There are a lot of throwaway comments that have ‘gender issues’. ‘Boys will be boys’ is a classic – used to explain all kinds of behavior from a love of toys cars to sexual harassment.
Today, however, I was present during a conversation when a concerned mother asked a pre-school teacher for advice. Her 4 year old son had some playmates who had recently become interested in pretending to use guns (using props if no toy guns were around). The son was not showing any interest in this sort of play, and the mother was concerned that he would lose friends if he didn’t play these sorts of games.
Initially the teacher’s advice adhered to relatively uncontentious lines.
‘Children with older siblings tend to play these kinds of games earlier.’
‘If there is play involving guns, there should be rules, e.g. no pretending to shoot other children.’
And then….this gem appeared…
‘If he doesn’t want to play with guns, you can encourage him to play with girls instead.’
What? What? Do all 4 year old boys role play with guns? Do girls never role play with guns? Is it that unusual to have a boy that is not interested in this sort of play?
Those are, of course, rhetorical questions. This shocking piece of advice was based on the same tired old stereotypes we see over and over again.
But also, it does not offer comfort (‘your child is strange for not conforming to a stereotype’) nor practical (‘there no other things, or boys, to play with’). For someone in a position of authority, it is, quite frankly, outrageous.
I’m no teacher, but off the top of my head I can think of these solutions that the teacher could have offered:
– If you are hosting a playdate, put out other toys that the children can play with.
– If you’re not comfortable with gun play, do not allow it in your house.
– If you are ok with gun play but have younger children who you do not want exposed to it, limit gun play to certain areas / times.
And perhaps most importantly:
– Gun play is not universal and not the foundation of all friendships. Your son will be absolutely fine.