Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No Girls Allowed

Many women can point back to situations in their lives when they weren't allowed to participate in something or when they were made to feel like their presence was a nuisance or comical. Many can point to gym class and remember being picked last or to that obnoxious guy who would tell everyone to move in closer when she was up at bat. Some can think to times when there were exclusive guy cliques in the neighborhood and they weren't welcome to play capture the flag or manhunt at night.  Some can remember being subtly told their place was not in a math or theology class.  I do have a lot of those memories myself.  For the most part, though, as an adult I have been largely thankful to be in situations where I am treated in a way that embraces my gender and appreciates it, where I am approached simply as me and am rarely made to feel like my gender is some kind of liability.

Today, my sweet son and I had a wonderful day planned. We woke up, ate breakfast, watched Dinosaur Train (the brilliance of a show geared towards 4-year-old's that combines dinosaurs and locomotives astounds me daily) and then made the trek to Raleigh to check out the children's museum. It was about time.  About an hour into our time, we ended up at the life-sized pirate ship.  (Let's not even get started here on why we have glorified a trade that employed murderous brigands and why we then encourage our children to pretend to be them- that's a whole other blog post.)  So, there he was, running around this ship, mostly just enjoying the fact that he was on a big boat when I heard it: "No Girls Allowed." Some little kid, I'd guess around 6 or 7, was fully dressed as a pirate and running up and down the deck screaming this phrase. And he wasn't laughing or even sort of sing-songing it. He was finding little girls on the ship and screaming it in their faces.  He was actively trying to get other little boys to jump on board with his crusade. He was mean. I, and several other parents at this point, were obviously craning our necks to find a parent who might admit to siring this child and intervene, but to no avail. No parent stepped in, no teachable moment was grabbed. 

Now, other parents will know that you take your life in your hands if you tell someone else's child to do anything, especially if you don't even know the kid. Seriously, it's amazing how parents will react if you even, God forbid, ask another kid to stop hitting your own child. So, most of us stood there helplessly, hoping that our own children wouldn't either be screamed at or pulled into this crazy's kid's pirating antics. Josh, who doesn't really care for kids who scream for no apparent reason, self-selected himself out of this situation and (after walking the plank) rejoined me on dry land.  He didn't say anything and I'm not even sure he even knew what this kid was yelling. For me though, the phrase has rung in my head for the rest of the day.

"No girls allowed." Do I believe that there are perfectly appropriate situations in which men-only or women-only groups are relevant and helpful? Sure. But this brought back all those times when I was younger that I was either excluded or was the victim of an assumption based solely on my gender and, I have to tell you, I didn't like being reminded of the feeling. I largely feel like I've grown a lot in this area, that God has done a lot of healing. But the anger that this little kid brought up in me surprised me.  Anger at whichever parent was not intervening  (and most likely hiding) during this situation. Anger that this kid, at such a young age, could have such a clearly defined hostility and exclusive mentality based on gender. Frustrated that I was reminded, on a beautifully intimate day out with my son, that I have to always be on my guard (even at a childrens' museum) to help him understand that a lot of what he hears from people around him will NOT be reflective of the God who loves him and has created men and women beautifully in his image to live in non-competitive partnership with each other.    

I sometimes forget how young it is that kids influence other kids.  I have no idea what happened after that child went home today, whether or not his parents spoke to him about his behavior or how he responded if they did.  I did crack up when, just before we walked away, a kid who was probably about a year older than the yeller walked up to him, looked down his nose and asked him, rather incredulously, how old he was.  Clearly, the kids on the boat who were aware of what was going on were also less than impressed with the situation.  Even though I was frustrated at this surprising interruption in my day, it was probably a good reminder about intentionality.  My son is going to hear a lot - that's inevitable- but what is he going to hear first at home?  What kinds of things are we saying about gender and race and class that are going to prepare him to be a young man with a voice for justice when he grows up? Five years from now, will he be the kind of child that will intervene and speak truth into a situation like this?  I hope so, but I can't know.

What I do know is this- he certainly won't be posting any "No Girls Allowed" signs on his clubhouse. Not on our watch, anyway. 

1 comment:

  1. Good insight, Carolyn. I could see God being the parent in situations like this, and feeling those same things towards His children. I believe He does, and is waiting to see what we will do. Keep raising your son with those principles. You are making a positive impact in this broken world. (it made me smile = )