Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gender politics kindergarten style

There is this boy in kindergarten that my son never stops talking about. Every day after school it is "Ben this" and "Ben that" and "when can I have a play date with Ben?" It is as if the other ten boys in his class don't exist.

Ben has white blonde hair and big blue eyes. He is a little on the dramatic side. And going on my own son's personality, and previous friendships he has formed, I would never have picked him as a likely friend. This is not because there is anything wrong with Ben. It just feels like a mismatch.

At the parent teacher meeting we talked about my son's progress, the usual stuff. And then I said "So, my boy really likes Ben."

And the teacher laughed. "It is funny you should say that because all the boys mothers are telling me the same thing. They all love Ben."

Then came the interesting bit. "It is as if he is the Alpha Male."

And it really is. But then I thought about how complimentary the term Alpha Male sounds, like the confident kid, the one who will one day wield power in the board room or on the football field.

Flip the gender and this Alpha Male in a 6-year-old's body would be labelled something far less complimentary. In the form of a girl the Alpha Male is instead a Queen Bee.

When we think Queen Bee we think powerful, but also manipulative and Mean Girl. We think problem more than we think future leader. We think about somebody we really don't like very much at all.

So, does it start as early as Kindergarten or even pre-school? Have we already decided that girls who are socially powerful are problematic whereas boys who exude the same set of qualities are charismatic leaders? Is the whole "Queen Bee" construct sending a message to our daughters that power is pathological?


  1. That's a really good way of looking at it. It seems we are systematically teaching our children that males are made to lead, girls must sit back and not rise up for fear of the "Queen Bee" label.

  2. Alpha male sounded agressive and bossy to me before I read the rest of the post. My understanding of alpha males is that they fight (sometimes to the death) if their power is challenged. Nevertheless, I do think power and leadership should be encouraged as a positive attribute for girls (not the "Queen Bee" model), and I don't think it is very often. As a 42 year old woman I don't often feel encouraged to express these qualities! In the book '7 Myths About Women and Work' Catherine Fox discusses the many reasons and myths why there are not more women leaders/women in power. It's a great book and I recommend it.

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds interesting. On the Alpha Male, I was reacting to the way the teacher used it which was definitely more positive than anything else. And in general I do think we have a far easier time framing power in boys/men positively and like you say, encouraging it.