period when she was allowed to sit next to whomever she wanted. She wasn’t bemoaning this detail of her day, but I wanted to know more.
“Oh, cool. Tyler is a funny kid. And Isaac can be pretty silly too. Is that why you wanted to sit next to them today?”
I was trying to be diplomatic. Yes, Tyler is funny, but his jokes are often in the form of armpit farts and other disgusting noises during story time. And Isaac’s silliness is often the result of impulsive behavior that disrupts the classroom.
“No,” my daughter said, adjusting her backpack as we walked home from school. “We had to sit boy girl boy girl at lunch, and Mrs. K put me there.”
I was instantly pissy, but I kept my chill. The problem was not who she sat next to at lunch, the problem was the person who put her there and the motivation behind Mrs. K’s seating assignment. My daughter was put between two rowdy boys in an attempt to calm them down, as if that’s her job — as if it’s any girl’s job.
Now I’m not blaming this specific teacher — or teachers in general, for that matter — but the overarching problem is that there is a general feeling in our society that girls are supposed to make boys behave better. Our daughters are not responsible for our sons’ behavior. Boys need to get their shit together on their own and be held accountable for their actions.
It is our job as parents to help them. We need to pay better attention to the language we use. We need to knock it off with comments like:
“Thank God, there are a couple of girls on the team. We need some calmer energy in the dugout.”
“It’s nice to see a little pink and purple in the room. The girls will add some softness.”
“Maybe she can put him in his place.”
No. No. And more NO.
We need to stop giving our boys an out and stop giving our girls the belief that they are somehow responsible for someone else’s actions.
I agree that the way kids are grouped can improve a teacher’s ability to teach or give a coach favorable results on the playing field. But this should not be based on gender or the ratio of boys to girls. We are dismissing the fact that boys can and should be calm and respectful. We are assuming all girls are. We are telling our girls they can’t be wild. We are telling our boys they can’t be soft. We are raising girls to blame themselves if a boy does or says something inappropriate or damaging to them.
When we separate a classroom, adjust seating arrangements, or group kids based on gender alone, we are placing the misconduct of our boys squarely and wrongly on the shoulders of our girls. We create a very slippery slope that can lead girls to think their clothes, their attitude, their body, their essence, and the simple act of being present are all reasons to be victimized.
Also, I want my girls, my daughters, to be wild and messy and inappropriate. Not all of the time, but if they are going to balance any energy in a room, I want it to be their own energy. I want my girls to live uninhibited lives where they aren’t afraid to let it all hang out. I want them to love wholly and completely without fear. I want them to trust that their actions are their own and not meant to control someone else.
Because if we continue implying that our girls exist to improve the lives of boys, then we have already devalued the lives of girls. And have provided a disservice to boys.
We need to be more mindful about the language and commentary we are providing, even if it seems innocent. Even if you think you can pass it off with an “oh, you know what I mean,” you can’t.
Enough. Girls were not put on this planet to keep boys in line. And boys shouldn’t have to be kept.