The playground. A place created to break the monotonous cycle of a school day, to let loose the energy cooped up inside little bodies. It was on this playground that we were allowed to “be wild.” It was a place of freedom.

But it was also on this playground that we learned where we belonged. Where the King of the monkey bars was crowned and he could “Rule the School.” Where we girls were shunned from kickball games and instead told to sit on the back steps of the school and discuss nail bits and split ends. Where boys could chase girls around the blacktop and we learned the best places to hide because boys had cooties. Right?

The other day I was at a friend’s Fourth of July barbecue. There were children running around everywhere and I didn’t think much of it other than the fact that I was jealous. All the little girls were decked out in their pastel dresses and jean jackets with flag patterned flip flops that matched their nails and headbands. While I, on the other hand, had outgrown being dressed by my stylish mother and instead spent my time tangoing with words in the book I was reading in nothing but leggings and a jacket. But then, I overheard a conversation — no, more like several conversations — that reminded me what it was like to be that age again.

I lost count the number of times one of the grandpas or dads asked one of the little girls, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?” There would be squeals of protest in reply, insisting that boys had cooties and that that would never happen. But the question was repeated, again and again. Teasing turned into taunting and soon the entire family joined in.

But this wasn’t the problem, the problem was that I didn’t think anything of it. We, as girls, are so used to this question. We get asked it by every relative at every family occasion there is and while it is repeated over and over again, the habit is picked up by the onlooking little boys and the tradition continues.

It wasn’t until later, after several rounds of hearing that same question being shoved down the throats of girls too young to even have had their first period, that I overheard another conversation. The same grandpa asked his grandson, “How’s your baseball going this year?”

Now at first I didn’t think much of this either, every boy gets asked a form of this question based on what sport they play. It’s just how things are.

I was about to return my nose into the binding of my book when I started thinking, why? Why are things just that way?

I happen to know for a fact that that first little girl plays volleyball. A lot. And yet no one thought to ask her how her season went, how her sport was going, or about anything else in her life. It’s like we, as girls, are only worthy of conversation, of attention, if we have a boyfriend. If young girls are learning that having a male counterpart makes them older, more of a person, but are accused of being a whore if they have a boyfriend at a young age, then what options are they left with?

My social media is full of friends and cousins, who are barely old enough to technically watch PG-13 movies, celebrating their 3 year anniversaries with boys that only come to their shoulders. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a hopeless romantic and I admire a good love story of a lasting pre-teen relationship. But I hate the pressure, the expectations that have bore down on us generation after generation.

I understand that some people may say that I’m overacting, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea that we punish girls for acting how society has told them to. It’s time we stood up against the stereotypical gender roles and pushed for a more equal, more balanced lifestyle. The amount of progress that has been made is substantial, but if we want more things to change then we can’t stop when we are already headed in the right direction; we need to care about each part in every person’s life equally. Ask the little girl how her volleyball team is doing, ask the little boy if he has a girlfriend, but most importantly: when you ask either of them a question, don’t make them feel like an object in another person’s world.

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