gender similarities: separate but equal

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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.



  1. I thought this was a very interesting post. I had this assumed idea that most of the reason that children displayed the stereotypes was that their parents consciously or unconsciously supplied the cues to make them into pink-craving or dump-truck driving little girls and boys. Then I think of my own childhood and wonder if it was only my mother's very formidable presence and views that meant that I was a tomboy as a child. But then I was a little miss as a tot, playing at washing and hanging clothes, always very helpful, dragging my Maria doll around. However, I was never a pink-wearer, my ragdolls were pretty and only for sleeping with when I was around 5 years old and I was more interested in playing outdoors and my Lego set. I am wondering now about this, how I was a typical little girl as a tot (apart from the pink) and come the age of 4/5 I started becoming more a tomboy, less of a stereotype and more of an individual.

    I think what they display as tots could indeed show nature influencing them which would clearly define their gender and roles. I think its only later when they start trying to show their personalities that nuturing influences and practices of the parents come into play to create the children and individuals they will be and finally the teens you will get to discipline later. (Won't that be something to look forward to!!)

    So maybe those adults that I meet that are stereotypical just never had enough nuturing to influence their values and just too much nature?

  2. Isn't it funny? I am now surrounded by three boys (two small, one big) and they are definitely different. I never stifle any of their interests and Ben does love a to wear a pink nightgown now and then. But for the most part they fit the stereotype perfectly.

  3. I have boy girl twins too who are five now. While they would always play with all the toys in the play room, even now they still prefer their "own" toys.

  4. I was a total tomboy. I refused to wear dresses, pink, or play with dolls. I was constantly scrapping, playing war, riding bikes, and generally acting like a boy. I do admit, however, that I was less destructive than my brother and his friends. (although no less partial to blowing up things with fireworks). And I didn't enjoy killing bugs and varmints the same way the boys did.

  5. From what I could see on the ultrasound, I'm pretty darn certain I'm going to give birth to a girl in about 3 months. I think about this all the time. There is definitely something "nature" to this.

    Apparently, most women have pointer fingers that are longer than their ring fingers, and men have longer ring compared to pointer. I have the male trait, with a much longer ring finger. This is something that develops because of hormones in the uterus. No one who's studies such things is surprised that I exhibit more gender neutral, or tomboyish, traits in my personality.

    What was amazing is that upon finding all this out I checked out my friends and family to see who had which trait. Not once was I surprised by the outcome. All the girly girls had the "female" trait, and the tomboys had the "male" trait. The metro men in my life had the "female" trait, and the macho guys the "male" trait. It was amazing.

    FROM STEPHANIE: My index finger looks like a pinky when compared to my ring finger, and I'm quite the girly girl and have been since I was old enough to make all my dolls sit with me for tea parties.

  6. Since I only have a little boy I can't comment on girls, though I hope I have one someday. I just knew Kellen would be a girl, KNEW it. I feel it in my bones, I told everyone. Wrong.
    Not that I'd trade him for the world but, man, boys are LOUD.

    They like to throw shit, bang things together, crash and collide. I've nurtured his softer side with (boy) baby dolls (Graco makes adorable ones) and the Little People house (with pink trim), and offered to purchase Barbies for him to which he reacted as if I had insulted him.
    Then I spend not even an hour with my gf and her little girl who is around the same age and I am never so thankful for a boy.
    Hope you'll put up new pics of the chirrun soon. I bet they're shooting up like weeds.

  7. PS- I watched the donut video of you and Phil and Phil is actually pretty hot. Not that I was surprised but you cant really tell much from the pics. I can see how you find him sexy.
    "Ohhh sexaaaay girlfriend"
    Since reading Moose now lines from 80's movies pop in my head when I read your posts. Heh.

  8. I thought this was pretty perceptive. I spent a year as a preschool teacher and agree that even at 2, the differences in roughhousing and the urge to throw and destroy seem to be pretty defined.

    And thanks to Janet Blank in the comments, I can now blame my long ring fingers for the fact that it took me so long to figure out how to be girly.

  9. just signed in in your social network…can't wait to start!!
    I love you Steph. You are one of my models of life. Really.

  10. I must be a hermaphrodite, my left ring finger is much longer than the pointer, my right ring finger is much shorter than the pointer.

  11. I think the nature/nurture issue is so interesting. There are four kids in my family, 2 girls and two boys. My mom had one girl and one boy each with two different husbands. The similarities among "full" siblings and differences between "half" siblings, even of the same gender, are fascinating. It is impossible to blame nurture here, since the dads were not really a part of our lives.

  12. and on both hands, mine are about the same length! Maybe I don't have any personality traits….

  13. My son and daughter are five years apart and not biologically related, so who knows. All I can say is that when my son was little, I was determined there would be no guns in his world. He, on the other hand, was so determined to play with guns that EVERYTHING he touched became a gun, including graham crackers that he bit into gun shapes and then used to play cowboy.

    Five years later, my daughter came along. She never, ever chewed her graham crackers (or anything else) into a gun, never asked for a gun, never questioned that we didn't have guns in the house.

    Lots more examples, of course, but the graham cracker thing still cracks me up 20 years later.

  14. when I was always wearing shorts, pants and playing in the dirt with my cousins. My grandmother used to hate that i wasn't ladylike but I didn't care. But I also had an extensive collection of barbies and babies, so I guess I was both.

  15. Stephanie (et al)-

    You are definitely a girly girl, but you DO have chutzpah. Or balls, if you will. I've seen proof. There's a stubborn fighter blended with a little Martha Stewart inside of you, and I mean this in the best possible way.

  16. I've also witnessed what Jerri did. Well, not the graham cracker bit….good thing, as I'd probably rush for the camera to get some pictures, and then share them with everyone, telling the story between fits of laughter ….not the way to reprimand bad behavior!

    Much to the dismay of his parents, almost every little boy I know just "knows" how to pick up a stick, or a hairbrush, or a spoon and pretend it's a gun. Or a knife. Or a battering ram. No tv in the house? didn't matter. Never allowed to go into a PG movie? didn't matter. Only read to from "modern" fables where everyone plays nice? Didn't matter. From a family with two moms? Didn't matter. They just knew….

    Little boys also scrap and scramble and look like they're about to kill each other one minute, and then it's over and they're laughing. It's just play to them. And usually everyone is involved no one is left out of the game.

    Not so little girls, who somehow know how to turn on "mean," the way little boys know to turn a stick into a gun. If you've got three playing together, in a second it can turn into two against one and someone gets left out. And it usually ends in tears.

  17. my son and daughter both enjoyed the same type of toys, but like yours, their play was completely different. my daughter narrates her play while my son makes sound effects. for him, everything has a sound effect, something my daughter never did.

  18. My index and ring fingers are the same length too. I grew up being a girly girl. Hair stylist mother, absent father.

  19. Stephanie- What great observations. I have two nephews who are complete opposites. The youngest (5 yrs.) has been a typical "boy" since birth. Aggressive, into sports, airplanes, would rather be playing outside, chucking a football at 2 years old, is way more social, and all the rest of it. Whereas, my other nephew (7 years) has always been more bookish, likes magic, had magic wand at 2 years old (bibbity bobbidy boo), loves art (can spot a Van Gogh at 20 paces), computers, space, video games, is a bit ADHD, and hates to play outside. Maybe with the internet and "nerd chic" we will redefine what it means to be a man.

    PS-I have found that computer guys (mine is a web developer) make the best husbands! Totally unbiased I'm sure!

  20. I'm up to my ears in kids (2 boys — stepsons, 2 girls) so pardon me if I just cut to the chase:

    Did you get the new ring?

    I thought you'd at least post a pic of the temp. :0(

    FROM SK: I'll have it in Ten Days when I'm in NY. First I'm off to LA for work. By the way, I hate dr. appointments for Phil. I hate when they say, "I know it's uncomfortable, but you'll need to get your kids checked." My heart, actually, my stomach has a pulse and is racing. I don't know why I'm writing this in a comment. I just feel it so much now.

  21. When my three were little, I, too, was determined to let them develop without any preconceived stereotypical influence. (My oldest son had both a little kitchen and a toolbench.) What I observed overall is my boys loved cars, especially monster trucks, and if they didn't have something that looked like a gun, a stick or finger would do just fine, thank you. They love weapons and gross stuff. My daughter spent hours in her kitchen and loved her baby doll and purse. In a few short years she went from a total pink girly-girl to a total tomboy to a good mixture of the two – very feminine, very tough. She's the most athletic of my kids. All of my kids loved to read, but except for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, they all enjoy different genres. It's been fascinating watching them evolve! Enjoy!

  22. I've wondered about this nature-nurture question a lot, too, especially with two boys. My 2-year-old LOVES the "boy" toys, and he throws things around and likes to understand how things work, just like you described Lucas. But he also likes to carry a purse and put stuff in it, like his mom does. (Which is why my fake Prada is now in his toybox.) And he loves to putter around in the kitchen, making imaginary eggs and mixing things in bowls while I cook. So it's going to be interesting to see how he develops – and whether his younger brother will be similar or find his own ways of play.

  23. I have almost 2-year old boy/girl twins as well and at the moment they both prefer dolls as much as toy trucks. in fact, my son has taken "dolly" (I'm too tired to come up with actual names) everywhere. He feeds her his food and even put her face up to the drinking fountain to have a drink after he did. My little miss is another story – she's fierce. She doesn't really like her dolls other than to throw them on the ground. Today's fight was over the toy digger. How dumb of me to buy 1 digger and 1 dump truck since they both wanted that dumb digger all day.

  24. I remember when my son was about 18 months old, I bought him a Little People mini-van to go with some of the other toys of the same brand. The van was pink and my husband flipped a lid.

    I was just pissed that he would be the stereo-typical male about it. I put my foot down and kept that toy. Strangely I haven't seen it since….

  25. My husband and I like to joke that with our three kids we got one of each: a girl, a boy, and a Mona. Our middle child defies most stereotypes and occasionally gravity.

    Our oldest girl is very girly, which fascinates me. I don't wear makeup or carry a pursey looking purse and have never worn heels, but she's interested in all of those things and is not imitating me. The boy is not quite two, but looks up to his sisters and wanted his own tea set. He's as likely to gently play with a baby doll as he is with a toy truck. He thinks throwing things is hilarious and likes knowing how things work. Mona remains unpredictable, sometimes decked out in princess gear and sometimes raiding her little brother's drawers for his shirts.

    They all like sticks, they all like cars, they all can spend hours with legos or the toy kitchen. The girls both asked for pink toy guns they saw recently and the boy puts on necklaces. Since their mom works with tools all day and dad does most of the cooking I think they've gotten a pretty good sense than anything's game, but there are moments when they fall into more predictable lines.

    I guess the funny part about the stereotypes that hit me not long ago was that most of us have it backwards. I don't think we force guns on boys, I think there is something innate in most boys that caused them to invent guns in the first place. A lot of the toy aisles seem to reflect what kids naturally want. The part that worries me is that I don't see my daughters ever being condemned for liking any of the traditional boy toys, but I don't think there is the same general acceptance the other direction for my son. He may find the pink aisle off limits due to peer pressure someday and I hate the idea of any of my kids being limited over something that shouldn't matter.

  26. Re: Getting your kids checked (I'm sorry — I can imagine the stress):

    There is a really sweet, really SMART, really gentle pediatric cardiologist that helped me with 1 of my girls. He is apparently one of the best in the city.

    Myles S Schiller, MD
    Pediatric Cardiologist, Pediatrician
    Male – 32 years experience
    3415 Bainbridge Ave
    Bronx, NY 10467
    (718) 741-2343

    We used to see him here, but I'm not sure if he still has this office:

    New York Presbyterian / Weill Cornell
    525 E 68th St
    New York, NY 10065
    (212) 746-3561

    If the kids come with you to NY, perhaps he could see you?

  27. I have boy/girl twins too. And after 9 years, I am firmly on the side of Nature in the Nature vs. Nurture debate.

  28. Anyone who claims she hasn't been asking to see everyones' hands since reading Janet Blank's comment is lying. I'm totally weirded out that husband and I have the EXACT SAME index to ring size ratio on each hand, i.e., on his and my right hands, index and ring are equal in height. On our left hands, ring is slightly taller than index. Maybe this similarity is why we get along so well. When I asked my daughter to lay her palm flat on the table for me, she told me she was worried about the amount of time I wander the internet.

  29. I have boy/girl twins and have experienced the same thing, my daughter would wear the stacking rings as bracelets and my son would throw them across the room. Makes you wonder what the world would be like if women had ruled from the beginning of time – surely we would have had less war and make more of an effort to solve our differences through peaceful negotiation. [sigh]

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