At first glance this must seem like a crazy idea, but hear me out. The other day, during this long, hot summer, my wife was with two of our boys (ages 3 and 6) at the pool at our health club. During the adult swim our boys, along with another boy they had befriended, were in the kiddie pool shooting each other with water pistols. They were having a great time, and no one else was getting shot (one of our rules being that if a civilian gets hit the shooter loses his gun). Then a seven or eight-year-old girl entered the scene. She came from across the kiddie pool, well away from the action.
“Excuse me,” the girl peremptorily told my wife, “those boys can’t play with guns.”
The three boys overheard the “can’t play” combined with “guns” and were put on the alert, taken aback by the authority of the command. She did not look like a lifeguard and was certainly not a mother. But the rule seemed so plausible and was conveyed with such conviction that it must be legitimate. My wife took up their cause.
“Did these boys shoot you?”
“Well, then, they’re playing with guns, and that’s what boys do.”
“But they’re not allowed to play with guns,” the girl insisted, not without an air of self-righteousness.
“As I said, these boys are playing with guns because that’s what boys do. If they do not shoot you, then it is really none of your concern.”
Rebuffed, the girl did what little girls do when they meet resistance: pranced off to tell her mother. Fortunately, the mother (who got an earful from her daughter) had sense and grace enough to come apologize for her daughter’s behavior, explaining that at the girl’s school no guns are allowed, not even on the playground. My wife accepted the apology but did not allow the stupidity and injustice of the school’s rule to pass unnoticed.
“You realize that what boys like to do is play with guns. If you take their guns away, they will make guns out of their fingers or any stick they find.” Maybe the information will come in handy if the mother ever has a son.
When my wife got home she was still incensed, not at this mother nor at the little girl (who is a product of her environment) but at the New Double Standard. What boys do—when they are acting like boys—is bad. What girls do is good.
“When do girls ever get in trouble for anything—like tattling, for instance?” my wife asked. “It’s always ‘boys can’t do this, and boys can’t do that.’ The schools are turning boys into wimps and girls into officious, persnickety narcs who think they are superior to boys in every way. And the boys who have any spirit are branded troublemakers.”
My wife’s solution? She wants to ban pink on school playgrounds or anywhere else boys are not allowed to have guns during their free play.
Do you think she is overreacting, this woman who delighted in wearing pink as a girl and just bought a whole array of little pink outfits for our first daughter? As the proud mother of three boys, she finds that she must defend their boyishness, and boyishness in general, at every turn. For example, once in church we were being asked to give to a toys-for-tots program around Christmas. The preacher cautioned us, “though we ask you not to donate any toy guns or knives or toy soldiers, please.” Really? That’s going to be some Christmas for the boys who get to watch their sisters delight in dolls while they are stuck with those stupid electronic mice that move along the floor. (As a matter of doctrine, whatever happened to the line, “I come to bring not peace, but the sword”?) Similarly, a brochure at our pediatrician’s office put out by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment warned parents: “Avoid toy guns and shooting aimed at people.” That advice preceded “Do not give popcorn. Do not give whole nuts, hot dogs . . . without finely chopping and providing careful supervision until 6 years of age” and “Never leave unsupervised around water.” In other words, your boys’ playing with guns is every bit as unhealthy as choking to death and drowning. All across the nation, boys are being told, “No guns, no fighting (what used to be called roughhousing), no fun.” And girls? What are they being told “no” about?
Do not imagine there is no hidden agenda in these “no guns, no tolerance” policies. The sweet Miss So-and-So who claims to be your child’s teacher and tells you that the school and her class in particular do not allow guns or fighting (roughhousing) on the playground because “those behaviors only lead to violence” is the same agent of bad psychology who will tell you that you need to dope up your son on Ritalin because she cannot control his boisterousness in her classroom. And why is he so boisterous in her classroom? First, because he is a boy. Second, because she is not teaching him anything. And his nature does not allow him to sit still and color and play at crafts all day long as his classmates wearing pink are perfectly happy to do.
So let’s get rid of the New Double Standard—everything girlish good, everything boyish bad. If we can’t have guns, then let’s ban pink. If guns are the manifestation and symbol of everything that is bad about boys, then pink is the manifestation and symbol of everything that is bad about girls. Just reflect a moment.
Have girls and women used pink only for the public good? Has no woman resorted to feminine adornment to lure men into doing things they shouldn’t? What’s the world’s oldest profession? How many home-wreckers (as they used to be called) have put on pink before enticing a man into betrayal? Have girls and women never done bad things in order to get their hands on pink? How many beauty contestants have we heard of who have gotten kicked out of competitions because they have a record of shoplifting? We are told ad nauseam that boys and men have problems with aggression. When are we ever told that girls and women have problems with adornment and materialism? Do girls and women not make pink the cause of antagonism and hostility? “Can you believe she’s wearing that color with those shoes?” So says every imperious Nellie who has naturally pink cheeks and wears pink ribbons in her hair and who makes her clique into the ruling class of the school, casting other girls into the Dungeon of Unpopularity. Isn’t PINK the word today’s women (of all ages) have posted on their posteriors, drawing much more attention to that part of their anatomy than is often warranted? Behind every seduction, behind every subtle snatch in a store, behind every snarky comment, behind every skanky intention, there it is: the color pink. Let’s get rid of it.
The truth is there is something disordered about both the male and the female sexes. There is also something potentially noble about both the male and the female sexes. The purpose of schools (and the culture at large) is to take boys and girls as they come to us from God and nature—and to cultivate and discipline their natural tendencies. Men are the aggressive sex. Women are the adorning sex. To outlaw either aggression or adornment—wholesale—is to outlaw nature. The education that follows “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God” is the one that cultivates and disciplines boys’ innate desire for action and heroism as well as girls’ innate sense of propriety and beauty. To neglect one of these courses results in the development of only one half of humanity. Or worse, it sets one half of humanity against the other half, just as the officious little girl at the pool tried to vaunt herself over three boys who had no use for her school’s silly rules.
To put it another way, if we take away boys’ guns—and the spiritedness they show in their desire to play with guns—then who exactly is going to defend girls’ right to wear pink? “Absurd!” you say? Think again. Just how many girls and women do you see wearing pink on the streets of Tehran?