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12.02.2010

Boys and Girls are Different, Part 2

As I said in my last post, the difference in social expectations between preschool girls and boys inflame me.

My son doesn't get to get away with anything because "boys will be boys." I have the same behavioral expectations for both of my children. They change according to age and situation, not gender.

I will never tell my son "you can't wear a princess dress" or "you can't paint your fingernails" or "you can't dress up in mommy's shoes" or "you can't play with dolls." Because give me a reason a boy can't do any one of those things, especially when he's 2 or 3 and has an older sister. The explorations of other roles (ie pretend play or role playing) is such an important part of learning through play during the preschool years, and you seriously stunt this if you limit the roles your child is "allowed" to play. Also, I feel that teaching kids that "boys don't ____" and "girls don't ____" at this early age starts them on a path towards bullying and making fun of other children who are different. I don't want my son to be that kid. I don't even want him to be the kid who doesn't bully, but who allows others to bully. I want him to be the one who sticks up for and supports other children.

Furthermore, you will never hear me tell my daughter "little girls don't do that." If any message that I send either of my children is sexist, it's one thing I occasionally tell Izzy (because I feel girls get a lot of lopsided ideas over the course of their formative years, and I hope to even them out with this idea)- that girls are lucky because we can do whatever we want. We can wear pants and play sports or wear skirts and and be girly... or even wear skirts and play sports if we want to. I don't want her to ever think "I wish I was a boy because they get to ____." I want her to feel like she can do whatever she wants to do, and I want her to realize eventually how lucky she is to be able to do whatever that is. Sure, my daughter would spray-paint everything she owned (and probably a good deal of the rest of the house) pink if I allowed her to, but she also likes to build with blocks and jump off of ridiculously high objects (that's a pretty popular activity with both of my kids- apparently they're trying to see how they can make me completely crazy) and dig in dirt.

But it is hard when they get the message from other places. As I mentioned in the last post, I hear this often from the grandparents. I hear a lot of "he's just a boy." Grrr. But that mostly just annoys me. I think the biggest obstacle, at least in my daughter's case, is other children. Thankfully she goes to a great preschool (and even in her slightly less great preschool before we moved was good about this) where no gender roles are intentionally placed upon the children- all activities are equally available to all children. However, most of the children have already been labeled by their parents. As I mentioned, Izzy loves to build with blocks. But she told me the other day she doesn't play with blocks at preschool because "girls don't play with blocks, only boys." You can imagine how mad this made me. I resisted the urge to yell at her (misplaced urge, I know it's not her fault). I also resisted the urge to go in and have a talk with the teacher, because I know it is none of the teacher's doing, and I know that as a teacher she is absolutely doing the right thing- she is allowing the children to have ample free play time in which they choose and structure their own activities (insert applause for Izzy's preschool teacher here). But what about the other parents? I don't know them well enough to know what they do at home, but I can't help but wonder, how many of them bought blocks or other construction toys for their daughters? How many of them provided well thought out, organized, open ended toys and play time? It would be interesting to know, if there were a way for me to find out without seeming like an overly intrusive nut-bag. I content myself with knowing that Izzy plays with boys and girls almost equally- at both preschools she had her one best "girl" friend and a few friends of the male persuasion. Which leads me to my final point, and the one that makes me probably the most angry.

Why do adults insist on sexualizing preschoolers? When I say it that way it sounds absolutely criminal, doesn't it? Well, when someone refers to an 18 month old as having "girlfriends" or grills a 4 year old about whether or not she thinks one of her male friends is cute, you are sexualizing them. Preschool children are more alike than they are different. They tend to choose friends based on common interests such as both liking to play home living or blocks. So Izzy has friends who are boys because they also like to play with puzzles (which she is mildly obsessed with right now). Not because she thinks they're cute or wants them to be her "boyfriend." And I feel that by implying anything else we set them up to become too interested in dating and sex too early and to be insecure around the opposite gender. Let kids actually be kids and stop trying to impose adult social situations on them.

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