Oh, he is such a boy!

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.


9 responses to “Oh, he is such a boy!

  1. My guy’s favorite color is pink! I love it. But, his favorite things are huge construction equipment, trucks, planes, trains, etc. in spite of the fact that we tried very hard in the early years to mold his interests elsewhere. So, he wears his pink hat and flies planes around our house. 🙂 I’ll check out Fine’s book. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I get a lot of negative comments about “letting” my boys try on high heels, paint their toenails and prance around in my tank tops, pretending that they’re dresses.
    I was told that one of our responsibilities as parents is to teach them about society’s expectations, and so I am letting them down by not preparing them somehow to perform their gender.
    After some discussion, my oldest son has made a conscious decision to tell others that his favourite colour is blue, even though he feels strongly that it is pink and that it will never change.
    But, at the same time, because the kids love balls and trucks and dinosaurs and wrestling we are always told that, ‘they are such Boys’.
    I don’t even know how to respond anymore, because the gulf between the way we think is just too enormous, and in my own, urban, diverse, Canadian world, I really don’t think these issues ever would have come up (I may be wrong).
    I have taken to horrifying people with statements like, “one day, when you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend…”.

    • How funny, we do the same at home. We say, one day he will have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and people think that we are kidding, but we are not. I think in Argentina, like in Spain, is more difficult, where the “macho” culture is very much ingrained in the society.

  3. I must add Fine’s book to my reading list.

    As for E., he sounds a lot like my boy. I deflect a lot of the “He’s such a boy!” nonsense by telling people that he takes after me. Which he does — I was wildly active, myself, as a toddler.

    In the U.S., folks have been talking for years about boys’ and girls’ different needs in the classroom. There’s a great deal of concern (by some) about the supposed “feminized” classroom (most teachers being women) and whether or not it truly serves boys. A radio host (who I actually adore) did a call-in for teachers last week, asking whether they teach boys and girls differently. The whole question is so stupid. For example, someone (don’t remember if it was the host or a caller) mentioned idea that boys could stand at lecterns rather than sit at desks. But what about the active girls? Will they be stuck at desks? Why not have lecterns and desks (and rugs and whatever else) for boys and girls to work at, as they see fit — as in a Montessori classroom? And don’t these ideas about boys and girls in the classroom serve, for example, to reify the supposed docility of girls as “natural” rather than socially constructed and enforced?

    Sorry, this comment seems to have veered into one related to your last post, on Larry Summer….

    • Fine refers in her book to all these silly theories about different teaching needs for boys and girls. Anne Mori theories are very popular in Spain. You can check it at http://www.brainsexmatters.com/ . I agree with your comments. How crazy to look at gender to describe a person instead of looking at the individual!
      By the way, thanks for mentioning our blog in your blog. I really like your blog. I love the post on Emily Dickinson, as I do love poetry, but I didn’t dare to comment on it , as I feel embarrased of not being able to say anything intelligent about the topic. Believe it or not, I’m quite shy about commenting on other peoples blogs!

    • Rachael, I love the way you set people straight by telling them that your son takes after a girl! 🙂

  4. Pingback: On My Mind: 05.02.11

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