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August 14, 2009

When Are Boys Too Old for the Women's Locker Room?

Mail-13 My daughter is seven. During the school year, her elementary school contracts with the local pool for swim lessons, and she has navigated the women's locker room just fine without me though the female teacher's assistant was with the girls just in case. But this summer, I still went into the locker room with her before swim class and meet her there after, not because I think she needs my help, but because there are boys in the women's change room. 

Boys her age or a bit older. 

And I am uncomfortable with that. 

Despite my knowing why mothers take their elementary school age boys into the women's instead of sending them through the men's, I find that I am more concerned about the effect on the girls who are forced to change in view of boys, who are watching them with more than just curiosity, than I am about the rather slight danger of boys being sent off to change in a secure locker room designated for their own gender.

And I know this won't make me popular with mothers of sons, but why can't a six or seven or eight year old boy use the appropriate locker room during the day at the pool when lessons are going on, and the only people using the locker rooms are basically other children?

When my daughter was a toddler and in pre-school, I used to let her take baths with her cousin Lucas who is a year older. They were just children after all and it was easier to get them ready for bed on visits to my mother's when they could hop into the tub together and splash a bit. This stopped around kindergarten for Kat because I noticed that she was beginning to comment and ask questions about the male anatomy. Specific parts. 

"Boys' private parts float," she said. And that was the end of bathing with her cousin. A boy who is not a total stranger.

Kat is not an anomaly. Children do notice gender differences at a much younger age than most parents are willing to acknowledge, and their curiosity is based on feelings that they don't understand. It's wrong to put them in situations that can lead to discomfort on their part or the part of others.

I can understand not sending small boys who can't dress or undress themselves into the men's locker room on their own, but a child in grade two or three? Does a boy of that age really need his mother's help? And should he really be changing with girls his own age or older especially when there are large and clean washroom options available in the lobby for the squeamish and nervous?

One of the pools in the city of Edmonton suggested a switch from gender change rooms to an open communal one like they have in some European countries. The idea was met with a rather vocal community "no", and while I support the idea of family change rooms for people with infants and very young children, I am still not comfortable with my daughter, or myself, changing in or out of our bathing suits in front of boys and men we don't know. Frankly, the looks I get from women in locker rooms makes me rethink. How does one change and hold up a towel for oneself at the same time and is that really the expectation?

At some point - usually an early one - mothers and fathers put an end to children in the bedroom or bathroom with them as they change. Why then are public locker rooms different? If my husband were taking my seven year old daughter into the men's change room, the uproar would be deafening. Why are mothers getting a pass on this? Why is it assumed that little girls are damaged by seeing naked men and boys in the men's locker room, but that little boys are fine with naked girls and women?

I had every intention of sending my daughter off to navigate the locker room on her own for swim lessons this summer. She'd managed fine during the school year without me, and I was navigating the locker rooms at the Y and the city pool by myself when I was her age, but the presence of boys in her peer group changing with her gave me pause. Even if they were with their mothers.

This is an original 50 Something Moms post by Ann Bibby of anniegirl1138.


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