18 March 2009

an open letter to a fellow mother

Dear K's Mother,

It's so nice that our sons have befriended each other at the preschool play class, and I'm glad to have someone to talk to about our children, the town we live in, and other mundane small-talk sorts of things.

But what I don't enjoy is your sporadic gender commentary on our kids. I find it odd that you proclaim Evan and your son, K, to be "all boy" as they are tumbling and climbing and jumping on the mats, when our friend's daughter, A, is right alongside them. I find it puzzling that you marvel at how "dainty" A is: "She even walks differently than the boys!" And when A's mother explains that A's style of walking is something she's had physical therapy to try to correct, and you recall that actually, your oldest son walked that way for a while as a toddler but grew out of it, you still have no problem finding another way to differentiate the sexes, zeroing in on the one moment when A lies down on a mat and pretends to go to sleep, cooing that "the princess is sleeping!" Oh, those boys are wild, but the little girl, she is a calm and docile princess. In this minute and this minute only, but that's apparently enough evidence for you.

I find it strange, too, that you and N's mom exchanged laughter over how rowdy Evan, K, and N were being, "such boys!", with their jumping and tumbling, commenting that all of the little girls were staying far away from the mats where our sons were being so rambunctious. It seemed that you two had forgotten the previous half hour in which little girls were climbing right there on the same mats with our boys, and you must not have noticed in the next half hour when girls were again playing with the boys.

I wonder if you would still call Evan "all boy" if you saw the way he likes to snuggle up to me, sucking his thumb? I wonder if you'd hold fast to your notions of how different boys and girls are if you saw my son's bright red toenails? I wonder if you've ever considered that part of the reason boys and girls do behave differently might be because people like you label little girls "princesses" simply for existing? I wonder if your head would have exploded had you known Evan during the phase where he liked to pretend to be Princess Leia?

K's mom, you seem like a pretty nice woman. Maybe if you can stop your gender editorializing, or if I can learn to ignore it, we could be friends. I'm not sure how likely either of those options are, though. It's too bad, because I could use a friend who understands what it's like to raise boys surrounded by so many hyper-masculine cultural stereotypes.

Evan's mom


Jessica said...

Clearly, Heidi, this is one reason why I love you so much. I am so tired of mothers of boys proclaiming how active and rowdy their BOYS are, and the implication is that boys are so much harder than girls and so families with all girls must have it easy. Parenting is not a competitive sport. Trust me, my ADHD girl is plenty active. You just can't make any assumptions along gender lines.

You and Greg are doing such a great service to your kids to be aware of this stuff and to avoid pushing them into a pre-conceived role -- way to raise some fabulous kids!

Heidi said...

"Parenting is not a competitive sport" -- Jessica, you just very succinctly verbalized something I've been trying to figure out how to express for a long time!

The thing that baffled me about this woman was the way she was making all of these gendered stereotypes even when there was direct evidence to the contrary right in front of her! Willfully blind, almost.

kim said...

I've noticed the same thing since I first became a mother - simply having a child of either gender must somehow be an open invitation to talk about how boys are from Mars and girls are from Venus. I had a woman in a store tell me that a newborn Will looked like "all boy," which is interesting since he looks so much like his sister. But people see what they want to see. I have a friend who makes generalizations about boys and girls based on her kids, yet ignores how her daughter's rough and tumble play complicates her girly stereotype and would probably freak out if I mentioned that her son's clinginess to her is not the most traditionally masculine trait.

In my own children, the only real difference I've noticed thus far between boys and girls is where they get diaper rash. There probably are innate differences between boys and girls, but we'll never be able to tell which differences are genetic and which are social because so many parents don't even realize how their perceptions and expectations shape their kids' behavior.

Jessica said...

I wish I could take credit for that phrase, but I'm sure I read it somewhere....

karen said...
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karen said...

Thank you for that, Jessica - "parenting is not a competitive sport" - I love it. Too bad there are definitely parents out there who seem to miss out on that point. This "willfull blindness" is an amazing phenomenon - all the time people argue that boys prefer playing with guns and roughhousing and girls prefer playing with dolls when given a choice. But often it's really a matter of what people are CHOOSING to notice. And in CHOOSING to give attention to certain behaviors, they are reinforcing these behaviors, and consequently pushing their children right into these stereotypical roles.
Oh, I could go on about this forever. The point is, though, that I appreciate that you are aware of this, Heidi, and that you and Greg are so good at leaving the options open for Evan and James and recognizing them as individuals, rather than as members of a gender role.