BEGINNING OUR SEARCH
A NEW LOGIC OF GIRLS' LIVES
"We have to look beyond patriarchy, that's for sure. But, you know, it's starting to be that we also have to look beyond feminism too. Our daughters' lives are limited by both theories."
-- Gail Reid-Gurian, mother of two girls and family therapist
On a sunny day in June, I took my daughters to Manito Park, our neighborhood play area. Gabrielle was seven and Davita four. Beyond the normal swings and slides, the girls always enjoyed a sculpture there, built from logs and shaped like a Viking ship. On this particular day, we arrived early, and the girls, who had brought some of their stuffed animals, began to play a game involving two mothers caring for children on an ocean voyage. I offered to be part of the game if they wanted me, but then, as they enjoyed their "girl world" without me, I settled into a book on a bench at the periphery.
Their play went comfortably, filled with creative ideas and adjustments, in that way girls have with each other. They could have gone on happily, alone together, until they got hungry for lunch. But a car pulled up, and out stepped a mom and two boys, around five and eight years old. The mom and I waved as strangers do in parks when the sweet energy of children is about. Her two sons dashed onto the ship loudly. I watched, fascinated at first, then disquieted.
The complex game Gabrielle and Davita had created was interrupted by the louder and more aggressive energy of the boys. Within seconds, my girls abandoned their game and took to observing the boys' action and cries. "I'm captain now!"
"Shoot the shark!"
Watching this usurpation of my girls' play-world, I felt a growing irritation. I thought sadly of how often this happened between boys and girls.
There it is, I thought. What we are so often warned about: that when the boys come around, the girls step aside. The girls' self-esteem drops and the boys take over.
My protective instincts for my girls rose even while I harbored no ill will toward the boys, who were, after all, just enjoying the world through their own way of being. I felt almost like a crime was being committed to my daughters. I felt like I should do something.
A professional student of human nature, I spend a lot of time observing children's behavior. When I'm not sure what to do, I fall back on watching. On this morning I did just that. And I learned a valuable lesson.
For about five minutes, my daughters tried to return to their game. This became impossible, given the noise and interruptions. Then Gabrielle said something to the older of the boys, made some suggestions, began a negotiation I couldn't hear from my bench. The boys slowed down a little, listened, talked in the midst of their bouncing and playing. Gabrielle, as the alpha female on the ship, seemed to talk mostly to the older boy, the alpha male. She pointed; he pointed. She told Davita to move one of the dolls over to where he was, and he instructed his little brother to take hold of it and prop it up on the aft rim of the ship.
Within ten minutes from the boys' arrival, the "set" was rearranged. Now the four children were in a group near the helm of the ship, each of them with a different job, and all of them engaged in some new game, even more rich and complex than had been my daughters' or the boys' original intentions for play, this one featuring princesses, giants, pirates, treasures, and, I found out later from Davita, Cinderella's lost shoes.
My disquiet, my irritation, even my hidden anger were replaced now by admiration. As so often happens in the world of children, something small was really something large. The kids were living out their nature wholeheartedly, and it was worth a lot to observe it at work.
Copyright © 2002 by Michael Gurian
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