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Today’s Lesson: Girls Rule, Boys Drool


Aug 18 2014
The difference between playground chatter and harmful messages.

Girls go to college to get more knowledge / Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider. My 10-year-old daughter belted out these words one evening this summer during a game of backyard volleyball. As the sing-songy rhythm floated in the twilight, I found myself smiling—at her enthusiasm, at the simplicity of childhood, and at the memories her little ditty conjured up.

In many ways, her song was also apropos to the moment. After all, we had teamed up boys vs. girls, with Daddy and brothers facing off against Mommy and sister. It was a classic battle of the sexes, a Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs kind of moment. I really was more amused than upset when I heard it, but when I asked her where she’d learned it, she replied, “At school.”

Those of us who spent any time on an elementary school playground probably learned similar rhymes. And if you don’t remember them, all you need to do is walk through the children’s department of any retail store to catch up.

Only days before my daughter’s serenade, I saw a notebook in Target’s back-to-school catalog emblazoned with the words, “Girls Rule. Boys Drool. Any Questions?”

It’s easy to pass off such phrases as the natural prevue of childhood. After all, who among us didn’t enjoy a good came of “cooties” in second grade? At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d feel if the genders had been reversed—If the notebook had read, “Boys Rule. Girls Drool. Any Questions?” In a day when companies are increasingly aware of the power of the messages we send women and girls, why don’t we believe that messages like this one are equally powerful?

Much ado about nothing?

To be fair, the differences between men and women are a time-tested source of comedy. Whether it’s the playful banter between Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing or the recent off-the-cuff remark by the First Lady that “women are smarter than men,” we use humor as a way to make sense of the differences between us. We joke about men’s inability to multi-task or their resistance to asking for directions. And men laugh about women’s talkativeness and their obsession with whether or not they look fat.

As harmless as it is to poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of gender, the problem comes when we allow the differences between classes to overtake the individual or when the attributes we assign are downright false. (Case in point: boys do NOT go to Jupiter to get more stupider.) While we adults may be able to sort through false messages, children can’t always do this as easily—especially when adults seem to be affirming and promoting them.

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