Let children be children
I overheard someone refer to climbing, abseiling and aerial rope activities as 'boys stuff' earlier - her son had enjoyed trying out these things on a recent family trip. I was bemused but also started raging a bit. In my 6 and a half years as a parent, I've got used to hearing diggers, cars, trains and so on referred to as 'for boys', even by my own daughters. I've encountered lots of times where I've had interesting or tricky conversations with my two girls about what is 'for boys' or 'for girls' after they've come home from school having formed an opinion after talking to friends and peers. Children are children but they don't have sophisticated existing opinions at age 6. They get opinions and ideas from other places (including peers) such as parents, teachers, other adults, television, books, games and by example and so on. If your 6 year old hears you refer to an activity as 'for boys', what will they think?
At the beginning of September, my 6 year old started Beavers with some of her friends. It's a brand new Beaver group in our town and had a long waiting list. It turned out her and her best friend were the only girls amongst a group of around 18. She had a wonderful time and came home enthused and excited. Her friend however found the experience difficult as the boys were very excited and boisterous and she didn't want to go back. My daughter was really upset. She found the confidence to go to something new and unfamiliar through being with her best friend but couldn't face going on her own amongst a big group of boys. I was gutted for her. This was the first time in her little life that she'd gone straight into an activity without clinging to my legs, crying, making a fuss or hesitating nervously. She'd run in, not looked back and had a lovely time playing games. I'd been really keen for her to try Beavers as the activities the leader has planned sound wonderful - adventurous things, outdoors things with nature, crafty things, fun games and more. Not particularly 'boyish' or 'girlish', just simple, natural and fun. I didn't want to press her to go on her own without her friend as I understood how she was feeling but I still can't help feeling sad that no other parents of girls had the same idea as us.
I've climbed trees and enjoyed adventurous outdoors activities since I was a tiny girl. I was a Girl Scout, and enjoyed trying out loads of cool outdoorsy stuff with the help and guidance of leaders until I left age 20. Since then, I've hiked, kayaked, bungee jumped, climbed, abseiled, dived, snowboarded, surfed, and camped my way around the world. Is any of this 'for boys'? I don't think so. I've often been the only girl or one of the only girls doing these things but does that mean I'm different or weird? I don't think so. I'm just me. Last time I looked, I was definitely a girl. I definitely have girls apparatus - I've given birth to two children and breast fed them both. I sometimes wear dresses and makeup. I tick the 'female' box on surveys and forms. Yes, yes, I'm definitely a girl. I'm no less feminine because I get a kick from throwing myself down a mountain with a plank of wood attached to my feet or climbing to the top of a very high wall with only a rope and a caribeena holding me up.
Both my daughters regularly climb trees, hang on monkey bars, make bug homes, try to go very high on the swings and run around shrieking and fighting with each other - these are also sometimes referred to as 'boys things'. They also like to dress up as princesses, play babies, wear sparkly pink shoes and do colouring in and craft which are also sometimes labelled as 'girls things'. I think all these things are called being a child (actually you can also do all these things when you are a grown up too but that's another blog post). Please, please, please: friends, friends of friends and strangers, stop labelling the things our children do as 'for boys' or 'for girls'. Please encourage our children to be open minded and adventurous. Please just let our children be children and experience the world in whatever way they want.