Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snakes and Spice

When Boo was born, I was determined that she wouldn't just be a girly girl. I had been a girly girl, but that's what I was expected to be. My sister could throw a baseball like a guy and run faster than most of the girls in her grade. During PE softball, I made dandelion chains while waiting for my turn at bat.

But I decided that my daughter would be taught that girls and boys can share interests and talents. She has been given tea sets and cars, Batman action figures and Barbie dolls.

Unfortunately, I can't get the Enlightened Parent of the Twenty-first Century award just yet. Even though she scooted a Batmobile around as a toddler, seven-year-old Boo told me recently that she's "just not that interested in her Batman toys anymore." Or her Star Wars toys. Or the box of cars that sits in the top of her closet.

In fact, she spends most of her playtime with dress up, jewelry, play food, and baby dolls.

What has surprised me, however, is that my seventeen-month-old son has gained his education from his big sister. Once he started scooting and crawling, he learned to reach for one of Boo's bright pink tea cups. Ji would turn the cup every direction, examining it with his wide eyes and slobbery mouth. As he became more mobile, he began to spend most of his playtime cooking with Boo's pots and pans and plastic foods. He had become jealous of Boo's attention to her babies, so we even bought him his own baby doll.

I'd like to say we're raising a sensitive boy who is all cuddles and sweetness. However, Ji's an adventurer who climbs on the furniture, jumps down the concrete steps, barks at the neighborhood dogs, and has torn his favorite books apart. He's also much more interested in that Batmobile than his sister ever was. People keep assuring me that my son's fearlessness can be wholly attributed to his sex.

I'm not sure what all of this means for gender roles. I don't believe that girls are "sugar and spice and everything nice" because I've known a lot of girls who were snotty and mean. Boys can't really be made of "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails" because that's just disgusting. Snakes are cool. Snails are okay. But puppy dog tails? Really? I've never shaken the image of dozens of little puppies' tails severed to mix into a giant pot of boy.

I heard recently about a couple in England who decided to raise their child as gender neutral for the first five years. The mother called gender stereotyping "stupid" and compared gender roles to horoscopes in limiting personality characteristics. Considering the number of times "like a girl" was used as an insult against me as a child, part of me wants to agree with her. But, I just can't believe it. I'm too attached to my femininity. I feel like it is most of what makes me who I am. And it seems to be the same for my daughter.

Boo has finally decided that pink is no longer her favorite color. (I'm a little relieved. So much pink can really get to a parent.) She's decided that she prefers turquoise. She assured me that "there are no girl or boy colors; they're all just colors."

At least there's something in that.


  1. I think it's good to let children explore and decide what they like for themselves. So I think that you're doing the right thing. I played Legos with my brothers (although they were horrified when I took off people's heads to add their clothes to my "closet.") and they played trolls & Barbies with me. I learned to mow the lawn at the same time they did, we all learned the basics of operating a sewing machine. I'm glad that Ji has his own baby doll!

  2. I recall a very young James saying, "Mine are the 'lellow ones. The pink ones are 'lisbeth's."