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.”
Why 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:
A 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.