What Makes Games ‘Girl Games’?
When my daughter was five, we had a group of her girl friends and their moms over for lunch. While I was walking through the dining room, I overheard the little girls discussing a friend of theirs.
“He likes Rainbow Magic Fairies!”
“I know. How silly—he’s a boy!”
Without thinking I stopped in my tracks and said, “You all like fairies, and football, and climbing trees, right? So why can’t he like whatever he wants? Girls and boys can do whatever they like, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.” I got a few encouraging smiles from the other moms, shrugs from the girls, and the lunch moved on.
Still, I was struck by how solidly stereotypical girl and boy identities had become embedded in our children and at such a young age. Why did these little girls think that fairies were girl games? I started paying more attention. There were times after this exchange that I found myself admonishing my daughter to, “Sit like a lady.” She, in her usual deadpan style, answered, “So if I was a boy, I could slouch and put my feet up?” My husband and I laughed at this at the time, but it made me consider just how much we influence our children.
When I was growing up, I played kickball, rode bikes, and played dress up. I would play dolls with the boys in my daycare; boys could always be depended upon to “play house.” There were even a few boys in my ballet classes. While I’m certain the adults had some idea of the partiality of girls versus boys to these activities, I don’t really remember us children having much concept of what constituted boy or girl games.
However, I have found the idea that some activities, colours, or interests belong to either girls or boys remains a pervasive one in today’s culture. Even some bookstores have separate boy/girl sections! None of us want to think we are limiting our children in any way, but by categorizing our children’s behaviors and interests as either boy or girl, we could be cutting them off from exploring and learning new things.
These days, my daughter or her girl friends will often proudly describe themselves as, “A girl who does sports and reads lots of boy books, but I like to cook too.” While I make sure to praise them for their openness to all activities, I also try to respond with a, “Remember, there is no such thing as a boy or girl book, and cooking and sports are meant for everyone.” And now instead of asking my daughter to sit like a lady, I instead just remind her not to slouch.
While there may always be some natural differences in girls’ and boys’ interests, when adults begin to label activities or interests as one or the other, we encourage those gender stereotypes and give them more authority than they should have. We live in a society that is still gender-segregated, and assigning games, books, colours, and behaviors to little boys versus little girls only strengthens this segregation. We all want our girls and boys to grow up to be strong and nurturing, capable and caring. Perhaps by allowing our children’s games, ideas, and interests to stand alone, without a label, we can help them to meet those goals.