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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Of Tomboys and Mama's Boys: Gender Issues

I was intrigued by a recent news item relating the story of an American couple who, after nearly five years, finally revealed the gender of their child to the public.  In an effort to avoid gender stereotyping the kid, the parents had refused to tell anyone other than close family members and their doctor the sex of their child.  While I feel that this is a bit extreme (and makes for clumsy conversation), I can sort of understand their intent.  (I would post a link to the news item, but I'm lazy.  And I don't want facts getting in the way of a good story.)

When one is told of the birth of a child, the first question that almost always arises is "Boy or girl?"  Some New Age-y folks take offense to this as a sign of society's attempt to "label" their kids and impose gender stereotypes on them.  I think these people need to lay of the high-fiber diets.  I can almost guarantee that the question is harmless and is intended to make future conversations easier.  It's clumsy to talk in gender neutral terms: "Congratulations on your new child.  Are he/she and the mother doing well?  When are they letting him/her out of the hospital?  Oh I can't wait to meet him/her!" (Side note: In some parts of Ireland, especially among older folks, the word "child" is a gender specific term.  The first question after a birth is usually "Is it a boy or a child?")  I think there are bigger, older, and more annoying forms of gender assumptions that we can all fight against for now.

As the father of two girls (and no boys), I have noticed some of these annoying assumptions in action.  Hell, I've even engaged in some of them: I tend to buy and dress my girls in "girly" colors.  I even have to do two loads a week of pink clothing just for them.  I refer to them as my Chicklets (small chicks - sexist as hell, but funny).  I don't wrestle or rough-house with them.  Not because I think they're "delicate", though.  They were just taught at an early age how to deliver a vicious uppercut to the nuts - a situation I try to avoid.  The gender-specific crap that galls me involves athletics and education.

Every single one of us has heard this before: "You throw like a girl!" throw like a kid who's never been taught to throw.  Up until puberty, boys and girls who have been taught to throw in the same manner are dead even when it comes to accuracy, distance, and speed.  Sadly, though, girls usually aren't encouraged to be ball throwers much past puberty.  They are taught to focus on more girly stuff.  Studies have shown, though, that girls who receive the same training through adolescence and young adulthood as their male counterparts throw just as well as males.  Distance and speed aren't quite as high for girls, but their form is identical to the boys.  If you don't believe me, hand a ball to your superstar son who is a pitcher and have him throw it with his non-dominant hand.  I bet he throws it like a girl.  And as for football, basketball, and all the other sports, I would be willing to bet that if males and females start getting trained the same through their whole lives, they could play as equals.  What about pro football?'re not likely to see a female lineman who's 6'6" and 365 pounds, but I bet there's a woman out there who could knock him on his ass.  Size ain't everything, you know.  (!)

And as for education:  This one really chaps my ass.  Once again, I'm sure you've heard someone say "Boys are just better at math and science."  When they are young, boys and girls have the same educational potential.  They will be what you help them to become.  Math and science spent centuries as a boys-only club, and we are still suffering the effects of it.  Stop believing the boys vs. girls crap when it comes to academic potential, and we will double our chances for producing Nobel laureates in this country.  By the way, my very girly oldest daughter has never once heard anyone say that the boys in her class are better at math than she is.  Guess who's going into the talented and gifted program for mathematics next year?  Yep.  And so is her female classmate.  Her parents don't buy that gender/brain crap either.

Finally, the touchiest of issues: Gender identity.  "Girls play dress-up, boys play sports."  Why?  I've already touched on the girls in sports theme, so I'll focus on the whole dress-up thing.  If your son wants to put his hair in pigtails, or clomp around in mommy's high heels, what's the worst that will happen?  Oh my god!  You're going to MAKE THAT KID GAY!!!  No.  No you frigging won't.  I don't know if you can make a kid gay or make him not gay, but I am almost absolutely certain that letting him explore his world by way of what his parents wear is not going to "make" him gay.  I think the worst thing you can do is try to suppress that curiosity or (God help us all) beat it out of him.  THAT is what is most likely to cause him to have a lot of confusion and problems later in life.  Did you ever think that maybe he wants pigtails just because it's different, or because he thinks they look good on Mommy and he wants to look good, too?  Or that maybe he likes shuffling around in Mommy's heels because it makes a metric buttload of noise?  It's not like kids love making noise or anything (heavy sarcasm). 

So...let your daughter pick up a baseball bat and teach her how to throw.  Let her do all the math she wants.  Let her wear a ballcap.  Let your son put his hair in pigtails or put a hair clip in if he wants.  Let him play with dolls if he likes.  Let him do the flamenco in Mommy's wedge heels.  In 15 years, she is going to be the girl that guys want to be around because she is tough and understands them.  And he will be sitting on the couch next to his supermodel wife, massaging her feet.  Because he understands that while high heels may make a woman's butt and legs look great, they really hurt.  And they both will be absolutely normal.

ps- I draw the line at letting girls pee standing up.  That just gets messy.


  1. Dear Jon, We already pee sanding up...sort of. Have you ever taken your girls into a public restroom? Other than on, Brother.

  2. That would be 'standing'. I woulda signed in, but I don't know what all that 'profile' stuff means.

  3. Ha! Well said. I don't think I could have put it any better myself. I also read the article you mentioned, and honestly my biggest question was, "How did they hide it so long??" It surprises me that they did "slip" the gender to a friend or relative in those years.

  4. Hear! Hear! I will say that on the math/science front, girls *generally* think differently than boys. This doesn't make them bad at math or science. In fact, it makes it even more important that we have both men and women in math and science fields. We need differences in thinking if we're going to have innovation.

    As far as sports, my family of five all do tae kwon do. At our school, we have a saying, "When someone says you kick like a girl, take it as a compliment." Our girls kick hard. Don't get me wrong, size matters in a fight, all else being equal. What we've found, though, is that young girls tend to be more timid than young boys; while teenage girls tend to be meaner (in competition) than teenage boys. I don't know if this is because they feel that they have something to prove or because it is only the more aggressive girls that compete as teenagers.

    Doing martial arts, a sport that naturally requires aggression has been an interesting study for me in the way boys and girls interact, within their own sex as well as between the sexes. One important thing I've learned, though, is that they all come in with the same potential.