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Group of girls jumping in the living room

Girls Can Jump, Too

Some mornings, Keira watches nursery rhymes on YouTube while she eats her breakfast. The other day, as we were watching one of the many adaptations of “Monkeys on the Bed,” Keira turned to me and said, “Daddy, there aren’t any girl monkeys.” Now usually when I hear this song, at least one of the ill-fated monkeys is female, but this version depicted only male characters. Recently, she has become more aware of gender differences, often pointing out how many boys and girls are in the room. I was surprised that she was observant enough to be able to pick it out of a cartoon. At her age, she’s not quite aware of the implications, but it’s interesting that she is already able to notice.

Whenever I give presentations about healthy masculinity in boys, I talk about how socialization begins at an early age and messages are inserted into elements that we feel are harmless. Boys are sent messages about masculinity, and girls are sent messages about the role that women should play in society. As I further studied “Monkeys on the Bed,” I realized that the typical depiction is of at least three or four male rough-housing monkeys, the mother being the caretaker, and the doctor usually being a man. It may seem silly to some, but these portrayals send messages to our children.

Keira’s statement led me to cycle through nursery rhymes and fairy tales to try to determine the roles that the female characters play in each. I already knew that most versions of “Wheels on the Bus” depict the mother in the caretaker role. Same goes for “Three Little Kittens” and “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” Fairy tales often show the female characters as weak and needing to be rescued. These messages are quite consistent, but appear so minor that we may mistakenly diminish the impact they are having on our kids. Whenever children start to notice difference, it is not long before they start to assign value to these things, whether it’s gender, race, religion, ability, etc.

Keira’s observation reminds me that she’s at an age now where she is noticing difference in herself and others. It is also a reminder to be more mindful about what she sees and hears. I have no plans to shelter her from all nursery rhymes and fairy tales, but I make sure to add commentary or change up the lyrics sometimes. My response to Keira that day was, “There aren’t, huh? Girls can jump on the bed too if they want, right?” She agreed and kept watching her show. Sounds simple, but it helps her understand that her gender doesn’t define what her role in society should be.

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Mylemarks, an online company that develops social-emotional resources to use with kids and teens. Through that company, he creates content such as digital downloads, workbooks, and children’s books. He’s an adjunct professor in the Human Services department at Old Dominion University, and serves as the Fatherhood Consultant for CHKD’s Dads in Action program. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, cooking, and listening to music.