Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Be Girls

I’ve just started reading The Difference: Growing Up Female In America by Judy Mann. She’s a feminist who has two sons and a daughter. So far it’s very interesting. She doesn’t say that there are no differences between the sexes. But what she does say is that the differences are differently valued. I agree with that. Now that I’ve had a grandson after having four daughters, I am convinced that there are innate differences. But I would never say that one is better than the other. I’ve heard people say that boys are easier to raise than girls, that girls are so moody, that they’re glad they didn’t have daughters. Some people say the reverse, but the majority seem to see daughters as somehow inferior to sons. And that sucks. Because I think that girls are amazing. The trick is to raise them so that they know that—and never forget it.

Judy Mann writes: “Being the same as men is not what we want. We want our differences to be recognized as one of equal worth. We want to be weighed on honest scales. We want to contend on that most cherished of masculine metaphors—a level playing field.” (p.9)

But I also think it is important to stay away from stereotypes. Not all men are stoic and unemotional, physically strong and insensitive. Not all women are sensitive, caring, defenseless and emotional. It’s important to allow each individual to be who they are, regardless of what we think their gender roles should be.

Having said that, I agree that there are innate differences between the sexes. Men tend to be more about analysis, women about synthesis. Men are generally physically stronger than women, while women are generally better about pain. Men are into doing, women into being. Men are action oriented, women are more into verbal exchanges. Men are less emotional than women, women are less aggressive than men. The list goes on. And not everyone agrees on which qualities belong to each sex. But few people would deny that there are differences.

My daughters were not tomboys, but neither were they “girlie.” I didn’t dress them in frilly clothes and tell them to not get dirty. But they grew up caring about their appearance, worrying about their weight, wearing make-up and having their hair done. They also are “into” friends and family and they absolutely love to talk. (Being in the same room with all of them can be overwhelming.) They all want to get married and have children.

My grandson, on the other hand, was more physical from the start. Wrestling and head-butting were early favorites of his. He loved to play dinosaur and draw monsters. But he has also always been sensitive and loves his family dearly. He talks about when he has a wife and children. He is good with smaller children and extremely verbal. He isn’t even that into sports.

From observing and interacting with him, I have come to the conclusion that men are as caged by stereotypical thinking as women are. He’s not supposed to be emotional or verbal. He’s supposed to competitive and aggressive. Just as women are supposed to be the opposite.

One reason I was so satisfied with my four daughters is because I didn’t think in terms of boys vs. girls. I just felt like I had four children, all of whom were distinctly different from each other. I didn’t long for a son; in fact, I wasn’t sure that I wanted one. Because I bought into the stereotypes about boys. They would be noisy and always getting into fights. They would only care about sports and machines. I wouldn’t be able to have heart-to-heart talks with them.

Some women profess to favoring boys because they think that daughters always leave, but sons always stay close to their mothers. I don’t get that. I can’t imagine being any closer to a son than I am to my daughters. And they haven’t “left” me; if anything, they’re still quite attached to me, and they’re all in their late 20s and early 30s now. Maybe what “son-lovers” are thinking is that their sons will always take care of them–because that’s what men do. They expect it of their sons, but not of their daughters, because they think that their daughters will be off taking care of their own families.

Isn’t that just another stereotype?