I was a bit thrown by a comment made during a small group discussion today. I’ll try to replicate the conversation. Of course the names have been changed to protect the growing identities of our young social scientists. Let’s call them Marcella and Hildegarde. The two children were discussing the action in a plot they were creating.
Hildegard: The boys can go out and do hard work and build. And the girls can have tea parties.
Mrs. Forst: Girls can build and boys can go to tea parties.
(The two children laugh at my comment.)
Marcella: (scoffs) Princesses can’t build. They NEVER get dirty.
Mrs. Forst: What if they want to go milk the cows.
Marcella: (aghast) They don’t do that! That’s what villagers do!
Mrs. Forst: What if she puts on work clothes so she can go do some work?
Marcella: She can’t dress like a villager. That would be hideous. They [princesses] never wear “ragedy” clothes.
The conversation that followed included Marcella’s definition for “ragedy” (torn and ripped up and dirty) and an emphatic group agreement that princesses would never do actual work. I countered with a few questions. If a princess has to stay clean and fancy all of the time, does she ever get to have any fun? At some point Marcella and Hildegarde identified themselves as villagers. I asked them if they ever wore “ragedy” clothes. Of course, the answer was a resounding “No!” Being five years old, they didn’t notice the gap in their logic.
Next, we had a political discussion:
Hildegarde: It doesn’t really matter, because the villagers are in charge of the whole kingdom.
Mrs. Forst: Why is there a princess, then?
Hildegarde: (exasperated) All castles have princesses.
In our class, we are encouraging all of the children to explore many different roles as they play. We want them to know that all options are open for princesses, princes and villagers. Women build things. Men design dresses. Girls design computer software and enforce laws. Boys sing and create dazzling culinary feasts. Humans create. Princesses are not made of glass. They can get dirty. They can wear work clothes (without any rips and holes) and they should never be forced to stay in the tower, segregated from the rest of the world.