Thursday, February 15, 2007
Biology is Destiny?
When I was a mother-to-be, I had all kinds of high hopes for raising my kids free from gender stereotypes that are so endemic in our culture. My husband is the only one in our family who sews, and he cooks a mean lasagna or crock pot chicken; I own two motorcycles, my pilot's license, and can turn a wrench when I need to, it seems that it would be pretty straightforward to raise children who had no preconceived notions of what men and women would do.
That was before I gave birth to a boy, then a girl. In the early years, we didn't even have a television. They probably watched fewer commercials (you know, the ones with girls playing with dolls and boys zooming trucks around) than any American children on the planet. They had us as role models. They both had access to dolls, Thomas the Tank Engine trains, stuffed animals and superheroes. They would not be trained into any roles by us, that's for sure.
My first inkling that something was dramatically different between the two of them came one day when they were both playing with some plastic Spiderman action figures. M, our son (then six years old), had them flying around involved in some epic battle, complete with sound effects. Whenever he would hand one to our daughter A., then three, she would take them over to the doll house, tuck them into bed, and sing them a lullabye.
Later, I noticed that when M. played with Thomas the Tank Engine, he built elaborate layouts and drove the trains around for hours on end. The same train tracks and trains were passed down to A. but she invented little stories and interactions between the trains and rarely touched the tracks. Frustrations sometimes arose when they tried to play together. M. wanted someone to drive trains with, while A. wanted complex interpersonal character interactions.
As the years have passed, they've found places where their interests intersect. They've come to understand that compromise might be necessary when they play together. Sometimes I will overhear an interaction like this:
M: Do you want to play an imaginary game?
A: Sure. I'm a princess!
M: No, no princesses please!
A: Okay, how about a cute fluffy doggy?
M: Aaaaaarrggh (eye rolling here) Okay, but sometimes you're fierce
Yesterday they each had a friend over to play and my final reservations about biology and destiny flew out the window. The boys immediately dragged the Lincoln Logs and toy soldiers down to the living room and set about building forts. The girls took turns borrowing each others' clothes and dressing up as dancers. The gender differences couldn't be more obvious.
Now that's not to say that they will grow up stereotyped into some roles. Both of the kids know how to cook, and A. is the one who says she wants to ride my motorcycles some day. They are both sensitive and kind, and neither is afraid to show their emotions or give us hugs. But I have learned to honor that in their basic approaches to life, they come from different directions, and that's okay.