I enjoy my adventures in volunteering at the local elementary school. Recently, as I walked the halls and past a bench known to be the time out zone for wiggly kids I couldn't help but pay attention to a young boy -- maybe 1st grade -- who was wailing, or yodeling, or some such nonsense that he thought was musical and appropriate. It was neither.
When I got to him and knew he was looking at me I said, "You have a beautiful voice."
I said it with sweetness and sincerity. Because while I knew it was annoying everyone, myself included, I also knew he just wanted to be noticed.
His face instantly shaded over and he stared me down with genuine disgust. He folded his arms and crossly grumbled, "I am not a girl!"
So I paused for a beat, I had no idea what his reaction was meant to clarify.
It was so shockingly rude and tart I no longer felt sure I knew his developmental acuity. In a moment I thought he might be strange enough to think that because I was a woman I was only allowed to speak to girls. But then it struck me.
I actually gasped and responded in a sorrowful simper, "Oh sweatheart, beauty does not only belong to girls."
The more I contemplate this random and basically anonymous interaction the more it affects me. There are so many gross layers to his response.
First, what is the environment that developed a small boy who would speak to a well-meaning adult as if I were a feral dog?
More disturbing still, why was he taught to associate the adjective "beauty" as feminine?
And sickening in every way, what is so offensive about girls anyway?!?!?
When will the world get over itself? Are we not educated enough? Advanced enough? What good is our progress if we still equip our babies with gender-normative stereotypes that generate sadness? When will we learn that "beauty" does not belong to women. Just as "smart" does not belong to men.
Compliments are compliments. Please teach your children to accept kindness with kindness. Please teach your children to mind their manners. Please teach your children that men and women are valuable, and beautiful, and smart, and allowed to live alongside each other.
Beauty does not belong to girls. Beauty is not owned by anyone. Beauty sadly dissipates under the angry eyes of a misguided, fiercely misinformed 6-year-old. Beauty is both fragile and ready to come back with flourish.