Method eight in Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child is full of examples from history and literature and Esolen also uses many anecdotes from his own childhood. He is definitely writing from the point of view of a man who was once a boy so the illustrations of girlhood and womanhood are (understandably) a bit thin. As a woman who was once a girl, I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth of childhood memories.
When I was almost seven my family joined a church that spent nearly all of every Sunday together. After the service we had a fellowship meal together and after that we would have a short communion service. We were meeting in the school building belonging to a Seventh Day Adventist church. There was a gym, a long hallway (with mysteriously closed off classrooms hiding behind each door), a large covered porch, a playground, and a big field hedged at the back by blackberry bushes which bore fruit for us to eat and make into "ink" in the summer. When the weather was even sort of descent (I don’t think our mothers invested in fancy church clothes) there would be children of all ages roaming that property. The big boys would do back flips off the swings to the amazement of all of us younger kids. Boys would find frogs or snakes or they’d collect pinecones to be used (you guessed it) as projectiles. My friends and I alternated mostly between princesses and pioneers. After I read the Misty books we played that we were wild horses a few times. We also gathered pinecones, but they were the provisions we took with us on our journey to the Oregon Territory.
Then we all discovered freeze tag and almost every Sunday for a year or more you could find a group of maybe ten to twenty kids (boys and girls) running around the playground and the field. If it was too close after the meal, at least one or two would be collapsed on the ground with an excruciating side ache. But even though we played together, there was still a divide between the boys and girls. My friends and I would come to the game together and leave together. We would congregate on “base” together. There was definitely a sense of mystery such as Esolen refers to. And yes, there were glances back and forth.
Still we grew. Civil War re-enacting became vogue. The boys made or acquired uniforms (mostly Confederate gray), they collected rifles and they marched off through the woods to shoot at each other and die as realistically as possible. Then they would sit around their campfires and drink water out of canteens or (preferably) maple syrup jugs that would look amusingly as though they contained something a good deal stiffer. We girls got to be nurses (pale and shaking) during the hospital scenes, which always included amputations. We sewed dresses out of colorful calico, we baked pies, we crocheted. In the evening we would dance. Then the distinctions between boys and girls (not yet men and women, but getting close) were preserved and even sharpened. We would sit on the side and wait to be asked. They would ask and they considered it an honor (or they said they did, anyway). They would lead us on and then lead us off again.
I don’t remember the division being weird or forced. No one told me not to play with the boys or to only get so close or to only talk for so long. It was natural and I think it did result in a greater respect for each other when we did get together.
Of course there has to be balance. We don’t want our children going all Victorian and prudish, especially as they get older. But they should understand and embrace the differences. Then as they mature they can begin to wonder and marvel at them.