On a viciously hot and humid July morning, I ended my run to get some water at Steppingstone Park when I noticed some signs on the fence that I gathered must have been related to the summer camp. G1, an image of a heart; B1, an image of a sun; G2, heart; B2, sun; G3, heart; B3, sun.
It occurred to me that G must stand for girl and B for boy, and that on every single girls’ sign, there was a heart; and on every single boys’ sign, there was a sun. Hearts and suns are both all well and good, but what is this, the 1950s? Are hearts for girls and suns for boys? Is love for girls and shooting for the stars for boys? And, most importantly, can I blame my problems on these gender expectations?
When I came out of the shower that morning, my mom was rummaging through a closet outside my room. “Do you remember this book?,” she asked. “The Tooth Fairy got it for you when you lost your tooth.” Apparently, the Tooth Fairy shops at TJ Maxx.
Of course, I remembered the Hello Kitty–themed book of blank pages. Overcome by nostalgia, I leafed through it to explore my early attempts at writing. I had spelled so many words incorrectly: family became “famole,” friend became “firend,” but there was one word I did know how to spell correctly—love. It appeared on every single page, sometimes multiple times, sometimes with a heart instead of an “o.” Hearts found their way into every single one of my doodles. Sometimes, they were sprinkled throughout the background, and if I made a doodle of a person, I drew her lips and head in the shape of a heart.
My obsession with heart doodling didn’t stop there. In eighth-grade Earth Science, I would pass the time by filling up each page of my notes with tiny hearts rather than paying attention. The hearts were dedicated to the boy on whom I had a gigantic crush. When somebody told me that he said he wanted me to die, I starved myself for a year. (If you’re concerned, it was a middle school crush, don’t worry. I have since rekindled my relationship with French fries and couldn’t be happier about it.)
In ninth grade, my cross-country coach asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. Given his fixation on my math grades, he surely wanted me to tell him that I dreamed of becoming an engineer or a brain surgeon. “A housewife,” I said, unable to imagine my job as anything other than to
love my husband and children. If loving one’s husband and children truly is the measure of a woman’s success, then I am a total failure.
Is love for girls and ambition for boys? I sure hope not. Because regardless of whether we want to acknowledge it or not, all boys and all girls need both in order to live balanced, healthy, fulfilling lives. In the name of making sure that children don’t get screwed up like me, I propose a new set of signs at Steppingstone Park in which there is a heart and a sun on each one. And, frankly, maybe girls and boys should not be separated at all so that this type of sexism does not have the chance to happen.