Having boy/girl twins, I have the opportunity to see how a boy and girl—or rather this particular boy and tater tot—are developing, and what if anything, their gender preferences are. Each of them, could of course be prototypical or atypical, not at all representing their gender, but from what I’ve gleaned from existing, they fall in line with the generalizations. And as their mother, I don’t know how to feel about it. Instinct tells me to challenge it.
Before birthing my own beans, I assumed that parents—purposefully or not—reared their children into mini clichés, like pouring batter into a muffin pan. "Snips and snails" for you; "sugar and spice" for us. From outfitting girls in pink, boys in blue, trucks for him, unrealistically proportioned dolls for her, parents were churning out diapered, thumb sucking, stereotypes. With exposure to such things, the brood would learn to prefer either items associated with femininity or items typically deemed masculine: learned behavior. Praising a daughter for making nice with the baby doll, and commending a son for saying “vroom vroom.” In the same way that I’ve heard that teachers have unconsciously called on boys more than girls in math and science classrooms, I believed parents fed into the stereotypes and unconsciously rewarded and applauded ladylike behavior from a daughter, more than from a son. We give subtle cues, revealing our own subconscious—or conscious—beliefs, and kids don’t miss a beat.
Our toy room is chockablock with cars, trucks, little people (just big enough not to be swallowed), plastic farm animals, activity tables, stuffed animals, musical instruments, blocks, and yes, baby dolls. Here’s what I’ve noticed. It’s not that Lucas goes for the plastic tools, while Abigail hightails it for the makeup kit, but what’s glaringly different is HOW they play with the toys. Lucas throws everything and smiles after banging things together. He’s more interested in how the gate locks, studying the groove and the bolt, trying to replicate the way we’ve opened it. Abigail, in contrast, couldn’t actually care less how it works, only that she doesn’t want to be trapped behind it. I praise both of them for “feeding” the baby bear imaginary food, for the way they fetch the water and give the stuffed puppy dog a drink, but when Abigail finishes, she returns the water bottle to where she found it, squatting just so, setting it down with both hands, while Lucas chucks it across the room. That, I believe, is a case of nature, not nurture, and, from what I’ve otherwise observed, has nothing to do with their fine motor skills.
When it comes to math and science, I don’t believe boys are slightly superior to girls. I don’t believe that even further right on the bell curve, when the pool narrows, boys have an innate superiority to girls. I hope, like with all other parents, my deepest beliefs bubble to the surface and serve up subtle cues.