As I’ve mentioned, I’m reading Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender and it’s really making me think about popular assumptions related to brain differences between boys and girls.
E. is a very active toddler. He likes hitting things, including mum’s head, with his toys, running around, pulling CDs and books out from the shelves, playing with the toilet brush (aghhh…), flushing the toilet ten times in five seconds, getting into the shower when it’s all wet, putting his toys into the washing machine, climbing on the sofa and the beds, hitting the computers, TV and hi-fi, eating headphones and splashing food all over the kitchen, just to list some of his delightful repertoire.
When I talk to people about how active he is I get this sort of comment: “It’s normal, he’s a boy” or “Boys are different, they’re more active”. It’s true that I’ve observed that boys tend to be more active than girls. On the other hand, girls sometimes talk and walk earlier than boys. Of course, this is just a purely personal observation and not a scientific thesis from which we can deduce the existence of any innate difference between the genders (as many people seem to do). I believe that the way children socialise, our expectations of them, the toys they are given to play with, their character and their home environment play an important role in developing children’s skills more than any sort of biological determination according to their gender. But how to resist to all these gender preconceptions?
It’s not just toys but also how children are expected to dress in our society. It has always struck me how strongly clothes are gendered in the UK . On the continent, I don’t find such a strong separation in clothing for boys and girls. I try to buy clothes for E. that are gender-neutral, and my policy is that pink is another colour. Except when I get a huge feminist rush and I end up buying him a doll or a pink shirt. That’s why pink has become a question of feminist politics in our household.
I personally hate Bob the Builder and the planes, cars and tools that routinely decorate boy’s clothes. But it’s no easier if you have a girl. I find that many girls’ clothes in theUK present a sort of mixture between princess and pin-up girl. So every time we inspect the girl’s section to find something for E. I’m unable to buy anything because it’s all pink flowers, sequins, flounces or allusions to princesses, girliness and prettiness.
Another comment that annoyed me is that if you put your toddler into pink or give him dolls or kitchen tools he will be gay. I’ve heard that a couple of times (no kidding). It gets on my nerves, not only because it’s a horrible homophobic comment, but also because if he does turn out to be gay everybody will say that it’s because my feminist parenting, and it will discourage most of my white middle-class heterosexual friends from following our gender-neutral parenting approach, and it reinforces the view that homosexuality is a sort of a sickness that can be cured with the right approach during childhood. My mum, who from time to time produces weird remarks, told me when I mentioned my upset about this sort of comment: “Why should being gay be a problem? Gays idolize their mums” (I hope you will excuse me from commenting on this latest from her).
So getting back to whether boys behave differently to girls, I find that E.’s behaviour is the product of his own character, not of his gender, but I don’t know how to explain that to my friends apart from recommending that they read Cordelia Fine’s book and show them this picture of E. at toddler’s.