I witnessed a touching moment today. The children were playing cops and robbers. Part of the game involves a bit of wrestling, as the cops (usually the girls) arrest and take the robbers (invariably the boys) to jail. Mostly it’s just a game of chase, and the wrestling is more playful than outright physical competition. But today one little boy (he’s six) felt like provoking more than fleeing, and he seemed to relish the fact that he could dominate the girls. “Come on, girls!” he kept taunting, “try to get me!” I watched him lock arms several times with girls considerably smaller and younger than him, wrestle them to the ground and run off.
I watched carefully and I would have stepped in if the play grew unhealthy, but it remained safe. The girls stood up and smiled. They weren’t being hurt and they seemed to enjoy the struggle even if they didn’t come out on top. Rough and tumble games like these are vital for children, and girls so often lack this sort of play because a loving adult like me steps in to protect them. The result is insidious, perpetuating the message that they can’t do it for themselves. So, as long as no one was getting hurt or saying “stop,” I let the game go on.
After several bouts like this, the other children running back and forth and giggling, the same little boy locked arms with yet another girl. She is also six, and I knew that her strength was a better match. She also happens to be my daughter. As the two wrestled, something really precious happened. Not only did my daughter feel her own strength and smile, but the little boy, surprised by the competition, smiled back. “Wow,” he said after the match turned draw, “you’re really strong.” It was as if he recognized for the first time ever that a girl could be as strong as a boy. And it didn’t provoke outrage or shame. It provoked joy.
Some men go their entire lives without experiencing this. It's time to change that.