“Mummy, today I got called a bad word.”

“Mummy, today I got called a bad word.”

This is not an uncommon event in my house. My seven-year-old thinks ‘shut up’ is a bad word (I tell her it isn’t really and even if it was it is actually two words). She is also at that stage of life when kids are copying adult behaviour more, having shaken off the shyness of kindergarten.

She was called a bad word.

So I probe. Who called you the bad word? She didn’t want to give it up but I gently got it out of her. A boy who likes her a lot, makes her laugh, lovely parents, a firm friend. What was the bad word? This was the next bit of information to coax out of her before I could respond appropriately. She really didn’t want to tell me this. I asked her to write it down. She did.

My first reaction? There is a ‘t’ between the ‘i’ and the ‘ch’.

Probably a nervous reaction but bad spelling is a bugbear of mine. Yes my lovely daughter, all of seven years old, got called a bitch by a little boy I thought was her friend.

I tried not to overreact. I said the usual things you say. "That’s terrible." "He shouldn’t have said that." It turns out he said sorry of his own volition. The cause of this outburst? They were playing tips. He is usually too fast for her but that day she managed to catch him. In his frustration at losing, he called her a bitch. My daughter tried to explain to me that he probably used that word because he couldn’t find a better one. She is always generous even in the face of this kind of playground sexism. And that’s what I think this is. Playground sexism. She was too fast for him. She beat him at a game. She was a bitch.

I am sad to say that even in this world of women prime ministers and presidential candidates (a.k.a. bitches), sexism is all around and it starts early.

A few weeks before the ‘bitch incident’ one of the boys in my daughter’s friendship circle – again someone who I have always liked – said she sucked at the drums and tried to kick her out of the garage band she formed with some other boys her age. My daughter is the only girl member and has been playing the drums since she was four and is (pardon the brag) pretty good. “You’re a girl, you can’t be in the band," she was told by this friend (who by the way can’t play an instrument). The usual things I say were said. "That’s terrible." "He shouldn’t have said that."


My daughter is an easy target for this kind of behaviour because she often prefers to play with boys. She loves to run and play super heroes (she is always Batgirl, there is no variation, for the love of God please someone bring out a Wonder Woman movie). The boys consider her a mate but then there are these flashes of resentment and rejection. You’re a girl, you can’t be Batman. As if it isn’t already a big fucking stretch that a little boy from suburban Sydney gets to play a 6 foot high masked avenger with a rocket powered car.

I worry about these moments when my daughter comes face to face with sexism, even in an unthinking, juvenile form. I worry because I feel my usual soothing phrases – "that’s terrible, he shouldn’t have said that" – are inadequate given what’s happening. What these little boys are saying is unfair more than just mean. It is gender-based prejudice and it is the beginning of a lifetime of little, daily messages about what she can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t do, can or can’t achieve.

When my daughter was very young, not yet five years old, she was heavily into Star Wars. She asked me one day, “Mum, why aren’t there more female Jedi. I mean there should be because Yoda says The Force isn’t about whether you can lift things, it’s about your mind.” I was lost for words. I wanted to say, because while George Lucas is a genius, his genius doesn’t quite extend to thinking that there should be more than one female hero in any epic battle for the future of the galaxy. I wasn’t yet ready to explain to my clever, adventurous little girl that there are people in the world who think her capacities are limited by her reproductive system. Instead I said, “that’s terrible, George Lucas shouldn’t have done that …”

When have you experience sexism (against men or women)?