A few days ago, my five year old cousin was reading The Velveteen Rabbit to me as we played ‘School’ together. She was the teacher.
“Now class, who can tell me if this book is fiction or nonfiction?”
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
“Nonfiction is based on true things and uses facts and stuff. Fiction means it is not real. This book is fiction because the boy owns a doll house! How silly!”
I broke out of the game for a second to explain to her that just because the boy owned a doll house, it didn’t mean that it had to be fictional. That what made it fiction was that the toys were talking or that (spoiler alert) the stuffed animal turns into a real bunny at the end.
When she continued to argue, I did the cowardly thing and dropped the conversation because she is not my child. I don’t really have the right to teach her about gender roles because that’s for her parents to teach her, not me.
A little while later however, she said something that actually made me quite sad. She was talking about how brave a boy in her class was, and I said, “Well, girls can be brave, right?”
“No,” she said simply.
I tried to explain that girls could be brave, too. I told her that she could be brave if she wanted. And all she said was, “No, I can’t. Girls aren’t as brave as boys because boys go out in the wild and girls stay home.”
Again, I dropped the conversation. But it nagged me all week.
When you’re learning to become a teacher, you start learning about all of these achievement gaps. Every child is fighting a battle with themselves while they are attending school and developing into their own person. Teachers are meant to empower students, and to let them know that they are accepted regardless of race, income or gender. To let them be who they want to be, whatever that is.
There are already so many stigmas surrounding gender that it is important to allow each child to define who they are on their own terms. It may seem trite, and like we’ve been saying this for years, but just because we keep saying it doesn’t mean we’re acting on it and putting it into practice. And we need to, because it’s time we stopped pushing for girls to wear pink and bows in their hair and play in the kitchen when it comes to time to play. If that is what your child wants to do, then let her wear bows and pink and play in the kitchen, but don’t tell a her that she shouldn’t play with the boys who are working with Legos and blocks. And in the same breath, if a boy wants to play in the kitchen with girls, don’t make him think that it isn’t manly or normal. Let your child do that they want to do because they love to do it.
I’m writing this because I want every little girl to be brave. Being brave doesn’t mean that all girls should be police officers or soldiers or firefighters, even though they can if they want to be. Being brave means being unafraid to be whatever she wants to be. If she wants to be a doctor, she will. If she wants to be a CEO, she’ll do it. If she wants to be a senator, she’ll make it happen. Girls need to know that they don’t have to “stay home” while the boys “go out in the wild.” And they also need to know that if they want to stay home, being a mother and a wife takes just as much bravery as any other job. Teach her that there is bravery in having options. Teach her that it is brave to make a choice.
The world is filled with brave women who make fantastic things happen every day, so don’t let their hard work go to waste by limiting a girl who could grow up to be one of those brave women. Instead, teach her about the glass ceiling, and tell her she can break it. Tell her that girls like her need to bust through the limitations society has put in place. Tell her to go out in the wild and be brave.