21 April 2006

time for another post on gender

My sister has a good post up about the cultural focus on little girls' appearances rather than personalities or accomplishments, and, consequently, the tendency of little girls to emulate this focus by idealizing princessses, while boys, on the other hand, are encouraged toward a more broad range of interests. Her post set me off on a whole variety of gender-related trains of thought, some of which I'm going to attempt to organize here.

It's interesting, the different challenges that parents face. Parents of girls who are aware, like my sister, of implicit cultural norms and standards, are faced with the challenege of raising girls to be independent, intellectual, creative beings despite the cultural imperative to be merely pretty and passive. Parents of boys, on the other hand, realize the need to encourage openness, sensitivity, and emotional awareness in a culture that encourages boys to be the strong, silent type. Parents of girls may be worrying that their daughters will be overly interested in princesses and fairies and other useless idols, while I'm worried that my sons will pick up on the cultural cues for boys to disdain "girly" things.

I still worry, even though I can see that James is growing up with a more gender-neutral childhood than many kids. His school environment certainly encourages this; school is where he picked up the "No Girls Allowed" refrain, but also where he learned why that's a harmful attitude. And the parents in our neighborhood are largely an enlightened bunch, and so, by extension, are their children. One of James' best friends in our neighborhood is a 7-year-old Chinese girl, and they spend a lot of their time building in the sandbox. For the most part, kids in our neighborhood are really inclusive, in terms of both gender and race, and that's one of the reasons I'm really grateful to have lived here -- there are probably few other environments where James could have had the exposure to so many different people, while in a tolerant, inviting community.

I have to share a moment of triumph I had recently in regards to gender. James, one morning, discovered some of my hair ties -- the double-ball elastics usually worn by 6-year-old girls -- and asked to try one. His hair's getting pretty long, so I was able to put the front of his hair into a little ponytail. He looked in the mirror and said, "I look like a girl!" and I said "You look great." He was happy with it and decided to wear his hair that way all day. Later that afternoon, we went to a friend's for a playdate. James' playmate opened the door and the first thing he said was, "You look like a girl!" James grinned and shouted, "Yeah!" and the two ran off to play without mentioning James' hair again. And that just made me smile.

I'll close with a pic of James and his ponytail -- ignoring the tongue, I think it's adorable:


Anonymous said...

it is! your boy's gonna grow up into a caring and tolerant man, i'm so very sure of that. he's lucky to have you and your great parenting, very much so.
many hugs,

Anonymous said...

ps. and also: wow. kids really amaze me sometimes. the other day brina had a similarly interesting one.. we went by two houses of very different colours and she looked at them, clearly thinking something over in her mind and then said "look. they're not the same colour. but they still love each other." this is what i call pure goodness in kids.