Raising Trouble: A Little Romance
It's a common impasse when a little boy and a little girl – both four years old – play together. Rosa wants to play wedding, and Ivan, having no idea what a wedding is, would rather play with trucks.
On this occasion, Rosa's solution is brilliant: they will put on a play of "Beauty and the Beast." She wonders if I have a scary beast costume. I do, as a matter of fact. I've got a glittery dress for her to wear, too. She is thrilled, and gets busy stage-managing.
But why are little girls so obsessed by weddings? Why are they always proclaiming themselves "in love" with their male friends? My six-year-old niece, Ruby, whose friends are mostly boys, partly because of her interests (diggers, trains, running around on the playground), is obsessed with love and always has a crush these days.
It seems understandable that kids would fantasize about an often delightful aspect of adult life, but what's jarring is the enduring gender disparity: most little boys barely seem curious about romance, and especially not weddings. (Not incurious about sex, however – about which more later.) Ivan's an incorrigible gossip, so he always wants to know which adults are married to each other, boyfriend and girlfriend, or girlfriend and girlfriend, but he's got zero plans for his own wedding.
Of course, girls are encouraged in this direction – just look at the way "flower girl" outfits are made to look like little bridal costumes. And by the countless strangers who will say, of a six-month-old baby girl, "Oooh, she's a little flirt, isn't she?" But reading that fabulous Geena Davis Institute report I wrote about the other day, it seems clear that kids' entertainment is also to blame. Though (good news), very few kids' movies examined in the report featured the "damsel in distress" theme, the researchers also found that far too many girl characters had no aspirations beyond romance, or (worse): saw their aspirations eclipsed by romance.
The play was perfect. Ivan/Beast staggered around roaring, while Rosa/Beauty tried to organize him into a wedding ceremony. Since they were using his toy kitchen as a stage set, they then cooked an elaborate meal for the audience/grownup guests. The plastic fruits and imaginary cake were delicious, much better than the catered chicken you'd get at a real wedding.
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