She Says… Sexism Starts Young

The scene: Owen and I were at his favorite playground on Monday. He was playing more on his own than ever before — racing back and forth on the climber, down the slides, up the climbing wall. I was standing off to the side, watching, smiling at the way his little body climbs so effortlessly and appreciating the joy he exudes just running around. (In short, it was one of those perfect playground days that my hilarious blog-friend Meg wrote about NOT having on the very same day).

He ran down the hill to another play area where two girls (maybe 5 years old?) were running around together. He started running right alongside them, without saying a word, just beaming at them and including himself in their game. It was sweet. I chatted with their parents and we laughed at how social he was. He kept asking me to come play and I encouraged him to play with the other kids while I stayed on the sidelines.

Owen: Mommy! Come run with me!
Me: You go ahead and run with those girls. They are having so much fun.

Little girl (to her friend): Hey! Let’s play hide and seek!
Owen (his face lighting up at the mention of his favorite game): Yeah! Let’s play hide and seek!
The little girls ignore him.
Little girl (to her friend): Ok, I’ll count and you hide over there behind that tree. (Side note: Don’t you love how little kids play hide and seek? Telling you where to hide?)

The girls run away and Owen runs behind them, trying to hide with the one who was hiding. They stop the game and stare at him.

Owen (to me): I want to play!
Me: You can, buddy! Just say, “Can I play with you?”.
Owen (to the girls): Can I play with you? (In the sweetest little singsong voice).
Little girl: No. It’s a girl’s game ONLY.
Owen (still smiling, completely unaware of the message): It’s a what game?
Little girl: GIRL’S GAME. Like, you can’t play. Because you’re a boy.

I watched a confused look come over Owen’s face while the girls ran away, giggling. My heart broke for him. Thankfully he didn’t seem to care all that much, and I quickly took his hand and offered to run with him or push him on the swings. We chatted quickly about how it’s not nice to exclude others in your game, and the girls should have let him play.

Kids are kids. Kids are mean sometimes (intentionally or not). It’s the first of many, many instances of feeling left out, I’m sure. But I just thought we had a few more years of innocent, happy playground time.

Apparently not.

He asked me several more times that night why the girls didn’t let him play. I know he was trying to process what happened and I didn’t have a great answer for him except that sometimes friends just want to play with certain people. Thankfully he bounced back quickly and soon attached himself to an 8 year old boy who was doing all sorts of dangerous jumps off of the climber (so, clearly Owen-the-daredevil’s new personal hero). He jumped right in with “What’s your name” and clapped and laughed at every stunt. On our way out of the playground the 8 year old high-fived Owen and said, “You’re pretty cool. I never would have guessed you’re only 2.”.

So, all in all, those girls didn’t ruin Owen’s day. But they kind of ruined mine.

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16 responses to “She Says… Sexism Starts Young

  1. It’s really a shame how hard life is for a white middle to upper class male growing up in America.

    /endsarcasm

    But seriously, he probably won’t want to play with girls pretty soon so you won’t have to worry about exclusion.

  2. Aww I want to be 2 years old so I can be BFFs with owen!

  3. I’m sure if he were a 2 year old girl, it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s not about being a girl or boy, it’s about the power of exclusion. But yeah, rejection is hard. Also – kids can be funny – how important “how hold are you” becomes a little later. 8 is just SO different than 7. No way can a 7 year old be included when 8 year olds are playing..

  4. Awww!! I had a similar situation where some older kids were excluding my 2.5 year old that totally broke my heart. These girls (probably 4-6 years old) were standing in a circle and my little girl was standing outside the circle just wanting to play along with them. Ugh! Its tough being a mom in these situations! I don’t want to always jump in to save her but its tough to stomach.

  5. What meanies! I have found (even when I was a kid) that girls are more ‘clicky’ than boys. I grew up with boys and was such a Tom boy that I didn’t realise that I wasn’t one until I hit school lol. I found making friends with girls such a shock and came home crying many a night…..it just wasn’t as easy, there were more rules than just rough snd tumble with the boys.

    I have a 6 month old daughter now and whether she is a Tom boy like her mum or a little princess I’m going to make it very clear it’s not ok to exclude….anybody. I just hope she understands. It’s horrible being excluded.

    I’m pleased to say my childhood boy buddy still lives close to me and to this day STILL doesn’t see me as a girl! Lol.

    If anything I think this experience will make Owen an even more compassionate little boy snd perhaps teach others with his sweet ways!

  6. We had a similar situation with older girls- 5 yr old twins at a mall play place who took an interest in our son Owen dragging him around and overly including him in their fun. When a little boy around our son’s age came up and pushed my son. Not hard he was too small to to do it maliciously. The girls started yelling in his face about hurting my son Owen and not playing with them. I felt terrible apologized to the little boy’s mother, prayed she didn’t think they belonged to me, and said- oh we play with everyone. We left not soon after and I was shocked how mean they were. I also wondered where their guardian was.

  7. Angie All The Way

    I have been getting a glimpse of the playground meanies lately too. This is not a stage I am looking forward to because it breaks my heart so much! I dread the day that he stops seeing the world oblivious to all of these things.

  8. The park is one of my dreaded tasks. Other people’s kids are so foreign to me. It’s rare around here that we leave without some sort of mean incident. I was hoping it’s an inner city thing :/

  9. Ugh, I’m sorry, I DREAD the “they don’t want to play with me” thing. Or her participating in it. It’s hard to watch, I’m sure, but I’m glad he rebounded.

    P.S. I am not on twitter but I see your feed on the side and the question about the rocker…we have a Best Storytime Series glider/armchair and it is the best money we spent. It was not cheap, but many a night was spent in that thing and we have moved it over to the nursery and are getting ready to use it with this one. It was our splurge item and has been worth every penny. I found my husband in there sitting in it relaxing the other day because it is that awesome. 🙂

  10. So tough. Sounds like you handled it great though. @Kara, why do you have to be a hater? You are reading a blog about a white, upper middle class family raising toddlers, what problems are you hoping to see examined here?

  11. We just started with the “getting excuded from a play date” thing. That’s super fun. I imagine it is the dress rehearsal for the “not getting invited to the sleepover”
    You tell Owen that Chloe is ready to play all games with him, girl or boy!

  12. It’s hard to know what’s going to happen on the playground. Sometimes we get the kids who come over and ask questions and then sort of latch on and won’t go away, until you start wondering where his/her parents are. Other times my kids are trying to make friends and are ignored or insulted by the bigger kids. Hopefully when Owen gets a little older he’ll be able to roll with it, and his naturally friendly personality will pay off. The anti-boys/anti-girls sentiment is totally a 5+ year-old thing. My kindergartener comes home with stuff he has made at school that say “no girls” or “boys vs. girls” but he’s usually fine one-on-one interacting with girls.

    @Kristen, I certainly don’t speak for Kate or Kara, but I’m pretty sure they are friends and Kara was just joking, not hating.

  13. Ugh, this is the WORST!!! I’m so sorry this happened to Owen! It happened to Ethan with some little girls at his school (who used to play with him when they were 3-4 year olds last year, but now that they’re all 4-5 year olds, they simply can’t play with BOYS). He came home absolutely heartbroken on the first day of school this year that the friends he played with last year didn’t want to play with him this year. Thankfully, things got a whole lot better very quickly, and everyone seems to play together again, but it took him awhile to process the whole thing. And we’ve had a couple of incidents this year of “I don’t want to be your friend anymore” kinds of interactions with other friends – and of course, Ethan keeps it all bottled up in the moment, and then dissolves into tears the second we get home and he tells me all about it. It’s so heartbreaking. And to think, this is only the beginning! Ugh…

  14. @Kara, Ha. Well, for right now, exclusion is exclusion, despite his socioeconomic privilege.

    @Allie, I know! I was all, “I’ll play with you, buddy!”. And then I realized that playing with your mom is NOT what makes you feel better after you get scorned by other kids. So lame.

    @nancy, I’m sure you’re right. And I’m sure the day will come when HE’LL be the one doing the excluding. But oh, it is hard to watch as a parent.

    @Jen, Totally. My first instinct was to say something to the girls’ parents. But before I even opened my mouth I realized: 1. I won’t be able to save him every time this happens, 2. Kids are kids, and there will definitely come a day when he’s on the other side of this. I had to bite my tongue.

    @Kate, I hate to think that it’s “a girl thing” so young, but you might be right.

    @Amy, Ahh! It’s like the “good girls gone bad”. Surprising how cruel kids so young can be. I definitely thought it started later. Boy was I wrong.

    @Angie, I know. We haven’t done much talking about “what’s nice” and “what’s not nice” or “bad people” because I’d rather him live as long as possible thinking that everyone is sweet and kind. But really, those lessons need to be learned. I just don’t want to have to teach them!

    @Melissa, I agree, there’s definitely a weird line when dealing with other peoples’ kids. I try not to interfere, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

    @Beth, Thanks for the rocker tip! I’m off to Google that one now…

    @Kristen, Thank you! I am going to assume that was Kara’s attempt at humor and not a serious dig.

    @Amy, Ooooh, the dreaded sleepover. I’m crossing my fingers this is WAY less traumatic for boys than it is for girls. Because OH! the drama.

    @Julie, I hear you. Owen is usually the one chatting another parent’s ear off and I always feel a little strange. Kids certainly keep us on our toes, eh? And yes, I’m going to assume Kara was joking.

    @Carly, Oh it’s SO sad to watch. And I would imagine even more so when Ethan bottles it up and you can tell how deeply it hurt him. What a sensitive soul.

  15. As the mother of three grown kids I would say you should start worrying when the girls WANT to play with him!

  16. @Olivia, Hahahaha. You are totally right!

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