Most people believe boys will be boys and girls will be girls – boys innately like trucks, girls will always end up playing with a doll.
However, having both a boy and a girl, I really don’t think that’s the case. There is just soooooo much influence over what they will play with from those around them, that I don’t think it is innate at all.
From early days, my son has been getting comments from grown-ups judging what he’s wearing and playing with. Some clothes are too pretty for him, apparently (he wears some of his sister’s hand-me-downs – don’t panic, not dresses), and if he carries a dollie around there are plenty of comments judging it to be a gay or girlie thing to do.
He’s one year old.
A one-year old kid can understand a lot, though. A mocking aside about his infatuation with his sister’s hairbrush compared to the smiles and encouragement from the same grown-ups when playing with trucks, balls and hammers. That sort of feedback must play a role in his choice of toys as he grows.
I have to admit, I’d previously subscribed to the school of thought that there were innate differences between the sexes. Which is weird, because I can read maps. When I read a few articles about Cordelia Fine’s research, I started to change my tune. I started noticing little things about the way my daughter was treated (Fine’s book came out before my son was born). The way people were so quick to comment on her prettiness, her clothes and they’d worry that she was getting dirty when playing (whereas I think a dirty kid = a kid having a good time), or that she was too young to play on certain playground equipment (she wasn’t and I was spotting her anyway).
The different toys they each received for their first birthdays is interesting to note:
- daughter – lots of books, playdough set, kawasaki quad bike (from her awesome uncle who knows I used to ride a kwakka myself)
- son – cars, trucks, noisy push-along toys.
Now, bear in mind that our friends aren’t in any way sexist, they tend to have the same parenting style as ourselves, and all the gifts were beautiful – in fact, many were quite gender-neutral, because those are the kind of friends we have. It’s just interesting to note that Miss got mostly quiet toys (besides the kwakka) and Master got mostly noisy ones.
Toys are only a small portion of the way we influence kids in gender roles, though. Mostly, they learn through our own roles, how we relate to other people, and what we convey directly to them.
My daughter knows I work, like Dad does, but she thinks that all bosses are men, because mine happens to be a man. She thinks that Dad is the better driver, because even though I ferry them around during the week, I often get MLM to drive on weekends because I’m so sleep-deprived.
I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or pedantic, but I do know that I don’t want my daughter’s options narrowed because she’s a girl. I know I can’t keep her away from the fairy dresses for much longer. I just want her to know that she doesn’t have to be a fairy just because everyone else expects her to be.
There are so many other people who influence her now: childcare, playgroup kids & mums, cousins, grandparents, strangers. Some of these influences are going to be fantastic, some questionable. I don’t really have much control over that anymore, and that’s fine. I know both my kids will turn out okay, and that if they do follow typical gender interests and roles, it’s not a failure on my part, or some innate path they’re following. It’s just the culture we are a part of, and there’s no way you can block that out, or should want to completely.