That picture could easily be me. I was a dirt dog as a kid. There are scores of pictures of me rooting around in sandboxes, gardens, and puddles. One of my happiest childhood memories is when I was nine, playing with my BFF, and us completely coating ourselves with mountains of mud and dirt in a construction lot two doors down. PapaDork had to hose us off in the driveway, and I was still finding mud in my ears for weeks.
My parents, to my great delight, didn’t have a problem with my pleasure at getting down and dirty. And now, they might be even more pleased, since there’s some idea that my early exposure to filth might have been good for my health.
According to this NPR blog, the gendered standards of cleanliness that dictate little girls should sip pretend tea and wear white dresses, while their male peers go mucking around in creeks, might be preventing girls from building up their immune systems in their earliest years and leading to health problems later.
This research is still in its speculative stages, since there are so many possible reasons for women’s higher rates of autoimmune diseases (their likelihood of reporting them not least among them), but that, combined with new research on allergies and kids that questions the conventional wisdom on eliminating possible allergens from infants’ diets, is all pointing towards the idea that living in a bubble is maybe not such a good idea for our physical health.
Of course people want to protect their kids from dangers and illness. But protection can go too far–and “protecting” girls differently based on notions of gender-appropriate behavior is beyond too far. We think it might damage their bodies, but we already know that it damages their spirits. Of course not every kid, whatever its sex or gender, is a mud monster, but the idea of preventing children from engaging in natural behaviors that merely make us uncomfortable is something we need do need to protect against. We have seen the enemy, and it isn’t dirt. It’s Us.