I noticed a story circling around Facebook that described how a father broke down his son while waiting in line at a supermarket by screaming at him to be quiet. It reminded me of an incident I witnessed this past fall while my husband and I took our daughter to the city park.
It was a beautiful fall day, and we wanted to take advantage of the fleeting season, so we decided to pack up our 6-month-old and head to the picturesque park just a short drive from home.
City Park is a nature epicenter rife with childhood memories. I clearly remember swirling around the merri-go-round, clambering up the jungle gym and swinging on the swings when I was little. The small wading pool served as a convenient cool down spot where I frequented as a child. I still make several trips to the park to this day, particularly for the city’s music in the park series, where local bands and musicians take the stage to perform for a small crowd of people. Local groups serve pie and ice cream and people orderly line up their lawn chairs for an evening of entertainment. My husband and I were married here. Needless to say, the place has beautiful memories – old and new.
Autumn is particularly beautiful at City Park. The massive old maple trees make a stunning scene, especially when their leaves are colored for the season. So I felt happy to take my daughter here, wanting her to breathe in the autumn scents, take in the pretty trees and have some fun of her own on the swings.
We were swinging away when a man on a scooter came cruising through the grass with his son, who was maybe 7 or 8. Huh, I thought, maybe the kid should be wearing a helmet and they definitely shouldn’t be driving through the park, but at least they’re here, together, enjoying this beautiful fall day just like we are.
The dad reminded his son that they only had a few minutes to play, that the boy’s mother was home making dinner and they had to get back in time. That’s nice, I thought, a short playtime excursion before supper.
His son quickly headed for one of the most fun toys in the park, some sort of teetering spinner, where you stand on a small platform, hold on for dear life, and spin around and around until dizziness prevails and you have to jump off. The kid was having an absolute blast, he was squealing with glee, a vocal expression of his unadulterated joy.
Just as soon as those innocent shrieks left his body, his father yelled at him to “stop screaming like a girl!” The child was stifled for a few seconds, but as soon as he started spinning again, those gleeful shrieks made a return. “Stop it, you sound like a girl! Quit screaming like a girl,” his dad again scolded him.
This is where my heart hurt. This child, who is only being his true self, is being shut down by the person who should be encouraging him to express himself and feel the joy that we are lucky to experience. Even more disturbingly, he’s being conditioned that girls are weak and that if he “sounds like a girl,” or has any likeness to a girl that there is something wrong with him.
This is just like a father telling his son that he can’t play with dolls or wear a dress or a mom telling her daughter that girls don’t play with trucks and should wear a bow in their hair. Boys and girls are different, no question. But can we please stop teaching our children that girls are the weaker sex? Why is it that tomboys are cute, but a boy who dons a dress is a disgrace?
Even our language is severely male-centric and misogynistic. Think of the words used for weakness – I won’t write them because of their vulgarity – but think female body parts. On the contrary, words used for strength mirror male body parts.
Back at the park, I fought the urge to say something. Another one bites the dust, but it’s not really my business, I reasoned. The dad and son played for a few more minutes, hopped onto their scooter, and were gone. They had to be back in time for dinner, after all.
After they’d left, I lamented to my husband, who had been oblivious to the entire scenario. He’s used to my gender equality rants, but I still take every opportunity to preach when I see living examples in front of my eyes. He agreed that it was wrong for the dad to stifle his boy and perpetuate the idea that girls are weak. I’m glad he sees it, I just wish all of us would.