ControverSunday: Gender

Welcome to ControverSunday. When you are done reading this go see Perpetua for the list of everyone else who is playing this week. While you are there, thank her for being the hostess with the most-est and then head over to Accidents and applaud her for her awesome badge making ways.

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First, I need to confess that I have never taken a course on Feminism. I did a degree in Political Science and yet never once did I set foot in a Feminism class. I don’t know why. So I have never been well versed in the gender debate. I know that women still make less the men in equivalent roles. And that women in certain places/cultures still deal with a lot of discrimination. And yes, women here in North American deal with discrimination too, but more so, I think, we deal with continued objectification. Other then that, I am really not well versed in the current debate. I know some of my fellow ControverSundaians are and I am looking forward to reading what they have to say on this.

Anyway, pretty much the moment I was pregnant I knew I was having a girl. Even in the time from early July to late August where I WAS pregnant but didn’t KNOW I was pregnant, because apparently pregnancy tests (including blood work) can be WRONG….. I still thought I was pregnant and that baby was a girl. (Didn’t I ever share that fun fact with you all? Yes, despite being the official headquarters of queasy central and having the tenderest most painful boobs ever, my pregnancy wasn’t confirmed until I was about 10 weeks along.)

And due to A being a complete wiggly trouble maker even when she was in the womb, we didn’t actually know for 98% sure that she was a girl until I was about 7 months pregnant. (We got the ‘baby doesn’t appear to be a boy” line.)

And yet, through all that, I knew she was a girl. And I was happy about it. I don’t know why. I mean, I would have been just as happy, I guess, if she was a boy. I would have been! I promise! All I really cared about was a healthy baby. BUT. Well, maybe I can explain it this way:

A while back (before I was pregnant) we got together with some friends and their family. This family of our friends were a couple with 4 (I think, at the time) boys. FOUR BOYS. All under the age of 6. (Also, I should mention, they are some pretty amazing parents, as they seemed to have it all under control. I don’t think I would be sane if I had 4 kids under the age of 6, let alone all boys.) ANYWAY. We were hanging out with them and one of the boys (I think he was 4ish) brought a book for me to read to him. A book about trucks, helicopters, boats, ect. And he wanted me to tell him what each of them did. Now, these were not simple, like “dump truck dumps stuff” these were specialized vehicles with specialized purposes. All of which this boy wanted to know. I tried to make it up. But he knew I had no idea what I was talking about.

So truth is, I am kinda scared of having a boy. Girl fits in my comfort zone. I don’t watch or play sports. I don’t care about cars. And I know nothing about different kinds of specialized vehicles like you would see on a construction site.

BUT. There I go, making the assumption that boys play with cars and girls don’t. And so we come to the CLASSIC of gender discussion: nature versus nurture.

So, here I go, on the nature versus nurture. My answer to the debate is: yes.

Yes to nature. Yes to nurture. Yes to gender difference. Yes to not all people ‘conform’ to the typical gender differences. Yes. It be complicated people. And so we shouldn’t assume. But I also think it is unreasonable to say that boys and girls are ‘the same.’ In my opinion, they aren’t.

From a very early age, you can observe differences in boys and girls. Someone once told me that very young girls (like 6 month old babies) look to their Mom’s before they pick up something new, almost asking permission. Boys rarely do this. When I think about how school age kids play, both engage in competition and development of social structure. But it seems to me that the currency of social structure for boys is possessions and abilities. For girls, it seems the currency is if they have influence over each other. The most popular boy is the one who is good at sports. The most popular girl is the one everyone likes and listens to. So I think it is valid to see boys and girl differently.

So, does that mean I will discourage my daughter from playing with trucks if she so desired? No. Does that mean that I will dress her in pink every day? OH MY GOODNESS, NO! I have some serious mixed feelings on the pink. (In that I really don’t like it, but every time I put A in it, she does look pretty darn cute.) But it also means that if she wants to put a bow in her hair everyday or dance around like a princess she is welcome to. I am not going to try and push a ‘gender neutral’ approach on her. Essentially, she is welcome to be interested in anything she wants. And if that means I will be taking her to her rugby practice when she is 12- so be it. If that means she wants to be the best ballet dancer of all time- so be it.

As with most things, I try to take a rather laid back approach. Sure, yes, society perpetuates certain images and beliefs on to women that have a negative impact on equality. And I can see how raising our daughters and sons to try and break those barriers is a good thing. I just don’t think it is any better to push our kids to be gender neutral then it is to push them to be ‘girly’ or ‘boyish.’ I am sure it depends on how you support the gender neutral environment. There are probably ways to do it so that you aren’t ‘pushing’ anything…. but this is a parenting issue I have yet to research much about.

At the same time, if/when we have a second baby and if that second baby is a boy, I will not have gender based expectations for one child that I do not have for the other. I remember, as a kid, we went to my grandparents every summer. I have two brothers. And every night after dinner I was asked (by my grandfather) to clear the table and help my grandmother do the dishes. They never asked my brothers. Ever. This made me ANGRY! I felt like I was being punished for being a girl, because they had the expectation that girls help clean up. And boys don’t. So I will be very conscious not to have double standards about what chores (or behaviour for that matter. I call bull on the ‘boys will be boys line’, good behaviour should be expected of both genders) I expect my kids to do.

But truth be told, I haven’t really thought about this issue all that much. (And I still managed to blab on for 1200 words about it… I know…. I have a true talent.) I think I need to hear the rest of the ControverSunday team’s intelligent thoughts on this. And that’s what I am off to do now… read what everyone else has to say.

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18 responses to “ControverSunday: Gender

  1. Lorry April 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

    “Someone once told me that very young girls (like 6 month old babies) look to their Mom’s before they pick up something new, almost asking permission. Boys rarely do this.”

    ROFL! Bean has never given a rats’ ass what I think about what she’s doing. She certainly never asks permission. I haven’t noticed girls looking to their moms, although I admit it could well be true in general and I just haven’t noticed. My girl just goes for what she wants and always has.

    BTW, you have an extra “http://” in your link to Perpetua, so it no workie when you clickie.

    • amoment2think April 18, 2010 at 8:19 am

      Thanks, my first attempted at the clickie.. need to get Brooke to show me how to do it (I think it was you Brooke that did it last week?)

      And yes, LOL, I am sure there are lots of girls that don’t look to their moms and maybe some boys who do…. again I say, it be complicated people. And they are all different. Come to think of it, I don’t think A does that either, that I have noticed.

  2. Brooke April 18, 2010 at 7:36 am

    About those truck books… yeah. What the hell do all those trucks do?!? My son would really like to know. Thank god he has a dad. Otherwise it’s “Truck.” ::turn page:: “Truck” ::turn page:: “Car. Nice car.” ::turn page:: “Fuck, another truck.”

    • amoment2think April 18, 2010 at 8:19 am

      LOL- yes, my sentiment exactly.

      • Sophie April 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm

        My big problem is that I speak only French with our son, so even with books that have writing (say, “this is a front-end loader blah blah blah), I still have to try and figure out how to say it in French. So they all end up being trucks or construction trucks anyway!

  3. Megan April 18, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I am taking the exact same approach! Once again, we are twins.

    And Charlotte looks pretty, damn cute in pink, too. Though, I prefer purple.

    And Brooke, you crack me up.

  4. clara April 18, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    I have two kids. The first one is into books, talked before age 2, is shy, loves to pretend, loves music. The second one is loud, boisterous, didn’t pick up a book till over a year, walked at 10 months, throws things. They are both boys. They are totally different. My older son doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any kind of vehicle. My younger son throws tantrums like. nobody’s. business.

    So partly, yes, it’s the way they’re born. And birth order.

    But the reinforcement is there from adults (and later, from other kids being raised by those adults, as I’ve seen in my son’s preschool) if a kid does something gender appropriate, by society’s standards. Both of my boys have gone through phases where they love baby dolls; take them places, wash their faces, etc. No one pays much attention. But when my 2nd boy is at the park, driving a train around the sandbox, I get a whole lot of “oh, what a boy” or “boys and their trains, eh?” So what do you think he’s hearing? What do you think he is picking up from the world around him? BOY. TRAIN. ATTENTION. APPROVAL.

    My older boy yelled at me in public once. Only once. It was really out of character for him and he was getting sick and having a bad day. And this woman, my age, said, “gosh aren’t boys so aggressive. My son is like that too.”

    How do you fight that? She thinks that way. Her son will think that way. All I could do is say, “he’s not usually like this” but she had her own bias confirmed for her, based on 2 minutes of observing a kid she didn’t know. If my son had been a girl, would she have said the same thing? Or more like, “oh, poor thing, having a bad day is she?” Because it’s out of character for girls and totally IN character for boys to act out and scream in public. Based totally on what you notice or don’t, based on what you already think.

    It frustrates the hell out of me.

    I’m not going to put my kids in skirts to make a point on their behalf. I am going to teach them to respect everyone around them, regardless of differences. And attempt to teach them to be strong enough to speak their minds and break the cycle of stereotyping.

    • amoment2think April 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm

      Clara, you make some very good points. I agree with everything you are saying.

      And I think you said (much better then I) what I was hinting at when I said that I don’t buy the “boys will be boys” stuff. It is bull.

      And standing applause for the “I am going to teach them to respect everyone around them, regardless of differences. And attempt to teach them to be strong enough to speak their minds and break the cycle of stereotyping.”

      I think where I am coming from though, is that I have heard of parents who discourage their girls from playing princess and discourage their boys from playing with trucks, ect. And I don’t agree with that. I totally agree with offering a doll to a boy and a truck to a girl, but the kid should decide if they are interested or not. And yes of course, this brings us back to the environment they are raised in where there are certain stereotypes that adults are reinforcing.

      But, I also don’t think there is anything wrong with women and men being different. Equal, but different. I think it is a fine line and a hard one to navigate. I don’t think there is anything wrong, for example, with saying that more women like buying lots of shoes then men, for example. There are many men who love shoes and many women who just don’t care. Of course. But I still don’t think there is anything wrong with the generalization, I don’t think it hurts anyone. Where I think we go wrong as a society is when we say that women are more emotional or men are more aggressive. These types of stereotypes, like the one you described with your son yelling at you in public, those are the ones we should strive to get rid of.

      Am I making any sense?

      • Ginger April 19, 2010 at 11:01 am

        And I just want to say YES! to the whole not discouraging thing. I think it’s one thing to give your child the option of playing with toys from the “other” side, but to deny what they are innately interested in JUST to try and break gender stereotypes seems cruel to me. If your boy wants to play with a truck or your girl wants to play with a doll and you deny them because it sends the wrong message about gender norms? That’s your baggage, not theirs.

      • clara April 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

        Totally makes sense. I would never discourage a kid from following an interest just to make a point, my *own* point. That’s not what they’re for, these little people.

        While I don’t think it’s exactly harmful to make generalizations about men and women being different, I don’t think it’s really necessary, either. The purpose usually is to sell things. To create a “tribe” that people want to identify with. I mean, I can say “I love shoes” without saying “I’m such a chick, I love shoes,” right? My concern (not even really a concern, just a “hmmm”) with that would be the message a kid would be picking up. That my identity to that child would be based on how much I am like other people and less about who I am as an individual. It’s just too black and white for me.

        But that’s a personal thing- I am not overfond of compartmentalization. I think because I’m an aquarius. 🙂

      • amoment2think April 19, 2010 at 6:01 pm

        I hear where you are coming from and I think you have a good point.

        That is funny about the compartmentalization though, as I find that I often put things in categories in my head- it is part of how I make sense of the world. Of course I am open to those categories being broken apart, because life is not black and white. I often understand people based on how they are similar to someone else, at least at first. I don’t let my categories in my head to bias me against someone, but I do use them to try and make sense of the world and see the connections between things.

  5. Sophie April 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Very interesting debate, as always… We thought it was really funny how our son took to trucks and the like when we don’t even have a car (and really don’t care about anything engine-powered). We did encourage his love of bicycles. But trucks? Yuck! Yet he loves them.

    But I do remember when my son was just short of one, we used to hang out a lot with another mom and her daughter. The other mom would really encourage her daughter to talk – she would repeat simple words when passing things to her, pronouncing all the syllables very clearly, etc. I remember wondering if she would act the same way with a boy, or if she would have a more laid-back approach, because subconsciously, society tells us that girls are supposed to be more verbal than boys. I certainly never did that with my son, I was happy to let him frolic and develop his language skills at his own pace. Yet he started talking very early anyway. Granted, the other is more of a “flash-card mom” than I would always be, so maybe she would have been the same way with a boy, but I doubt it. I think we are more influenced by our gender biases than we think, even though I agree that there are some innate differences too.

    • amoment2think April 19, 2010 at 5:53 pm

      Interesting. I do think, as you say, that kids are influenced by gender biases more then we think.

      Who’s to say if that Mom would do the same with a boy or not. It might work the opposite way too where she may have done the ‘flash card’ style with a boy too, because she would be trying to get her boy to speak earlier then the gender bias suggests.

      LOL- I am not a flash card Mom either. I sure it works really well for some parents, but I am just not good at that thing. Sometimes I have to remind myself to talk to A about those little things as we go through our day.

  6. Ginger April 19, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Before we found out that I was pregnant with a boy, I thought for sure I wanted a girl. Because I don’t “get” boy stuff. I mean, there’s trucks and cars and sports and dirt and stuff, right? But the minute I found out that he was a HE, it felt right.
    Does that mean I understand boy stuff anymore than I did (or that I don’t want a girl in the future)? No. But I also know that I’ll figure out the stuff that is important to him–the same way I would have done with a girl. Because let’s be honest, a girl wouldn’t necessarily be interested in what I was as a child (reading, playing school so I could give my stuffed animals tests {yes, really}, building rockets, and filling out old school workbooks? That was me), so who’s to say I would know any more with a girl than a boy?

    • amoment2think April 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

      True true. It is true that I have that bias that I think I ‘get’ girls more then I ‘get’ boys.. but you are probably right that if I found out I was having a boy it would just feel right too. And totally true on the kid not being interested in the same things. (So far A is showing a strong affinity to being pretty physical (she climbed up the stairs at the playground by herself– with us spotting her) so I have a feeling she will be all over the sports.)

  7. Partial April 19, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    You raise several issues that i didn’t think about in my response. The first -KNOWING that you were having a girl. I did too! I’m highly skeptical of intuition, and I realize that I had a 50% chance of being right, but there was such a gender specific feeling in me…how does that happen?

    I also got my feather’s ruffled as a kid over chores. I’d have to mow the lawn at home, then when we went to my aunt’s house, she’d ask me to clear the table while her own boys played Atari. I knew from a young age that gender assumptions were something to be challenged, but I agree with you that it’s a combination of nature vs. nurture.

    Sure, we’re treated differently as girls, but their is some biological component to the equation, I’m convinced.

  8. Perpetua April 20, 2010 at 9:25 am

    I like that we took two sides of the same coin here: you’re thinking about gender from the kid’s perspective, while I’m thinking about how we as parents/society screw it up. 🙂 I also agree completely that it’s both nature and nurture, and that there are some clear differences (though where those come from, I don’t think we can be completely sure).

    • amoment2think April 20, 2010 at 11:29 am

      Agreed, I think that the nature/nurture is so interrelated and mixed up it would be hard to differentiate what is the result of one or the other.

      Also, while I do think that there are differences between boys and girls, it is hard to pinpoint what those differences are. Even the two examples I gave really don’t apply to all. I think there isn’t really any tendency that would apply to all girls and all boys. And it is very difficult to make a claim of a clear difference between the two, even if we go with what ‘most’ girls are like or what ‘most’ boys are like. But I still believe there are differences.

      And to Clara’s point, we never want to box our kids into any category- we need to see them as individuals and support them to be them, not what someone expects of them.

      So the whole question is, indeed, controversial. Great topic! (Thanks Brooke!)

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