Meet: Boys vs. Girls

While on the treadmill a few weeks ago, I watched an interview with actress Jenna Elfman.

The show’s host said something about Jenna being lively and her boys must love it and Jenna said something like, “Oh yes, we’re crazy. We’re constantly having sword fights  and running around the house. I wouldn’t be a good mom of girls.”

Little Miss MuffetWhy on Earth not? I wondered. I know a little two-year-old girl who could kick some butt with a toy sword, if her father and I ever thought it prudent to supply her with one. And I also know a five-year-old boy who, while he loves to wrestle and “go nuts,” as he says, also loves to sit and draw birds for hours and tears up at the touching moments in movies. He also loves yogurt. I’m not sure what that says about him, but possibly something.

When I heard Jenna Elfman, I immediately thought of my good friend, Kelly, the mother of three boys. The issue of stereotyping boys and girls drives her insane. She’ll send me emails like this:

Two online ads set me off today:

1) “Girly up the color blue for the little lady in your life.”  Why is it rare to make the colors pink and purple masculine??!!

2) “‘Like’ this if your girl loves robots and check out the adorable pink robots…”  Why is it okay for girls to like robots, but it is not okay for my boys to like dolls and princesses?!

And, I would add, why does the robot have to be pink? And how exactly does one girly up the color blue? By adding ovaries?

Kelly also chastises herself whenever she catches herself engaging the stereotypes:

toys for boysA new boy came over to play yesterday and when the sweet mother came to pick him up, his younger brother went crazy and was running through our house. The poor woman was mortified and so embarrassed. I told her not to worry–that I have three boys. I was so annoyed that I said that. It got me thinking how often I hear “Oh, he’s just being a boy” when they are being naughty. I have three dudes and they are all completely different, so I can tell you it is not just being a boy. My niece is a mover and shaker and my son has been able to sit still hours at a time since he came out of me. 

I know how she feels. I try hard and am not always successful at avoiding stereotyping. And not even just the stereotypes–I also have remind myself that just because my son can be sensitive and likes to sit and read, does not mean he’s “the quiet and sensitive one.” And just because my daughter is careless jumping off things (pool ledges and bed edges) and likes to steal and eat cough drops does not make her “the reckless druggie one.”

I have a boy and a girl. There are differences, and sometimes those differences  align with the usual stereotypes–my daughter will cuddle on the couch and my son will headbutt me in the chin. And sometimes, later the same day, the opposite of the stereotypes.

Either way, their distinguishable characteristics should come from within each of them, and not from me or anyone else who thinks they know the differences between boys and girls.

P.S.–Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, has a long list of books, toys, clothes and other resources that “specifically counter the hyper-feminized consumer culture” HERE. I personally adore the clothing company Handsome in Pink.

PPS.–For my recent post over at PDXX Collective, on Writing about Boston, click HERE.

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25 thoughts on “Meet: Boys vs. Girls

  1. I remember when each of my kids was born and trying really hard not to push the stereotypes. But my son was drawn to cars and trucks and “boy” stuff and my daughter found all things frilly irresistible. I couldn’t believe it. But as they got older, I did find it hard for them to find unisex toys to play with together. Kitchens don’t have to be pink. Little people playsets don’t have to be either. I found a lot of European companies know this. My daughter eventually wanted to play with whatever her brother was playing with. Toys should just be geared to kids.

    • I’ve had the same experiences. I practically committed reverse discrimination on the color pink, but my daughter was naturally drawn to it (though we do have a few older, pink-loving girls on our block). I jumped at the chance to buy a red kitchen, and finally found a pink, blue, and green tea set. I bought my daughter the same red soccer ball as my son, instead of going for the pink one. I just try to go as neutral as possible, so everything looks like a possibility to them.

  2. Good Jess, important that you are fighting the stereotypes but a very difficult job because they are so ingrained in our society….keep on trying, it may take years to overcome them but eventually it will happen…….I HOPE!

    • I know – I could have written this post five years ago, but I thought this was old news. And it is, for some. But I keep coming across people like Jenna Elfman, or images of boys with guns and girls with dolls, so obviously it will probably be timely for a long while.

  3. From a mom with a girl who loves trains, swords, and dinosaurs; and a son who loves kitchen playsets and dolls, well done!

  4. I must confess, I have also proclaimed that I don’t know what I’d do if I had girls. Some of that comes from the fear of the teenage years and the emotions that come along with them. Coming from a family of 3 girls I look back and think of my toys. Some of my favorites were matchbox cars and a street my mom drew onto cardboard for my cars to travel on. I don’t even know how they made it into the house. I also remember being very mad at Mike V. and David A. for making me be Princess Leia when we would play Star Wars together. Why couldn’t I be Luke!?! I don’t think we’ll have any “girl” toys under the Christmas tree but I hope they do learn that it’s okay to play with them if they do come across them. Nicholas just told me the other day that he wants to be a chef. Maybe a kitchen set should be next on the present list!!

    • Yes! There’s a cute retro kitchen set by KidKraft.
      I too have a memory of playing Star Wars in preschool, and feeling lucky that the kids suggested I be Princess Leia–I felt pretty high on my pedestal. Though now I’m trying to remember if those kids were all boys and they thought I was the only option!

  5. This is a topic that’s on my mind a good bit lately, as both of my boys work their way into the school system. I can’t say I worry about gender roles too much at home, but we’ve had experiences in the classroom that have made my jaw hit the floor. A teacher putting all the girls in the front row for picture day, even though my son was the shortest kid in the class by inches. Same teacher jokingly referring to my son and his friends at her Rowdy Boys–which I kindly asked that she not do, only to have her look at me like I was the one who was crazy.

    I was an academically gifted student who also happened to be a quiet, rule-loving girl. My sons are different. They have talent for learning as well, but their bodies just can’t sit still all day. If I’d had a girl, she might have turned out the same way. All I know is, as we move forward, I am finding that the expectations and perception of boy v/s girl behavior plays a major role in my kids’ day at school–and will likely play a big role in their education at large. I will have to advocate for them in a way my parents never had to for me, just so that they can have the same opportunity to shine.

    • Oh, Melanie, I hear you. I’m trying to relish these last months before my oldest enters school. I know my job is going to become quite a bit harder and I’ll have to be even more vigilant. Too much of the world seems hellbent on tamping down any individuality or unique spirit.

  6. It’s true that *most* boys tend to be more active and interested in large motor activities and mechanical things, and *most* girls are quieter (except for the high-pitched SHRIEKING) and more interested in quiet activities, but each child is different. Every child should have the opportunity to try all kinds of activities, even to be encouraged to investigate those s/he may not be naturally inclined to try, and supported in what s/he is interested in.

    And yes, WTF is up with the pink vacuums? We’ve already conditioned kids that pink is for girls – boys can’t vacuum? Love that you persevered until you found neutral colored tea set and play kitchen.

  7. Your post made me think of my own upbringing:

    I have three older brothers who taught me how to climb trees and throw a football and nerd out over computer games. Fairly stereotypical, I suppose, but I’m grateful to have had such a fun upbringing, with or without the masculinity. I plan to teach my future child to not dwell in daintiness or machismo and just have fun as a child should.

    Thanks, Jessica!

    • Yes, that’s my goal — I want my children to just do what is fun for them and makes them happy. Climbing a tree is exhilarating because it’s exhilarating, not because the climber is a boy.

  8. I hear you on this. I’m often puzzled when a mother or expectant mother says something like “Oh I’m so glad I’m having a boy, it suits me better,” or vice-versa. I agree, kids have their own, unique personalities and parents should cater to THAT, not necessarily by gender stereotypes. Interesting thoughts to ponder here.

    • I hear it all the time, too. And I see parents telling their boys, “Don’t cry” and their daughters, “Oh, look! A pretty pink princess bicycle!” I know we’re all doing our best, but I really want to try to help my children be their own person.

  9. This is a great post, Jessica. My boyfriend had a really hard childhood for exactly this reason. To this day, pink is his favorite color; he has a doll still that he had to keep “secret” when he was a kid because he knew his brother, other kids, even his dad would make fun of him. He wanted a dollhouse, and asked for one for Christmas. Instead, they gave him a Star Wars playset.

    It’s really sad how we force children into stereotypes, instead of letting them be who they are. I admire your friend a lot. And I hope someone finally puts to rest this phrase, “Boys will be boys.”

    No. If you raise them right, boys will be good human beings.

  10. Jessie, I loved this. I have the same problem when I don’t stop to think about what I am saying. I love that all my grandchildren, boys or girls, are distinct individuals with actions that are special to each one.

    • Thanks, Nancy. It is interesting, once you start to notice, how often stereotyping pops up. It’s so ingrained. When our kids were two or three, a good friend of mine and her daughter were over. The daughter was completely enthralled with my son’s trucks and my friend slapped her forehead with the realization they had no trucks or cars in their own house. She’d just never thought of it!

  11. Amen and well said: “Either way, their distinguishable characteristics should come from within each of them, and not from me or anyone else who thinks they know the differences between boys and girls.”

    I have two of each and totally agree.

  12. Pingback: Science for boys, pink for girls? | One Click Closer

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