I’m completely for gender equality with regard to all opportunities, be they in education, sports, work, or any other aspect of life. I believe people should be free to live their lives in a way that reflects them, their thoughts, and feelings. That also means allowing boys and girls to enjoy differences, free from societal and parental interference, which come naturally to many of them.
As I watched our son, his friend, our daughter, and nieces play not long ago I saw a marked difference in their approach to fun. The boys were rowdy, laughing and shouting while wrestling in the water. Their pleasure came from tackling and dunking each other. While the girls laughed and screamed as they dove and pulled each other through the waves, their focus was not on one-upping one another, it was simply a part of the overall game they had created.
There were moments when all the kids joined forces in a big splash fest, but what was obvious, and what Bou explained to me with all the wisdom of a 13 year-old, was that even though girls can occasionally be just as rough and tumble, boys sometimes need to beat the living crap out of each other. In fun.
The marks left over following a challenging day – large, purplish-black bruises on limbs from being pelted by paint balls – become badges of honour for boys. PG isn’t squeamish about bruises, she’s often covered in them from the knees down thanks to an active nature, but she doesn’t show them off with pride. She acknowledges that they are a result of climbing, riding, biking, or jumping, and moves on. Bou; however, proudly displays his marks as proof of his daring.
Until I had a son I didn’t understand that boys have a particular need to express themselves physically that should be encouraged, sometimes guided, but always allowed to manifest itself. What of their safety? I get it, parents worry. But it’s okay for boys to tumble out of trees while daring each other to climb, or to wipeout going over homemade jumps on their bikes.
A few bumps aren’t going to maim them. The scrapes will teach them where their limits lie and allow them to stretch past those and grow. And I’m all for girls doing these things too. I climbed more trees growing up than I can remember and often had my legs and arms covered in cuts and bruises.
We saw mountain bikers racing down the side of Whistler Mountain a few summers ago. After seeing those displays of mad guts Bou was eager to push his own boundaries. Since then D and I have seen a difference in his willingness to try new things. Not a bad lesson.
If we were to curtail his jump building Bou would learn to stay comfortably ensconced in a narrow zone. That doesn’t sit well with us. PG is also learning to push her boundaries. She already does it on horseback and after being inspired by Canadian gold medal skier Ashleigh McIvor, she hit the slopes. These sports are physically demanding for a child who looks like a delicate sprite, but for PG pushing herself physically is also a mental challenge as she overcomes inherent shyness when in front of people.
What riles me is the trend in some media outlets, and within certain groups, to paint our kids grey so that they’ll all be the same. As if sameness were something to celebrate. It reminds me of the bland world of The Giver by Lois Lowry. A homogenous society is a slippery slope towards conformity and rejection of differences. That’s not a good place for anyone to live.
Please let our boys be daredevils if they choose to be. And our girls too, just don’t force it if that’s not how they’re wired. We need to tone down our restraints. Children aren’t dolls to be sat prettily in a corner waiting to be placed and moved the way adults see fit.