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As has become tradition over the last several Christmas Eves, my
daughter and I are celebrating with some of our very best friends and their family.
In attendance are three little boys who I love dearly, all just a year or two
older than my girl. Each of the kids gets a toy gun from their uncle, these
loud, light-up things that immediately annoy the heck out of every adult in the
room. And off they run, chasing, shooting and having the time of their lives.
this instance, they are all playing exactly the same way. In fact, my friend's
mom comments on precisely that, noticing that my daughter is just one of the
boys when it comes to playing with her buddies.
so often, that is absolutely how it seems.
it doesn't take long for her to tire of the rambunctious play. And before I
know it, she is off quietly in a corner, pulling out a stuffed animal to
declare her baby. She holds it against her, whispers softly in its ear and
rocks gently to some music no one else can hear.
Meanwhile the boys continue to run and shoot and play.
is a pretty standard scene in our group of friends. Nobody ever directs the
play these kids partake in (at least, not until things get too loud or rowdy
and we have to intervene) and they genuinely love to play together. But it is
often my little girl who finds herself on the outskirts at some point, growing
overwhelmed by the noise and the energy the boys emit, wanting to settle down
and do something a little more low-key.
Try to acknowledge the presence of those gender norms online, and you're sure to be ripped apart.
same night, the topic of gender neutrality comes up, and one of my best friends
starts discussing the differences she has seen not only between her own son and
daughter, but also between her kids and the opposite sexed children in their
one in my group of friends enforces gender norms. We have little boys who carry
around baby dolls and little girls who ram trucks. And yet there are plenty of
examples of pervasive gender norms that we have all found difficult to ignore.
daughter, for instance, is obsessed with jewelry and purses, two things I
couldn't care less about. She routinely does fashion shows for me and demands
her nails be painted at all times when I haven't had my nails
painted in years.
friends of boys marvel at her ability to sit still and work on coloring or
painting for up to an hour at a time. They tell me tales of their boys who
can't sit still and do the same for more than three minutes. I've witnessed the ants in the pants that keep those boys moving myself.
to any parent of both boys and girls and they will likely comment on how their
children differed from one another. More often than not, those differences will
likely fall in line with some of the standard gender norms we've all come to
try to acknowledge the presence of those gender norms online, and you're sure
to be ripped apart.
experienced it myself, both when writing a salute to those
friends of mine with rambunctious boys, and when discussing the reasons I love having
a daughter. In sharing pieces I thought of as fairly innocuous (and maybe
even humorous) in nature, I've received all kinds of backlash from those
calling out for an end to gender stereotypes.
are they really stereotypes? Or are we perhaps just getting a little too militant
in our push for gender neutrality?
I am all for the removal of gender-based labels in toy aisles and the encouragement of kids
to pursue their own bliss, no matter what that bliss may be. I will stand up for
any child looking to demolish those gender barriers, and you will never hear me
saying, "But … that's a girl thing," or the other way around.
Acknowledging that sometimes there really are some noticeable differences between how boys and girls play and interact, at least on average? I fail to see the harm in that.
that end, you better believe I will be encouraging my daughter in math and
the sciences, because she will not
grow up thinking that girls are just bad at numbers in the same way that I once
But acknowledging that sometimes there really are some noticeable differences
between how boys and girls play and interact, at least on average? I fail to
see the harm in that.
all known kids who have bucked those norms and flown in the face of them, and I
would never for one second argue that there is anything wrong with that. Kids
are individuals too, and they have their own minds. Their own wills. I am a big
fan of encouraging that individuality.
why are we so afraid of talking about the fact that sometimes, maybe even a lot
of the times, these "norms" do apply?
and girls, in general, are different: the way they play, the interests they
have, the energy level they display. Our understanding of these "norms" has
developed because for so many kids, they hold true.
maybe that's a good thing. Or at least, not something we should be afraid of or
try to shut down.
maybe, just maybe, trying to force gender neutrality on our kids has the
potential to be just
as damaging as trying to force those gender norms on them. And maybe we
should just let our kids be instead—without fear of what it might mean to
acknowledge exactly what we observe when we do.