Sunday, June 27, 2010

the barrier that may not be crossed

When 7yo was 3yo or so, he was very vague about the difference between boys and girls. In fact, for about a year, girls were the ones who had bangs in their hair while boys did not. The fact that he's always had bangs confused me, but such was the rule. Since around 6 though, he's not just become aware of sex differences with body parts, but he's fascinated with gender construction.

In fact, gender is the one line that may not be crossed in imaginative play. When pretending to be something else, one can clearly imagine being a robot, a dog, a crocodile, a mutant, a giant monster, a chair,... but one cannot ever be... a girl.

He's a little director and assigns all of us roles to play. Last night walking along the canal I was variously Superman, War Machine, and our own made-up superhero named Same Old Fish. He was Iron Man, Justice Lord Superman, and more. N of course was Wonder Woman or Spider Woman or Scarlet Witch. None of us are ever allowed to pretend to be a gender we are not.

This rule is even more strict than the good guy / bad guy rule. He must be labeled the good guy 97% of the time. Even if the good guy is chopping off limbs of bad guys who seem to be doing nothing other than standing there. But they're bad so they deserve it. But 97% is not 100%, and I've never heard him pretend to be anything labeled "girl".

Good news is that he's not obsessed with silly rules. For instance, he recently declared that all colors were okay for boys and girls. Blue is his favorite color, but it's okay if a boy wears something pink.

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Interview because he just sat next to me:

Me: 7yo, how are boys different from girls?

7yo: Girls have 4 private parts. The little dot, their bottom, and they have boobies.

Me: Where did you learn that word "boobies". I don't use that word, Maman doesn't.

7yo: If you want to use the short word for boobies, it's just boobs. Boys only have 2 private parts.

Me: Do they act the same or act different?

7yo: Different. In French Polynesia, girls do this: *starts twisting hips* Boys do the funky chicken dance: *moves knees in an out* (He just went to the Polynesian Cultural Center, where they did a session of Tahitian dance where this is true.

And they have different languages. Some boys have the same language as girls. Some boys don't. (However, he can't come up with any examples of different boy/girl languages. Btw, depends on what you want to call a language, but he's right about different speech between the two in many cultures.)

Me: Any other differences?

7yo: It's what bathroom they go in. The boys go in the boys bathroom; the girls go in the girls bathroom.

Me: Your friend YYY at school. Why is she a cool girl?

7yo: Because she's nice. I ask her for a pencil, she let's me have a pencil.

Me: Anything else you want to say about boys and girls?

7yo: The End.

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Overall pretty healthy attitudes about girls and boys I think. Nothing crazy in there. But just don't cross that line.

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Update:

I read the post to them and N says, "it's sometimes okay for me to be a boy."
Me: "Can maman pretend to be Superman?"
7yo: ummmm Spider WomanMan. Half girl, half boy.
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Barriers are collapsing!!!!

3 comments:

Aerin said...

I get frustrated with the gender stereotypes my kids - ages 4 and 6 - bring home from school. It's as though I don't only have to ask if the parents own guns before I allow them to go for a playdate, I have to ask if they think it's okay for girls to play with trucks and boys to play with dolls.

My kidlings can be overheard in play: "You can't wear/say/do/that - you're not a girl/boy!" My response is usually "What does that have to do with it?" Whereupon I get confused looks, and I press on. "Whose rule is it that [said trait] is only something done by boys/girls?"

Of course then it gets really fun when they respond, "Well, XYZ at school says so." And then I get to say gleefully, "Your friend XYZ isn't in charge. I am. And it's okay for girls/boys to do [whatever]." I love that part.

(Teaching my kids to think for themselves? Are you nuts? I had kids so I could make them think exactly like I do - why else do you have kids?????)

Peter Dudley said...

Fascinating, Paca. I had not noticed this, but you're right. My boys have never ever ever pretended to be a girl in their make believe. They don't pretend to be robots or monsters much either, though they do pretend to be kitties of various types from time to time. (Or used to before the older one officially became a teenager.)

They don't, however, seem to have the strong gender typing of role play that Aerin refers to. I think it's because they were hooked on Star Wars as little kids, and Leia is deadly with a blaster. (But thank God Luke didn't wear the gold metal bikini.) Anyway, my boys have always gravitated toward the "boy" games of guns, swords, light sabers, machines and vehicles, explosions, spies, etc. Even when they played with their beanie babies, it usually resulted in beanie armies squaring off with many deaths and much collateral damage. This was neither encouraged nor discouraged by me.

My wife did insist on reading "William's Doll" to both boys multiple times when they were very little. Didn't stick, apparently.

Precie said...

Kid picked up gender inflections for colors in preschool. Specifically, pink and purple are apparently "girl" colors. What concerned me more was that, for a while, only the girls sat and colored....that wasn't a "boy" thing to do.

And what I find particularly stressful about the gender barrier is the challenge (as with many of my somewhat liberal views) encouraging Kid not to think so narrowly BUT not alienate himself from his peer group.

While I want him to grow up standing up for his beliefs, I don't want to make his life any harder than it has to be.

Which reminds me...ask me sometime about the interesting conversation Kid and I had about race after his class studied MLK during Black History Month. Trying to explain the complexities of heritage and diversity to a kindergartener--a mixed-race kindergartener--is a work in progress here.