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Every weekend the girls are here, I write a message on their board. It ranges from little facts to poems. This, a poem by Nayyirah Waheed, is the most recent.

Sadly, we still live at a time when girls are brainwashed to stand down as they get older. So, I’m doing a little reverse brainwashing of my own. I want them to know they don’t lose credibility on the basis of their gender, no matter what the society tells them; that they have the right to show up and speak up.

Of course it’s not merely the girls we need to teach. It just so happens that the children in this house are girls. Our little big men are watching and learning as well. What are we teaching them? Why are school rule books still making elementary school girls measure the length of their skirt every morning (has to be below their fingertips as they stand and hold their arms by their side)? Or worry about whether or not they have spaghetti straps on because we don’t want bra straps to show. What preschooler wears a bra? That’s one more useless thing to preoccupy them with every day, instead of having free space to focus on more important/interesting/fun issues. And what message are we giving them? You are responsible for other people’s actions and thoughts. How do we counter it with the boys? We don’t. I asked the girls what about little boys is distracting to them, if anything? They said long hair that covers their face. It’s hard to talk to them when their face is covered. I checked the school book for hair length for boys. There was no mention of hair length.

From this young and impressionable age we are restricting little girls by making more rules for them to follow.  And we say to them that your distraction does not matter, or figure out a way to handle it. Couldn’t we teach the boys to figure a way to handle their distraction (if they do get distracted by the girls’ clothing at this age, that is)?

I have lunch with the kids on Tuesdays that I don’t travel. My new plan is to write short poems with strong messages on my name tag. It’s never too late to start a conversation with young minds.