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Philosophical Meanderings

All Hail the Rambunctious Girls – What Will Ever Come of Them?

“Mommy, mommy help….” Thea is hiding in the house and has managed to get herself stuck.  I free her and off she runs; things to do, mommy, things to do.  I look at my little girl, the picture of energy, rambunctiousness, and vitality and I wonder what will school do to her?

At her daycare now she is one of few girls.  She plays with the boys, which suits her perfectly as she likes to climb, explore, and run around.  She also likes to read books and play with dolls but only sometimes.  Most of the time she is on the go, unstoppable, invincible and always headed for adventure.  She is not good at sitting still and being spoken to yet.  She sometimes wants to help but it does not come natural to her. And yet in two years when she enters school she is expected to embrace quietness, helpfulness, and eagerness to please much like any other girl in our society.  And if she doesn’t, she will be flagged.

We speak of how our school system fails boys, much like Josh Stumpenhorst just did in his excellent post, and yet we forget that by making these statements we push girls into the subservient roles we expect of them.  Our traditional classrooms call for quiet compliance and buy-in to whatever we propose.  Girls are trained quicker to fit this pattern than boys.  From an early age society expects girls to be selective with their words, complacent, and eager to help others.  We expect them to do their homework on time, to do whatever we ask of them and to give us whatever we need.  We don’t think girls will mind when we take away recess, or when we suggest quiet reading time rather than an activity.  We don’t think girls will mind always being the ones we ask for help, mind that they are the ones tasked with mothering other students, mind that we have them so far squeezed into a role that we do  not understand when they fight it.

And yet, Thea is not that girl, and I love her for it.  I see myself in her and I see her personality as a great thing.  She is not one to be quiet, she is nice yes, but she would rather be outside than sit and wait for someone to tell her what to do.  She has ideas, grand ones, filled with ambitious building and tearing down.  There is no plan, she is not meticulous in her details and perhaps she never will be.  How will she fit into the traditional role of a girl?  How will she cope with the pressures to conform that we all place on her.  Boys are not ever viewed as being naughty when they are loud, they are just being boys.  But girls are undisciplined, unruly, when they buck against the traditional role.  Girls confuse us when they don’t sit quietly and say please and thank you.  We have such high expectations for our daughters and our female students but maybe we should reevaluate them and stop thinking that all girls are naturally compliant.  Perhaps instead we should wait and see how they turn out and then embrace their personality. Let them be wild, let them be loud, let them be free.

This was originally posted on my own blog Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension


About Pernille Ripp

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


9 thoughts on “All Hail the Rambunctious Girls – What Will Ever Come of Them?

  1. How exciting for you that you have such a precocious daughter. Here are my thoughts:
    1. Make sure she has lot of outside of school activities that engage and excite her.
    2. Meet with teachers at the start of the year to describe your daughter’s spirit and your goals for her.
    3. Read Reviving Opheiia by Pipher.
    4. Advocate for science labs and qualified science teachers in every elementary school.
    5. Buy her a computer sooner than later (maybe not this early)
    6. Get her active in a sports teams like swimming, soccer or other to use up that energy, build team skills and develop body confidence in this world that values women’s body over their minds/talents.
    7. Read about gifted girls–even if she doesn’t exactly fit into that category, it will give you invaluable insights.
    8. Support her dreams, challenge her discussion and discuss life’s journey with her.
    9. Finally, enjoy!

    Posted by Maureen Devlin | February 6, 2012, 8:28 am
  2. Hey Pernille,

    I can’t tell you how I resonate with this post, as I think of my daughter with her flying braids and work boots and overalls at age 7. She is now center mid on her soccer team in college, a fierce competitor and also brave and gentle and humble, and a Women’s Studies and geography major. She’s a beast, say her three brothers, and also sexy and sensitive.

    One of my philosophies with my daughter was to try to help her to be an anthropologist of the gender messages she was getting–to be able to “name” them and choose what she wanted to do about them. (As Maureen suggested, having her read Reviving Ophelia and also The Curse of the Good Girl were helpful to her, and me.) This is not to say she escaped gender pressures or wasn’t misguided and unsure (still!), but she has ways of talking about the forces that beset her: to shave her legs (she wrote her college application essay on girl pressure to shave her legs, and how she succumbed), to be compliant, to be silenced, to not make trouble.

    Girls are imperiled by the gender expectations we have for them, in school and everywhere. I join you in supporting your strong, assertive, active daughter. Through YOUR eyes she will come to be, she will be permissioned into being…in the breadth and strength of you. Go Pernille.

    Your sister in this,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 6, 2012, 9:21 am
  3. My wife is currently pregnant, and before we knew that she was going to have a boy, we had a discussion about how we would attempt to raise our daughter if we had a girl. So many little girls we see want to be princesses, and are afraid to play in the mud, and I cannot believe that this is simply due to their biology. We condition girls to behave a certain way, and the chains of gender are placed firmly on them from an early age.

    Posted by dwees | February 6, 2012, 10:11 am
    • Although I agree (and was a very sensitive, gentle boy as a child) we work hard to raise our kids in a fairly gender-neutral and gender-inclusive environment. And yet . . . my youngest daughter plays differently than our boys did. Sure, she throws the ball and she gets into the mud. But she also plays with action figures and dolls in a much more relational way. Not sure if it’s gender. It very well might be genetics. My point, though, is that there are very clear differences that had nothing to do with environment.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | February 6, 2012, 11:03 am
      • My colleague said, “2 million years of the evolution of gender has surely made a biological impact” and I certainly don’t disagree. However, it is very difficult to look at our own children and say that we have raised them in a gender neutral way, given that we ourselves were not raised in such a way. How do we separate the influence of her sex from the influence of gender she has learned from your wife?

        When we see our girls (or our boys) acting in a certain way, do we unconsciously support that? How much of what we see in gender in our children is because of confirmation bias?

        Posted by dwees | February 6, 2012, 12:54 pm
        • I can certainly see that. However, our home is a little odd in the fact that she is the one who fixes things while I am the one who cooks and does the dishes. We strive to be egalitarian and I hope that rubs off on the kids.

          Posted by John T. Spencer | February 6, 2012, 1:38 pm
  4. I’d like to add that there is a corollary to this. I was a sensitive, artistic, quiet, introverted child. Even though I played sports, it wasn’t enough. I was bullied. Kids called me “fag boy” first in grade school for being gentle and sensitive and then in high school for being close friends with a couple of kids who were homosexual. The dominant image of what a boy should be was deeply connected with being a football player, using lame toilet humor and never showing emotion.

    I get nervous when I see so many of the same characteristics with my middle son. Wondering if he’ll have a place in school or if he’ll learn in a different environment instead.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | February 6, 2012, 11:00 am
  5. Great points here. My quiet, rule-following boy is a “perfect” kindergartener who sits still and pays attentions. He loves school and school loves him. But what will become of my wild, roaring daughter when she goes to school… compliant she is not. I hope for teachers that will see the genius behind her crazy ideas. They are out there.

    Posted by Laura | February 6, 2012, 10:48 pm
  6. A conversation from class this week:

    Me: So, what would you draw to show someone being independent?

    Student: I don’t know.

    Me: What do you think people do when they have some freedom?

    Student: I don’t know.

    Me: So, what’s one way a person can show he or she can take care of him or herself?

    Student: Buying a house?

    Me: Absolutely. How long were you thinking of that answer?

    Student: The whole time.

    Me: Great – I knew it. Let’s just fast-forward to the part where I trust you completely as a competent, brilliant young woman. How ’bout the next one?

    The work went faster after that.

    We should stop teaching kids of all genders that they are inexpert. They should feel like expert learners and the owners of themselves, their bodies, their feelings, thoughts, actions, and words. The more we “take” from them, the more impoverished we make our classrooms. I’m working on this idea in the context of a 5-minute Ignite talk on game-based learning for #DML12 and I make explicit mention of what I’ve learned from my girl gamers (by which I mean learners). I’ll be sure to share out the work as it develops.

    Thanks for this post and opening up the conversation of how school debilitates kids using its perception of genders.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | February 15, 2012, 11:52 am

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