When I signed my child up for the local park’s preschool “Fairy Chase” program, I had a pretty clear idea of what it would consist of – exploring the gardens, chasing fairies with nets, and maybe a craft of building a fairy house with sticks or making fairy circles with rocks. My assumptions were mostly right. It was a charming program. The day was sunny and bright. The staff members were warm and welcoming. It was the perfect day for a fairy chase. And yet we left early.
The problem was my child is a boy. He is a sweet, typical three-and-a-half year old boy. He loves playing pirates, soccer, and super heroes. And he believes in fairies. We build fairy houses in our garden, imagine the world fairy-size, and have watched every Tinker Bell movie multiple times. So when spring break rolled around, he begged me to sign him up for the Fairy Chase program. I knew it was going to be geared towards girls, but it was a preschool program. I figured it would be like a little boy in a ballet class or a little girl in pirate camp. It might be going a bit against gender stereotypes, but big deal. It was a big deal. Many times the instructor referred to the group as “girls” this, and “come on girls” that despite the fact that my son was a part of the group. During the fairy circle time the group was asked their favorite colors, yet pink and purple were the only colors offered as suggestions. All of these bothered me, but I could shake off. Then the lead fairy told the group they would all make lovely fairies, yet the instructor then turned to my son and said “and you would make a lovely pixie or an elf”. That was it. No one tells my son he can’t be something because of his gender. Even a fairy. I whispered to my son it was time to go and we quietly left the group.
I understand that these were all innocent comments and in no way meant to be harmful. However these innocent comments are noticed. On the drive to the program my son’s car chatter centered around how to find fairies, whether he’d be fast enough to catch one, and hoping the fairies saw the bright colors he wore. (“Everyone knows fairies like colors, Mommy. That’s why flowers are so colorful!”) On our drive home from the program my son was quiet for a long time. Then he quietly asked, “Mommy, why don’t fairies like blue and green? Why do they only like pink and purple? Don’t boy fairies like blue and green? Are there no boy fairies?”
Yes, there are boy fairies! In both the old folklore of the English countryside and the modern day stories of Tinker Bell and Pixie Hollow, there are boy fairies. For anyone who needs a quick fairy education, here you go. (Listen up, Ms. My-son-has-to-be-a-pixie-or-an-elf). Fairies are most closely associated with the British countryside, especially England, Scotland, and Wales. They are magical, usually tiny, winged creatures that live in nature. They are fond of pranks, often get into mischief, and tend to quick tempers. And there are both female and male fairies. So, why can’t little boys like fairies? Nothing in their historic roots seems extremely “girly”. Yes, Disney markets their fairies to girls, but Tinker Bell and believing in fairies a fundamental part of the Peter Pan – Captain Hook myth that appeals to the masses of preschool boys. Fairies teach children to be kind, clever, and imaginative, while appreciating the beauty of nature. These are not girl-only traits last time I checked. If I had a little girl who wanted to go to “pirate school” I would hope she would have fun pretending to be a pirate while learning to be brave, bold, and strong – not return wondering why girls cannot be pirates.
So my son and I returned home and did our own Fairy Chase. We watched Disney’s Tinker Bell and talked about how Terrance (the BOY fairy) was a good friend. We hunted for rocks and sticks to add to our fairy houses, and ran around the yard trying to catch bugs who could be friends with the fairies. My boy went to bed happy, believing in fairies and himself. The time he will believe in fairies will be brief and fleeting, and I want him to be allowed to enjoy it. I will not let some park-led class tell him otherwise. All children should have chance to believe in the magic of fairies.