By SHAWN TAYLOR
You would assume that the playground would be one of the few places where you could just be a father. No stress, just play, laughter, and a sense of community with other parents. But this is rarely the case. Maybe I missed the memo, but most playgrounds seemed to have been designated as either mommy or nanny spaces. Any way you look at it, men are barely tolerated, or even welcomed a majority of the time. The playground is a women’s space.
Going to the playground, especially during the day when men should be at work, is like being in one of those old cowboy flicks. You enter, everyone stops; you get sized up and immediately judged, and then everyone seemingly goes back to doing what she’s doing. (Yes, “she’s.”) But make no mistake, you are being watched. And don’t do anything that does not conform to the park consensus ideas of child rearing, because you will receive a ton of unsolicited advice and feedback. I’ll give you an example.
My daughter is a little rough. She plays hard, laughs loudly, and will take as many risks as she is allowed. There is a ton of personality in her 43 inches. So when she somersaulted off the play structure, a “concerned” mother ran over to me and said, “Oh my god! Are you sure that’s safe for your son to do?”
In my best not-to-scare-White-folks voice, I gently corrected her and informed her that it was my daughter that just did that spectacular flip. “Daughter?” She said. “How can anyone tell? Her ears aren’t pierced, and her hair is all over the place. She has on a superhero T-shirt… how is anyone supposed to know? She doesn’t look like a girl.” I told her that her son looked like a future Columbine kid and walked away.
Her assumption that I didn’t know how to keep my daughter safe did not make me nearly as angry as her “she doesn’t look like a girl” comment. What compels folks—especially in relation to gender—to categorize and force people to conform to how they view the world? My wife and I made a firm decision to not burden our daughter with gender trappings. If she asked for it, we’d pierce her ears, but only if she asked. At the park, she would wear things that wedidn’t mind her destroying. We agreed not to shove her into dresses and shoes she couldn’t play in. You know, we decided to let her be a kid.
And then there’s this: A mom came up to me, tapped my shoulder conspiratorially, and said, “Oooooh, she’s so cute. You better lock her away when she’s old enough to date. You will be in trouble.” Aside from sounding mildly pedophilic, it disturbs me to no end when little boys are called “heartbreakers,” but parents are told their little girls need to be “locked away” like Rapunzel or otherwise removed and protected…
Read the rest of Shawn Taylor’s [Father/Hood] post about the politics of daughters and their bodies on Ebony.com.
1. Just Say “NO” To the Stereotyping of African American Parents and Other Moms and Dads Of Color
2. The Best Ways For Parents To Get Ready For “The Talk”
3. A Recipe For Solid Relationships Between Black Girls and Boys