Thursday, November 29, 2012

Boys and Girls: Drooling and Ruling

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of.

So. My kids are fitting into gender stereotypes obnoxiously well. Boy loves tractors above all things, except dinosaurs and sharks. Girl loves to accessorize. Boy goes on a murderous rampage, followed by Girl, who comes along asking if you’re okay and if she can help you. Boy will make monster sounds and punch you. Girl will kiss it all better. Boy plays in the dirt and mud gleefully while Girl watches disdainfully from a distance. Boy inhales food “cookie monster style” while Girl takes dainty bites and spends an hour eating. Boy throws a toy and stomps on it with wild villainous laughter. Girl picks it up carefully and clasps it lovingly to her chest. When Boy wants to play with you, your toy better be ready for Battle Royale with his toy. When Girl wants to play with you, your toy better be ready for a calm, happy heart-to-heart with her toy. When Boy coughs, he opens his cavernous mouth to its maximum and sticks his tongue way out, but when Girl coughs, she covers her mouth delicately with her miniature hand. Boy loves cars. Girl loves horses. Boy loves blue. Girl loves pink.

Seriously, kids? Seriously?? Try to think outside the box for once! It’s not like we’ve taught you to be this way. Did we?? If anything, we’ve tried teaching the opposite, especially regarding the Rambo-boy behavior, cuz it’s abrasive; and also especially regarding the Girlie Princess stuff, because it makes us both uncomfortable. I wasn't a girlie girl, and Dooley isn't a chauvinist mans-man. But for reals. It's like my kids studied the following illustration for what kind of things they could be into. To a T. I must admit, I am somehow morbidly proud when I'm told that Tuesday is SUCH a girl, and Dirt is SUCH a boy, but also, weirdly embarrassed, as though I have failed in teaching my children equality or something.

To our darling Girl: We didn’t teach you to recoil at the touch of grass or sand as an infant. We didn’t teach you to freak the fork out when your hands get dirty, or to be a whiny little drama queen about everything, or to have the attitude of a 13-year-old by the tender age of 2. You actually throw your head back and run to your room, flailing your cute little arms, to slam the door and cry when we tell you no. Seriously. You throw the most cliché tantrums of all time, flinging yourself to the ground to sob into the carpet while kicking your adorable tiny legs. At least try to be creative. Sheeesh. I will say, however, my favorite was when I told you to stop playing and eat your dinner, and you abruptly stopped, lowered your head, stared at me sternly and said, “I’m laughing. Okay?!” then got right back to playing, leaving me stunned and amused simultaneously. 

To our precious Boy: We didn’t teach you how to make gun sounds. We didn’t teach you that violence is awesome. We didn’t teach you to break everything you touch. We didn’t teach you to get all bashful about hugging and kissing. We didn’t teach you to only like animals that are predators. We didn’t’ teach you about “girl slime”. We didn’t teach you that only boys could play with Buzz Lightyear. We also didn’t teach you to play with your little boy bits all the time. Seriously. We didn't teach you that you absolutely had to see the snot in the kleenex after blowing your nose. There is a slight possibility that we may have reinforced the notion that farts and burps were funny, and that poops were to be admired, but that’s neither here nor there…
Dirt was a sweet and mellow baby, and gradually morphed into the loud, adorable 3 ½-year-old monster that he is now. He can still be really cuddly and affectionate, nestling his cute giant self into my lap and squeezing me around the neck with a double-armed vice grip and saying “I love you Mama”, for no reason. Tuesday was a more demanding baby, and has morphed into a classic 2-year-old and a fiercely opinionated, independent little girl. “Let me do it!” is her screeching mantra. She hardly ever wants to cuddle. But then she can be sooooo amazingly sweet, stroking my face and hair with her teeny tiny fingers and smiling when she sighs, “Mama…I wuv you…sooo much!” Melt melt melt.

So yes, there are exceptions to the standard boy-girl stuff. Tuesday happily plays with the same “boy” toys as her older brother—possibly because we limit the number of creepy dolls or frilly ponies that she has. Tuesday tries to be scary and fierce with her brother when he is storming the house, roaring like a dinosaur; she makes the cutest little wrinkle-nosed monster face, but the sound she emits definitely rivals Dirt’s ear-splitting monster shrieks. Also, Dirt can be really sweet and gentle with the cat, and will even kiss our boo-boos all better just like his little sister. Sometimes. After he’s inflicted them. 

They do have some commonalities as well. They both take pleasure in blasting out my ears with their screaming. Both are stubborn and loud. They both enjoy trains and yes, high heels. Both love dancing and singing. Both love being naked. Both hate having their faces wiped off. Both are goofy attention-hungry hams.

I’m sure a lot of this behavior is standard 2-4-year-old stuff, but I am often surprised (and irritated!) by how naturally they fall into these gender roles. Don’t get me wrong, I totally think it’s super cute when Tuesday is being all nurturing and Dirt is being all rough-and-tumble, but I wonder how much I’m unknowingly infusing them with these societal norms. I don’t at all like when Dirt is being violent or when Tuesday is being prissy, but then I think about how I get excited with them over things like tractors and sparkly tutus, and I totally use a different voice—a big tough man voice and then an animated girlie voice—without even thinking about it. And of course I think it’s cute to dress Tuesday in frilly things on occasion, and don’t at all discourage Dirt’s love of boy things. But. STILL. It’s interesting being in the middle of it, raising both a boy who can be brutish and a girl who can be prissy, despite the fact that those characteristics are not at all instilled by their parental units. That we know of.

I am curious, though...How are other people’s little girls and boys the same and/or different? We basically raised ours the same, but they are night and day. Do other people see differences in their kids that could be traced to infancy? How big of a role do most parents play in selecting their childrens' clothes and toys and the colors of their belongings? Obviously retailers play a major part simply by producing boy and girl things according to popular culture, but I always wonder which came first. Do most girls innately want all things pink and frilly, or do they want all things pink and frilly because they're encouraged to like all things pink and frilly? Same question for boys with blue and manly stuff. The one that concerns me more than the material is this: Do we treat them differently without realizing it? Guess it comes down to your standard nature v. nurture. 

I found a brief but interesting article on the subject, if you care to read a more scientific spin on the subject: Pink Brain, Blue Brain. It makes me feel better about the fact that both kids are getting new tractors for Christmas. And little guitars...but now I feel guilty for getting Dirt a blue one and Tuesday a purple one with (*horrified gasp!*) flowers on it! For shame.

Raising an Equality-Minded Male is another good article.

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