Is recess emasculating your little boy? Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of the newly reissued The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men, suspects that a trend toward kinder, gentler games is putting boys at a disadvantage on the asphalt. “As early as pre-school and kindergarten, boys can be punished for behaving like boys,” Hoff Sommers said in a recent interview with the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez. “In many schools, rough-and-tumble play is no longer tolerated. Well-meaning but intolerant adults are insisting ‘tug of war’ be changed to ‘tug of peace’; games such as tag are being replaced with ‘circle of friends’—in which no one is ever out.”
“Circle of friends,” as Alice Robb charts in the New Republic today, has been benevolently smothering American schoolchildren for more than a decade now. Hoff Sommers invoked the Circle in her original 2000 The War Against Boys, in her 2005 book One Nation Under Therapy, in an appearance on The Daily Show, and again last week in the National Review. And how has “circle of friends” exerted its matriarchal pressure on playgrounds across America? According to an excerpt from Quit It!, a 1998 guide that advises teachers on how to fight bullying in kindergarten to third-grade classrooms, this is how “circle of friends” is played:
A number of students begin as ‘taggers’ and can freeze other students by tagging them on the shoulder. In this version, if a frozen student calls for help, two students hold hands and form a circle around her/him. This circle of friends unfreezes the student so he or she can continue playing. Students can’t be tagged while making a circle.
It’s freeze tag. Freeze tag! Hoff Sommers has been raising the alarm about a girly tag in which “no one is ever out,” but that’s just tag!
Yes, there exists a modified version of tag where players are systematically eliminated from gameplay when touched, but in the dominant form of the game, players vacillate between “it” and “not it” until the bell rings. “No one is ever out.” Not because eliminating players is overly macho for tag’s matriarchal overlords, but because it makes for inferior play. I can’t believe I’m typing this out right now, but in order to keep the game of freeze tag interesting—and to busy a group of kids for the entire recess period—you need some mechanism by which frozen kids can become unfrozen and rejoin the action. Otherwise, one of two things could happen: (1) the designated tagger freezes everyone handily, and the game ends quickly; or (2) the tagger freezes a few people, but has trouble catching others, leaving a bunch of small children to stand in place for an entire recess period while their friends chase each other around the yard indefinitely. Both possibilities threaten to turn a game of tag into a sedentary bore, which is why, in the most popular version of freeze tag, an active player has the power to defrost an immobilized friend by crawling under his legs. “Circle of friends” makes the calculation a little more interesting by requiring two active players to team up to free a frozen one. This is only feminizing if you think boys hate friends and/or strategy.