“Hey! Ladies first!” the mom yelled at the boy.
We were on the playground, and her 3-year-old son was crowding my 4-year-old daughter at the bottom of a ladder. Nothing big, just two kids nudging each other out of the way, jockeying for position. But the mom’s words caused me to snap to attention. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard “ladies first.” I momentarily wondered what decade we were in.
Her son knew what to do. He moved aside, and my daughter stepped past him. She climbed the ladder with a big smile on her face, and the boy went up a few moments later.
And you know what? I didn’t like it.
For one thing, when there’s a minor playground conflict like this one, I prefer to give the kids a moment or two to work it out on their own before I step in. And maybe if it were two boys, this mom would have stood by and said nothing. That leads to the bigger reason: I didn’t see the need to bring gender into it. Sure, my kid is a girl. Sure, the other kid was a boy. But so what?
Like every other parent, I’m always trying to teach my kids to take turns and share. Be considerate of others and give people their space, I tell them. Now, here was my daughter, sauntering in front of this other kid, getting special treatment. All because this mom—who I’m sure meant well and is just another parent trying to teach her kid to be considerate—told her son “ladies first.”
Don’t get me wrong: With the poor treatment and injustice women face daily, I understand the importance of teaching boys to respect girls, and I would never discourage a parent from doing so. Still, I don’t want my daughter to think she’s exempt from sharing just because she’s a girl. She needs to follow the playground rules the same as anyone else.
Maybe more importantly, I don’t want anyone telling her she needs a boy to step out of the way or open a door for her or lay his cloak in the mud like some 19th-century nobleman. There’s no weakness in my daughter. She can open her own doors, and she can stand up for herself when someone’s in her way. She’s tough and bold, and I don’t want anyone suggesting she’s not.
I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill here. I don’t know who started the “ladies first” thing, and I guess I don’t really care. I just wonder where it fits in our world today, when we all should be striving for gender equality. If we operate on the premise that everyone is equal, we can still teach boys to respect girls, but we can make them understand that it’s because everyone deserves respect, not just one gender or another.
Maybe we, as parents, can frame it in a way that leaves gender out of it. Maybe “others first” is better. Or “be nice.” Or “respect your friends’ space.” Or “please share.” We can give our kids the tools to build a world in which we all show each other kindness.
My daughter doesn’t need “ladies first,” thank you very much. Just treat her with respect. Not because she’s a girl, but because she’s a person.