Monday, February 25, 2008

Is there gender bias on the playground and political field alike?

Yesterday it was a sunny and hot 85 degrees here.*

We spent a great deal of time outdoors, including a family outing to a popular local restaurant with a shaded patio that surrounds a playground for kids.

Alert-eyed parents scouted for available tables and staked claims to tables clearing out. In most cases, the dads were sent ahead and they did a good job of staking claims rather genially. One dad approached the table next to us and began to move in when another dad popped up and said, "Oh you know, we were going to sit here," the first dad hesitated for a second---should he challenge? He had to weigh: disappoint his approaching wife who told him to get. that. table. now! or follow his instincts to move on---then he said, "Right, sure, sorry," and began to move away. The second dad, his territory respected, said, "Well maybe we can split the two tables, if your family doesn't mind being tight? How many do you have?" The dads proceeded to negotiate the division of space, and upon completion of this, each stood territorially near his table, satisfied smile of success on his face.

Within minutes, the moms and children arrived. The children only briefly checked in---impatiently listening to parental reminders about safety---then raced off to the playground.

It was fascinating to think in anthropological and sociological terms and watch the interactions between adults competing for limited resources---tables, waiters attention---and children competing for limited resources---slides, prime spots under structures, and sand shovels.

You saw the instinct---get it for myself---and then the brief pause as the higher order brain function overtook the reptilian brain function and manners and mores won out. I imagine it's again---as always, as in the case of the dad deciding whether to challenge---a matter of weighing goals, pros and cons.

I thought of the competitive zoo parking lot incident and I realized that manners are strongest when it comes to ongoing contact with people, especially in situations when you must see other people over food, and reptilian instinct is strongest when it comes to our role as parents.

In the recent Hump Day Hmm discussion about using our words, more than one woman admitted to biting her tongue frequently, except when it came to her children. I believe this is because society excuses (or perhaps the better word is allows) women to be assertive when it comes to their children's welfare.

But is assertiveness instinctual for all people? And does society leave room for women to be assertive in other areas? With impunity?

I considered the character judgments against Hillary Clinton, for example. I know exactly how assertive a woman in a male dominated field has to be. I know we have to both more and less---less emotional and more able---in order to get something approximating equal position and respect. Or, at least you did when I was coming up. I came up in a time when it was still okay to ask a woman in an interview if she was planning on getting married and having children. And then it was okay to decide to not hire her if she said yes. Hillary came up even before that.

When I wrote, recently---here and at MOMocrats---about my concerns with Hillary Clinton as a candidate,** several people challenged me about my standards. I'd written no such critique of male politicians not playing nice. Was that fair?

My initial answer was: I didn't criticize Barack Obama, for example, because I hadn't caught what I considered a pot-shot coming from his campaign. I hold everyone to the same standard.

But is that even possible?

Surely I am biased. Men and women aren't exactly alike and our roles in society aren't exactly equal.

Perhaps I do have different expectations of Hillary Clinton, and perhaps my view is influenced, as it is for so many other people, by her gender.

As I watched the children in the playground, I pondered this. What are the differences between boys and girls, and do we have different standards for them?

Persistence and another little girl of similar size and age stood in a little hut at the top of a slide. They had a little routine they liked to do before sliding down. They paid attention to where they were in the moment and were involved in the journey. Meanwhile, a little boy barreled through the playground, intent on sliding. He paid no attention to where he was or what he passed as he was getting to his destination. His mind was dedicated to a single task: get to slide as quickly as possible and slide down. He didn't notice another child's sand pile that he stepped on, the shovel his foot accidentally kicked out of his way, and he certainly wasn't aware (I think) that he shoved both girls aside in his quest for the slide. But he did. He had a goal and he was extremely assertive in going for it.

Persistence and the other little girl simply shrugged after they recovered from being shoved aside, and took no offense at having their turn to slide taken over by this boy. It was as if, by age three, the girls were already used to boys pushing them aside on their quests. It was as if, by age three, the girls had decided it's just easier in most cases to step aside and let the boy barrel through.

I thought of Patience playing co-ed soccer. The boys never hesitated to take the ball, and nobody ever commented on it. The girls, on the other hand, usually tried to carefully take turns and were so nice to share the ball with anyone who wanted to take it. The girls ran and ran and ran to keep up with the teams as they raced up and down the field. They were excellent runners, excellent at keeping up. Terrible about getting the ball. They weren't assertive enough.

Obviously there are exceptions, both in general and personally.

Every now and again (okay twice, total, period) one team would have a girl who was assertive. No way was she letting those boys have the ball, or anyone else for that matter. I saw that this assertiveness bordered on aggression because she alone had to overcome both her male teammates desire for the ball and her opponents desire for the ball. I noticed boys would help other boys in their assertiveness but were not quite willing to let the girl keep the ball. One girl charged that ball down and scored more times than we could count.

The crowd went wild when the game included an assertive girl.

"Look at her go!" Parents would say excitedly at first.

"Finally, a girl who goes after the ball." They'd continue.

But then...the compliments took a double-edged turn.

"Can you believe that girl!" Parents would say, a little more hesitantly, "She really wants that ball!"

You could tell they thought she ought to pass and share.

Should she?

I saw no similar expectation for boys. The assertive girl was clearly---by a mile---the best player on the field in that game. Our two best players were boys. They definitely kept the ball to themselves, and people seemed generally fine with it. Certainly there were no comments made.

In that particular game, when it was time to switch out players and positions, the coach had a little talk with the girl about giving her teammates a chance to dribble the ball, too.

I started wondering.

I don't have boys. They are slightly alien to me, as children. I'm used to parenting girls, and believe me, I think there are some differences.

I assume all of us parents are teaching the same general principles to our children: be kind, be respectful, think of others.

But we're teaching it to very different people, and I wonder how the message affects boys and girls differently.

Do we need to so strongly encourage sharing, taking turns, and so forth in girls? There seems to be a little bit of a natural instinct that takes over, eventually. Should they have to share...all the time?

Do we overencourage this, out of concern for how we appear as parents, and how our children appear to other parents?

Do we unintentionally pass along a message to girls that we expect them to always capitulate to the needs of others when we force them to always share?

I wonder if we need to do a better job of promoting assertiveness in our girls.

I wonder if it can be okay sometimes to tell our girls, sure, that's yours, you play with it as long as you like.

As I watched that toddler boy barrel around the playground last night---a nice enough little kid, never did anything aggressive, never harmed another child, was simply very assertive in achieving his goal---I observed to my husband, "You know, the truth is, we know that assertiveness is, in the end, a fairly good trait to have, because it enables you to get where you want to go. If I was operating in a vacuum, I'd never comment on our girls' assertiveness because, on a base level, I know it will help them succeed in life."

But I don't operate in a vacuum, and on both a conscious and instinctual level, I know what society expects of my girls, and so, upon reflection, I find that I have spent a lot of time drumming them to "overcome" their assertive instincts.

I wonder if mothers of little boys let it slide a bit more. Now don't get defensive. I see mothers of boys encourage sharing and taking turns.

But assertiveness comes out in other ways, too. I think we step in and teach boys and girls at slightly different points in their behavior.

The mother of that boy stopped his assertiveness at the total aggression point: when he went to take a shovel from another child.

Meanwhile, the girls? It seems we stop them at the assertiveness point.

I wonder what precedent and expectation that sets, but more than that, I wonder what kind of society it creates and how it makes our girls--especially the ones with a stronger degree of natural assertiveness---think of themselves.

* Note: To the people who live north of the subtropics and who just sighed in envy or shot daggers from their eyes in my direction---my day is nearly through; within a month or so our weather will turn unbearable and we'll be locked indoors for 5 months.

** Note 2: I believe a lot of the questions and concerns would be leveled at Hillary Clinton even if she was male. I think quite a bit of it is principle. But, I can't help but think there is a bit of a gender thing at play, too.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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36 comments:

Andrea said...

We absolutely, absolutely do unconsciously mirror gendered expectations to our kids.

I remember one study, a picture of a crying baby was shown to adults, and the adults were asked why the child was crying. When they were told the baby was a boy, they said it was crying because it was angry. When they were told it was a girl, they said it was because it was sad.

If we were conscious of most of hte message we give our kids, we'd be able to change them. But we're not. I can't tell you how many times I've seen friends or acquaintances of mine act out the most tired of gendered cliches with their kids, and then shrug their shoulders and claim ignorance of how their girls and boys turned out so conventionally, and it must be all biological anyway. I remember one time my nephew kicked his father in the head--in the head! Hard!--and they said nothing, shrugged their shoulders, boys will be boys--and then not two days later said they tried gender-neutral parenting by buying him a few dolls and it just didn't work.

I also read in the lenses of gender (sandra lipsitz bem) that hte most reliable way to raise gender-neutral kids is by being blunt and open with them about anatomy. A girl who knows what makes her a girl, biologically, is going to be a girl who is much less threatened by not wearing pink or ruffles or playing with dolls or whatever.

There's a lot out there and I'll stop before this becomes a novel. But yes, we all treat our boys an dgirls differently; and yes, it has an impact, our girls learn a smaller existence from us; and I think that's a tragedy.

Sober Briquette said...

Is there a term equivalent to "shrew" that refers to men?

In our society (and how I wish I had some knowledge of other societies to draw upon) I don't believe there is a lot of room for a woman to be assertive without some portion of the observers judging her as out of line. It's "just" a matter of reducing that portion to nil.

I think children's innate level of assertiveness is individual more than divided by sex, until they start socializing.

In my family, none of us kids - two girls, two boys- are very assertive people. Both of my brothers' wives are more assertive than them, and they often seem a bit frustrated by their husbands.

As a relatively timid person, I would say assertiveness is a good trait. I have a boy and a girl, and I would have to think hard whether I am teaching them with different standards. I hope what I am teaching them is to be true to themselves, with enough poise to pull it off.

thordora said...

While I sorta hate you for the weather, the last time I was in Houston it was in April, and I thought I was going to DIE from the humidity. I'll wait for summer here. :)

I'm constantly reminding my family that if Vivian was a boy, her aggresiveness, her strength would never be questioned. EVER. She's strong willed, she goes for what she wants, and she sees nothing wrong with that. And I think it's AWESOME.

We work on sharing in proper contexts, but I don't make her share all the time anymore than I make her hug everyone when she doesn't want to. I was a tomboy as a child, ran around with my shirt off, etc-I never understood why it was expected that I couldn't do what the boys did.

Aside from making sure she looks marginally like a girl sometimes (I hated being called "boy" my entire childhood) I leave her be. Even with the dressing, I can't help but wonder if she could feel more "boy"-in which case, I don't want to stop her.

It's complicated. But if my girls play sports, you're damn right they'll be expected to play the GAME, not merely play nice.

cinnamon gurl said...

This post makes me so sad. But I'm with Andrea... everything we teach our children about gender roles and expectations of behaviour is mostly unconscious.

Not long ago at work, I had a moment when I worried I was coming off as strident. Then it occurred to me that men never have to worry about that. Which also made me sad.

Melissa said...

I have boys and they are still alien to me. :)

I think it has gotten better, but there is still a lot of the bias going on. Although....

Last soccer season, the league my son plays in had to put a girl's team in my his bracket because they were sooo good. When they came to play his team, all the boys kind of let up on them a little bit (they later said that they were afraid they would hurt them - even though there were only three boys on the team that were as tall as the shortest girl). BIG mistake. By the time the boys figured this out, it was too late. These girls had no problem with assertiveness, that's for sure.

Anyway, the male equivalent for "shrew" is a$$hole. Not even men can have unchecked assertiveness.

I'm rambling. I'll stop now. :)

Mama Drama Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Hailey is very assertive. So much so that it makes me kind of uncomfortable and proud at the same time.

It's odd because I think Victor views it as an altogether good thing because he's a quitessential aggressive guy and I feel like I need to coach her to consider others and share more because I'm this timid girl. I'm just hoping that between the two of us she ends up confident, yet aware of others...

This whole parenting thing is so difficult.

Mary Jo said...

Thank you for this brilliant post. I have 5 younger brothers and 4 daughters; the question of sex differences and socialization has fascinated me all my life. Now that I have a grandson, I am rethinking it much more.

Being older and smarter than 5 boys, I have always been comfortable competing with men, but very fearful of being too assertive with women. Obsessed with nonsexist childrearing, I encouraged assertiveness in my daughters. I paid a price with my oldest and most assertive child and had to cope with lots of disapproval from other parents. Often, I wish my grown daughters were a bit more eager to please me, at least:)

My brothers and my daughters are all over the place on the assertiveness spectrum, so some of it is obviously temperamental. But in my many thousands of hours watching children and parents, I do think boys and girls are treated very differently. Girls often seem more amenable to lessons on sharing and consideration.

Robert said...

First, a comment on soccer: the girls who stuck with soccer that I played against were often terrifying in their aggressiveness. They would play dirtier than the boys, in many cases, and get away with it more easily. I think they acted the way they did because of what you described - they had to get more aggressive to even be respected. They were successful in the sport, though.

That experience may be an allegory of sorts for life in general. Girls who compete in largely male environments (e.g., sports, engineering) have to be, as you describe, more and less. My sister has certainly dealt with that as an engineer. But my Dad largely raised her like he did his two sons. He explains now he did not know you were supposed to be different towards girls.

With my own daughter, I expect her to share, but not to be run over. I have let her learn to defend herself somewhat mainly because she's little for her age and I don't want her to get pushed around. I don't want her harming other children, but I don't want them harming her because they are more aggressive. I work hard not to curtail her assertiveness too much, but I also work hard to make sure she is kind to her brother. As he gets older, we work more and more with him in the same way.

I certainly see people reinforce the gender roles in how they parent. I know I'm not perfect at avoiding such practices, but I hope my daughter learns that boys do a lot of the things girls do when I watch them so their mother can go to important meetings, just like she keeps them so I can go to work. I change diapers, do what I can to help them go to bed, and many other things that my father's generation expected their wives to do. Women certainly have more chance to be assertive now, and I'm glad to see one when I do. It is unfortunate how women sometimes get labelled because of assertiveness.

All that said, I don't dislike Hillary strictly because of her being the assertive woman in a man's world. I dislike her policies plans. I also dislike what she's gotten away with in her past because of her powerful connections. I dislike how she lets the taxpayers pay for her expensive home by charging rent to the Secret Service equal to her mortgage for the small cottage she built on the property for them to stay on. It's unethical, even if it is legal. Her ethics are very much in question to me. That is my objection. I don't have as much of a concern about Obama's ethics. I don't like his policy plans, either, but at least he seems honest in his approach to getting them done.

Great post. What's the Hump Day topic this week?

Mary Jo said...

Since I posted my comment, I have been browsing on Amazon and my public library system, and I am appalled. The books on nonsexist childrearing were mostly written in the 70s and 80s; few are still in print or available in the library. I am going to research this and post a list of my favorites on my own blog.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

Interesting. I'd like to flip the whole thing and say who says assertiveness is good in boys or girls. If that assertiveness reads run roughshod over our fellow human beings. Where is our humanity? I don't believe it can be found in most of the world's ideal of "the assertive man." I think the whole subject needs to be rethought.

Julie Pippert said...

Authormom with dogs...I see your point. Let's think this through.

First, I'd like to hit on semantics for a minute.

I think assertive is fine, but I think it is frequently confused with aggressive, which is typically not fine (and is when you see people running roughshod).

Assertive to me means knowing what you want and going about getting it but without disrespecting or dropping courtesy by the wayside.

I realize that belies my description--utterly--of the little boy, but he was only about 3.

Perhaps you are right and I do need to rethink my vocabulary. Perhaps I am a victim of the bias in this article and ought to have described his behavior as aggressive.

SciFi Dad said...

I only have a daughter, so I cannot speak about raising a boy.

But with her, it's a constant struggle for me to balance the assertiveness without being aggressive. I have no issue with my child speaking up for herself, but I don't want her to always be the one who opposes everyone either, KWIM? And it has nothing to do with being a girl; it has to do with being a decent human being.

But overall, I do find people's expectations vary based on gender.

Annie said...

Until I read this, I would have said 'no, I don't enforce any gender specific expectations on my daughter' - but... Knowing Miss E, had she been one of the little girls at the top of the slide, she would have wasted NO time in giving that little boy a piece of her mind - and I would have been intervening to get her to scale back her reactions. You see, in the playground, I think some moms (me included) can be over aware, if that makes sense, of how other moms view us and not wanting to be seen to not take a child to task for being seemingly aggressive - I would have words with Miss E if she were to 'go off on one' with another kid.

This realisation is horrible to me - am I stifling her own assertiveness? I shall have to think about this, and try to curb my 'helicopter mom' tendencies!

On the Obama/Clinton thing - I think he is taking a cheap shot at her now over NAFTA - a low blow considering that in the Texas Debate she honestly, and clearly said that she would be for a review of existing trade agreements, attempting to close loopholes that are permitting large scale export of US jobs, and improving the trade laws that are currently in place. This to me is not the 'turning her back on NAFTA' that Obama is accusing her of. I think she has every right to speak out angrily about it.

crazymumma said...

It is such a fascinating and complicated subject.

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

I'm trying to teach Chicky to be much more assertive than I am, which means I have to be more assertive to be a good role model. A very weird feeling. But I'd rather have my daughter labeled a "bitch" (cause you know it's going to happen if she goes after what she wants) than a have a wishy washy girl on my hands who doesn't know what she wants.

Robert said...

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't NAFTA passed by a Democratic Congress in 1991 or 1992? I definitely remember them passing GATT in the witching hours at the end of 1994 because the image of Senator Byrd's shaking hand slamming the gavel down while calling for order is forever in my mind. Sorry, since someone brought up NAFTA, I wanted to ask.

As for this post as strictly a "playground rules" post, I would like to take a few parents over my lap and "whip 'em good" for leaving their children entirely unattended while they torment others. Because two girls sat at the top of the stairs to a slide and told every child that came behind them "you're too little, you can't come up here" my daughter has forever after been afraid of going up them without someone helping her. If the girls hadn't done it at least three times, I might have ignored it, but they kept doing it, and their parents were oblivious. When I finally said "Stop it" in a quiet, calm voice to them, they were utterly shocked. I don't think anyone has ever done that to them.

Sorry, I know this comment is completely unrelated, but I just felt like sharing.

mommybytes.com said...

From the peanut gallery, here's the voice from a mom with both a boy and a girl... As a whole, boys and girls definitely have different temperaments and natural behavior tendencies, but you still need to look at each child individually. My son can get out of control and appear aggressive even though it is mostly unbridled enthusiasm and not malice. He will barrel down the slide in front of his sister but not other kids - double standard or perhaps parenting lessons only apply to the public. He is good about passing in soccer, even to girls, but will take the opportunity to score (many times a games, maybe he is aggressive ;)).

My daughter is extremely defiant and vocal about getting her way, but is quick to say sorry all the time (what is it about males that make them unable to apologize, do they really hate to admit they have wronged someone?). She says sorry so much that I have to correct her all the time and tell her NOT to say sorry for something that isn't her fault. She bosses her brother around, demanding that he pull her around on the sled (yes daggers coming from my eyes!). She sometimes says mean things to us and grandma, where my son would never utter mean words like that. Lets just say she is more challenging of the two. But she is sweet at school and overly nice and considerate with her friends, just like the stereotype.

In the end, it looks like I have pretty typical kids. BTW, your mention of the zoo incident reminds me of an incident we experienced yesterday at a hockey game that I'll definitely have to blog about..

mommybytes.com said...

Or perhaps you can make it easy for me by making it a Hump Day Hmm topic, describe an incident where you or someone was wronged, in what would normally be considered outside of the social norms, and how you reacted, how you wish you reacted and what is possibly the best way to inform these idiots that they screwed up if that is even possible.

Suz said...

Really, really interesting post. As a mother of boys, I feel out of my depth more than I would, I think, if I were a mother of girls. The question of when to stop assertive behavior is one of those areas where I question myself. I stop assertive behavior at the level of aggression always, but I do find myself stopping it a little earlier when one of my two year olds is interacting with a girl. At one point, I actually found myself saying: "we have to be nice to girls."

The extent to which gender plays a part in my almost subconscious parenting choices has astounded me. But, equally, I wonder where else I could draw the line. Of course, we have to be nice to everyone, but in putting emphasis on being nice "to girls" I find myself giving them a special status which is no better than the parents who feel it's okay for the little boys to constantly control the ball.

Professor J said...

Thank you, Julie, for this thoughtful post. I respect your desire to raise assertive but decent young women.

I think that much(and much more tha a bit) of the rhetoric being used against Sen. Clinton is sexist, but I can certainly understand that there are many good questions about her.

Cathy said...

I have one of each -- but I have difficulty in figuring out what can be attributed to gender (and any gender-based parenting on my part) and what can be attributed to very different personalities.

Did that sentence make any sense?

I loved this post -- very thought-provoking. It's a subject that fascinates me.

Kady said...

Even if you, as a parent, attempt to be gender neutral in your child-rearing, it seems likely that kids will still get exposed to plenty of gender-biased evaluation throughout their young lives (not the least of which, for example in my case, from grandparents who are very old school). But why is it automatically assumed that we are somehow putting our daughters at a disadvantage by not encouraging them to be as aggressive as our sons? Because society values aggression more than compromise? So why don't we try to change that instead of pushing our daughters to match our sons?

ewe are here said...

Funnily enough, I was the assertive little girl on the soccer field growing up... different sports and activities, though.

But, equally funny (to me at least), as a 'girl' raising two boys, I am adament that my boys will share, take turns, not push, take the feelings and rights of others into consideration...

ALM said...

There are absolutely, totally 100% differences between boys and girls. When my boys turned two it was like a switch went off: cars, trucks, sirens... and I was determined to keep their toys gender neutral. Didn't help.

Also I just finished a book called "Raising Boys" and it explains quite a bit about testosterone... The aggression, competition, barreling through, wrestling - all from that. And "they" say that girls who are more assertive at young ages probably have higher levels of it.

jennifer h said...

I struggle with this with my own children, a boy and a girl. But I think I get off easy because of their particular personalities. My son is the older of the two, and is generally kinder and more generous. My daughter, without hesitation, asks for what she wants and goes after it, too. She's just 6, and it will be interesting to watch her, with the hope that this instinct in her doesn't go away (or isn't squashed by others) over time. And I'd like to see my son get a little more of what she's got. Just as I'd like to see her soften a little bit, like he is. Who knows how it will all turn out?

I do think Clinton is held to a different standard. Whether we can avoid that 100%, it's hard to say. I hope so.

Kyla said...

Just to throw a wrench in the works, in our house, KayTar is the assertive child and BubTar is the sensitive, go with the flow child.

But yes, I think that subconsciously we do respond differently based on gender stereotypes.

As far as Clinton, remember when her eyes welled up with tears in ONE interview and the headlines were like "Hillary LOSES it!" and such? That was a clearly tied to her being female.

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, this is a most excellent post, really it is. I thought about this issue when I watched the debates, and when I observed my daughter playing the other day. T. is very assertive and I find myself often thinking how lucky that she turned out that way--to have an independent, spirited streak that I hope will take her far. But then I do worry--what if it turns people off? What if she's too spirited, too independent?

Gwen said...

My oldest daughter is not assertive nor aggressive and my youngest daughter is very much like I was as a child--she wants very much to be the one in charge and will tell everyone exactly how she feels. The thing is, neither one is going to have an all together easier time based on her personality; they're both going to struggle, just in different ways.

I agree with Andrea that we unconsciously support gender differences. And even if you don't do it at home, there's a whole world right outside the door that's going to do that for you.

jeanie said...

I think there is a lot at play here. All children are unique little beasties, but as much as we may try to make all children treated equally, we unconsciously applaud that which will enable them to get through life the best way possible.

Part of that will be about you as parents. If you have an assertive (ahem) father, chances are he will want junior to emulate him. If you have a sensitive father, this will be highlighted in his son.

If you have a mother who has fought the good fight, rest assured she will be in her daughter's corner pushing for her rights. A mother who has found passive and pretty works for her will give those qualities more polish in her girl.

However - we have a wider community at play out there, and there is quite a bit of its expectations and experience that are infused into the child too.

Once children start to encounter each other in playground, school or other social settings, the sifting begins and those who have been prepared to be typical of the society will fit more smoothly into these situations.

And yes, it does carry into adulthood, and yes it should not be as impactive - but yes, we do end up trying our best to "work from within the system" rather than buck the whole thing when we get big enough.

What that has to do with Hilary I don't really know as I try to avoid American politics - if they don't play smarter I am sure another Republican will win - however, over here the deputy Prime Minister gets flack all the time. Because she is a redhead, a fighter, single and a woman.

On the upside, a men's magazine recently voted her second sexiest Aussie woman (after Jennifer Hawkins, ex Ms Planet), so she must be doing something right. (Please note, tongue is firmly in cheek at that comment).

Jenny said...

I think it would be impossible for us to raise children without enforcing gender roles, at least to some extent. They are such a part of us. Hopefully, we are stretching those boundaries with each new generation.

slouching mom said...

Very thought-provoking, Julie.

My boys are certainly low in aggressiveness. And at least one of them is also low in assertiveness.

I hope I haven't been so bound and determined to raise them in a nonsexist fashion that I've gone too far, LOL!

flutter said...

Ok, here's the thing. There is gender bias because there are different genders. We can only think like what we are.

So I say encourage what is naturally inherent in your child. Screw societal expectations and watch your kid be comfy in their own skin.

jen said...

jules, you wrote: I wonder if it can be okay sometimes to tell our girls, sure, that's yours, you play with it as long as you like.

and i say, hell yes. i do this already with M sometimes. and in terms of the bigger picture, yes and yes again.

Andrea said...

I found this today on one of my other daily blog reads and thought that it fit in well both with this post and with the hmm topic, so:

http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2008/02/26/the-strong-woman-emasculated-man/

Enjoy!

liv said...

what jen said. she's a genius.

Lawyer Mama said...

Wow! Really interesting post, Julie.

I have 2 boys. They can both be aggressive little brutes at times. Hollis tends to be less so in unfamiliar situations. But if some kid cuts in front of him in line, he speaks up or asks for help.

Funnily enough, I was a pretty timid kid until about 12 or 13. I still take turns and wait patiently in line. But I think many people I know would describe me as aggressive. Perhaps men I work with would describe me as "pushy" or "bitchy" even. (I take it as a compliment, even if it's not meant that way.) Even my personality type on the Myers-Briggs is one that is typically associated with men. My mother is the same way.

I wonder if I would notice a difference in a girl. I agree that it absolutely does happen, whether unconsciously or not and I wonder if it's something we can consciously retrain ourselves to undo.