Ridiculous gender bullshit

Other parents like to tell me about the differences between girls and boys, and they like to insist that these differences are somehow innate.  “We treat them exactly the same – the boys are just different from the girls,” they say.  They tell me that I don’t understand, since I just have boys.

I am declaring shenanigans on that shit.

Before I had my son (when I was single and childless and therefore had no right to an opinion on such things), I could see the difference in how people treated boys and girls.  At the same party, I witnessed these two scenes within a half hour:

Scene 1 – Three little girls on those little toy cars that you sit on and push with your feet, rolling around on the wooden deck.  Two of the girls bumped into each other lightly with the cars, with big smiles on their faces, obviously thinking this was fun.  Not just one, but two women jumped up from their chairs, with alarmed looks on their faces and panicky voices.  “No, no.  No running into each other.  Play nice.  Are you okay?”  The girls went back to just rolling around, carefully not bumping each other.  The adult females had made it very clear that bumping little plastic cars into each other at about a tenth of a mile an hour could result in Horrific Bodily Injury and most likely instant DEATH.

Scene 2 (less than a half hour later, on the same deck at the same party) – Two little boys riding on the same toy cars crash into each other.  Not a single woman stops it, stands up, looks disapproving or frightened, or says a word to the boys.  One woman smiles at me and says “Boys!  What can you do?”

Well, not too long after that party, I met the man who is now my husband and his then six-year-old son…  and very soon after that, I popped out another son for us.  And for seven years now, I’ve listened to people tell me that I don’t understand girls because I just have boys (ignoring the fact that I grew up as a girl so I think I understand at least a little bit about at least some of them).

Our youngest son is now in second grade.  For about the last two years, he has kept his hair long.  This has led to many people mistaking him for a girl.  Which means that I’ve had the perfect opportunity to observe how people treat him, depending on which sex they think he is.

And it’s crazy.  People’s voices deepen significantly the moment they realize that he’s a boy.  They will say things like “What beautiful hair” and then literally APOLOGIZE when they realize he’s a boy.  They will look alarmed if he falls at the playground, and then just laugh it off when they realize he’s a boy.

The other night a woman sort of bumped into him a little in a crowded room and said “Oh!  I’m sorry, dear.”  Then she looked at him again, and then looked at me and said “Oops – I’m sorry.”  I said “Huh?  For what?” and she said “I called him ‘dear’ – I usually call boys ‘buddy’.”

Seriously, people don’t even know how to interact with a child unless they can first determine the child’s sex.  They are lost and confused, and it’s not simply a pronoun problem.  They don’t know whether to use that silly little high-pitched voice and say things like “sweetheart” and “pretty” and compliment his shoes, or to belt out “Hey, there, little buddy!” and high-five him and ask what his favorite sport is.

And still people insist that they don’t treat the sexes any differently.

Not only do people use different words, actions, and vocal tones when speaking to a child they think is a boy and one they think is a girl…  they apply different rules to boys and girls.  DIFFERENT RULES.  Isn’t that sexism?  Isn’t that something that we enlightened 21st century Americans are supposed to be against?

Alex came home from school today and said that there was a herd (his word) of girls running around the playground today *hitting* boys and laughing and saying “Girls can hit boys, but YOU CAN’T HIT US BACK!  Ha, ha!”  He said a bunch of the boys ducked and ran away, and one boy just curled up in a ball on the ground.

What the holy hell?!?

Hey.  I am a female.  I used to be a girl, you know.  It was 40 years ago, and I remember that some people tried to tell me that I couldn’t do certain things because I was a girl.  You know what?  Being told that I couldn’t do something made me more determined than ever to DO IT, and to do it WELL.

So I completely understand Alex’s response to the herd of girls today.  He told me that he really wants to hit one of the girls, just to show them that he CAN.  Of course, I told him not to hit anyone at school unless he is really in danger.  But I also told him that of course he CAN hit a girl…  however because of sexism he would probably get in more trouble than if he hit a boy.  Because people think that girls are weaker than boys.

Heck, even *I* want to go hang out at the school at lunchtime, watch for these girls and their totally inappropriate behavior, and then crack their heads together.  I told Alex that I want to do that.  Wanting to do that is completely understandable.

And then Alex and I sang a few lines adapted from the very first song he ever learned –

“You can’t always do what you wa-a-ant,

You can’t always hit who you wa-a-ant”

This ridiculous society-endorsed (and enforced!) sexual dimorphism leads to so much trouble.  I believe it leads girls to think they are weak but at the same time strangely protected, to think their power lies in passive-aggressive manipulation and sexuality, and to think that their looks are more important than their usefulness.

And today it led an otherwise generally sweet little boy to want to punch girls in the face.

Can we just treat each other like decent human beings, whatever dangly or foldy bits we have between our legs, please?

  1. Very enlightening article you’ve written – I must say it gave me lots of thoughts.

    What I got from this article is that girls were more pampered while growing up and boys are mostly just left to their own means and interpretations (more of a hands-off, non-complimentary form; as scene #1 vs scene #2).

    I was curious about your thoughts on that idea; growing up as a girl and whether you believe the physical strength difference between boys and girls plays any part in the “ridiculous society-endorsed (and enforced!) sexual dimorphism” that causes gender attitude differences to exist?

    • I believe that there is a little natural strength difference (if you look at averages – individual girls can be stronger than individual boys, of course). But the slight natural difference is magnified exponentially through the social process during childhood. I think it was a book by Malcolm Gladwell (but I’m not remembering which of his books) that talked about how small differences become large ones with social reinforcement. Gladwell was talking specifically about sports – kids who show a teeny bit more skill than others at, say, kicking a soccer ball get more encouragement, more support, and more time with the ball than kids who do not show as much natural skill at the very beginning. This causes them to improve faster, and as they get better they get even more encouragement, support, and time on the field. The kids who weren’t quite so great early on spend more time on the sidelines, don’t try as hard over time because they see that they are not the top players, and often stop playing the game all together. By the time they are in high school, what started out as a small difference has become a huge gap. I think the exact same thing happens with lots of tiny differences between boys and girls. And unlike the soccer analogy, the differences between boys and girls are imagined by the parents and the society often before the baby is out of the womb, before s/he even gets a chance to display his or her natural aptitude for anything!

    • Oh, and as for the “hands-off, non-complimentary” part of things – that depends what the activity is. If it’s sports, woodworking, setting up a tent, barbecuing steak, or fist fighting, boys will get more instruction and girls are often ignored, left out, assumed to not be as interested or talented…

      • Thank you for the quick response. I love your thoughts here especially, “small differences become large ones with social reinforcement” and “what started out as a small difference has become a huge gap”. I see that at so many levels in society today.

        Excellent article and excellent response; thank you again.

  2. Ah, men. Being disciplined for not acting submissive enough is the same thing to them as being pampered. Whodathunkit?

    • Play nice. There were definite elements of “pampering” referred to in my post, which one man picked up on. Are females often pampered? Hell, yes. Are they also more often abused? Well, yes. The two things are part of the same problem – and I see an awful lot of women who want to keep as much of the pampered aspect as they can, not realizing or admitting that pampering is not good.

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