Family legend has it that when I was a baby, before I could even hold a spoon properly, I refused to let other people feed me. I guess I’ve never lost that mentality. When I was a toddler, my mantra was “DO IT SELF!” Whenever adults would try to do things for me, I would fight them off, often with tantrums and tears. I still refuse help (sometimes unkindly) when I need it. I’m working on that. I’ve grown into a more polite “I’ve got it, thanks.” Most of the time, anyway. But I am damn proud of my sassy toddler self; my extreme and usually unpleasant self-determination as a kid might have fought off some shitty socialization.
Girls and boys are socialized differently. Very differently. One of the most crucial differences is adult (male and female alike) intervention in problem solving. When a girl is having trouble doing a task or solving a problem, adults are much more likely to step in and do it for her. With a boy, adults are more likely to encourage him to keep trying and search for his own solution. (I can find this cite sometime if people are want it.) But I think it goes a lot deeper than that. Maybe they never even give the girl the task in the first place. Maybe they never teach her how to do it. Maybe they tell her that she isn’t doing it right/well/good enough without saying how to do it better. Maybe they tell her she shouldn’t bother. Maybe they say this is someone else’s job instead.
This is shitty. I can’t even begin to explain the number of ways that this is shitty.
I like to think of Girl Scouts as a place that counteracts this sort of socialization. Camp is really a place where girls learn that they really can do things for themselves. If they don’t do it, then it just won’t get done. Some of the most frowned upon phrases spoken between counselors are things like “I heard she cooked everything at cook out.” The underlying sentiment is that this counselor isn’t encouraging her girls to do things for themselves, to learn, to make mistakes and grow. I understand. It is way easier to just do something that needs to be done rather than take the patience to teach a small one how to do it. But it’s a short cut. It’s the lazy way out. And it screws kids over in the process. I can’t stress enough how important it is to do things with a girl instead of for her.
Girl Scout camp is an intense women’s space. We run that place. Apart from the ranger, you might not see a man on camp the whole week. I just finished a special session called He & Me where dads (or uncles or step-dads or what have you) come with their girl campers for the weekend. It is super precious, but also complicated, especially for staff with not-so-good dad things going on in their own lives. It is really interesting to see all these men in our women’s space. We run a tightly packed schedule full of outdoorsy activities. They maintain power in an unhabitual environment by joking around with staff in an aggressive/flirtatious way. Men have no idea how the atmosphere of a women’s space changes when they enter it. (“I would love to swim, I’m just so uncomfortable.”) I found myself wanting to appear strong and in control.
I am so glad that these dads are spending time with their daughters, especially in this kind of setting, but this weekend was fraught with exactly the type of adult intervention that I discussed above. It makes me so, so grateful that on all other occasions campers come to camp alone. Dads would sit in the back of canoes and control them forcefully, invisible to their little daughters who splashed the paddles somewhat aimlessly in front of them. These dads would rather go fast than slow to their girl’s pace in order to teach them. They grabbed their daughters limbs to slather sunscreen on their bodies rather than handing them the bottle. Little things like this, constantly.
Parents, educators, mentors:
Please, please, please, let her do it for herself.
This is so important. And so much of it is unconscious. I don’t want to disparage my parents—they’re wonderfully supportive and would have encouraged my independence in any activity. But at the same time, they never taught me how to change a tire. They would forcefully reject the idea that a girl doesn’t need to learn to change a tire for herself, yet I can’t help but doubt I would have missed that lesson if I’d been a boy.
Instead I learned to change a tire earlier this year from a stranger in an Anal Cunt T-shirt who said his name was Cooter like the mechanic from Dukes of Hazzard. I’d had a blowout in the middle of a major intersection and was pulled over waiting for AAA when he happened by and offered to help. He said, “Your dad never taught you to change a tire? Really?” and I wanted to say, yeah, that’s kind of how it works. Instead I asked if he’d teach me.
Turns out it’s easy. But first I’d had to stifle my own learned impulse to let things—especially “boy things”—be done for me. And if we want to avoid teaching our daughters the same thing, it’s going to require a conscious effort.
Petula Dvorak, “Transgender at Five,” WaPo
Trans kids: they make perfect sense because gender essentialism! Siiiiigh.