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Oh's a boy: Nature vs nurture in gender division (Part 1)

When I was a tiny girl in preschool, my best friend was a boy named Steven. I adored Steven with my entire being. Luckily he lived next door so we could spend every waking moment together. We even shared potty time because our moms couldn't convince us to separate.

When I look back at photos, he's very adorable, and clearly a boy. But I never thought of him as such. He was simply BestFriendSteven.

I had a little girl friend, too. Missy. Missy did not adore Steven. At all. Missy resented Steven's friendship in my life.

It all came to an unhappy head one day when we were maybe 5 or so and Missy and her mom had dropped by our house. Missy and I played pretty happily for a short while, until the door bell rang. It was Steven, wanting to play.

Missy wailed, "Nooooooooooo! NO STEVEN! I don't want to play with a BOY! I'M your friend," she cried, "You play with ME!"

This infuriated Steven, whose pride apparently demanded he state that he disliked Missy, too, a GIRL.

I remember feeling very confused, standing between a crying girl friend and a furious boy friend. Steven was a boy? And this mattered? Missy was a girl? And this mattered? And if Steven liked me but didn't like girls, but I wasn't a boy, then what did that make me, or what did that mean about our friendship?

Obviously at 5 my thoughts weren't quite this complex, but that's how I was feeling.

I turned to Steven, "I'm a girl."

"No," he told me, "You're JULIE."

"I am too a girl!" I yelled.

"Girls play with girls!" Missy insisted.

I turned to her, "Girls play with boys too," I told her, "Steven is my friend. I just want to play with both of you!"

But neither of them would have it. Not a bit of it. Steven refused to play with That Girl Missy, and Missy refused to play with That Boy Steven. At that moment, I didn't want to play with either of them, because I didn't like Crying Missy or Mad Steven. I didn't like all the fuss nor did I understand what all the fuss was about. Who cared, boy or girl? I just cared about who I liked and having fun with them.

Up to that point, I'd happily been eating my cake and having it, too.

I wasn't sure who made or enforced them, but I felt fortunate I had no such rules about no boy friends for girls.

As time passed, I continued to have both boy and girl friends. I was the only girl in elementary who invited boys to her party. I liked my little buddies Mark and Chris. Chris was hilarious and Mark liked books too. I had my little group of best girl friends, girl scouts, tons of girly stuff, but I liked the boys too. I thought all was well until Ruby told me we couldn't be friends any longer because I was boy crazy.

I denied it, but secretly worried it was true. The girls decided I had to take the Hair Test. So we plucked out a piece of my hair (OW!) and they watched intently as I ran my fingernail down the shaft. It curled up tightly, of course. It did that while still on my head, too. But it was a witch trial, and I sank to the bottom and drowned.

The girls all gasped out loud, stepped back, and looked at me pityingly.

"I told you," Ruby said smugly, "Boy crazy. You're boy crazy! SHE'S BOY CRAZY!"

After much discussion, it was decided I needed a cootie shot. Circle circle dot dot, with the point of a spring loaded ball point pen.

Despite the cootie shot, and girlish forgiveness thereafter, I felt ashamed. I backed away from the boys and cloistered myself in my group of girl friends.

Chris still tried to be friends. He'd chase the girls around the playground yelling he was going to joke on us, but I'd either get mad or sad and eventually, he didn't try to catch me and tell me any knock knock jokes. I'd betrayed him; instead of letting him catch me and laughing, I squealed and ran like the other girls. He and Mark moved on. I missed them, and hearing about their Saturday football games, but I never let it show.

Once we hit the teens and dating age, I discovered true angst. I floated through at least three crushes a week, and felt too awkward to even talk to boys. It was as if I had forgotten a language, and thus the means to communicate with these foreigners.

Couple skate was humiliating, and school dances were exercises in frustration. We all hugged opposite sides of the gym walls---excepting a few couples who were going together---as Spandau Ballet sang about something that was true.

But then I found confidence and my own style. And some boys found me. High school was a rush through serial monogomy. As was college.

I also rediscovered that boys made good friends. In high school my very best friend was a boy. In college one of my very best friends was a boy.

Fast forward to now: me, with two daughters.

Patience, ever since she could talk, made it clear that she did not. care. for. boys. They have no place whatsoever in her life.

Color me boggled. She's been around adorable and sweet little boys her entire life. We've had fun playdates with boys like Tom, a little tow-headed cutie, and Ethan, a precious little explorer. I've never discriminated.

I've tried to understand it.

"They're loud, Mom, and they don't like to play fun things. Their toys are BAD. BOY TOYS." She looks at me as if I am an idiot. How can I not understand this?

But I don't! Not all of the boys are loud, and their toys look fun to me. They have a lot of the same toys we do, actually, and even better, some new ones we don't.

I was even more baffled when Patience suddenly, ironically announced she had a boy friend, Will. I was ecstatic and made a big fuss (breaking parenting cardinal rule #5) about Will. You have to understand, I thought we'd turned the corner. I egotistically and naively believed all my little confabs with her about, "people come the way they are, so you can't really consider things we don't control, like whether we are a boy or a girl, have brown eyes or blue, or anything like have to look inside" had finally taken root.

One day I asked about Will.

"Who?" Patience asked.

"Your friend, Will."

She fell dramatically to the floor, "Moooooommmmmmm! Will is a BOY, he cannot be my FRIEND. He was my boyfriend, not my friend!"

I noted the past tense, but her huge heaving sighs and eyerolling creeped me out, so I dropped it.

Persistence has no such bias. This is fortunate because, outside of her school, we do not know any little girls her age. She doesn't care. She likes playing with boys and girls alike.

In fact, her best friend is a boy: Russel, a little charmer with dimples and dark curls. They are almost exactly the same age, and he's the son of a friend. They've been around one another their entire lives (which I grant you isn't impressive since I have shoes in good condition older than both, but's their world, right?).

They are too cute together.

He got the stomach flu and was MIA for a week. Every day she asked, "Wuss still sick, Mama?" I'd say yes and she'd say, with big miserable eyes, "Sad sad sad. Miss Wuss." When he was well enough to join us and play again, it was like a scene from a movie.

We walked up to the playground, and I pointed through the fence, "Look there...Russel."

Persistence turned her head to see, then smiled hugely. She pointed too and yelled, "WUSSEL!" with a big laugh. He swung around, and smiled too.

Cue slow motion. Cue big swell of music.

They ran towards one another, arms spread wide, and body-slam hugged one another so intensely they fell over. They stuck like glue to one another the rest of the afternoon.

Every day she wants her friend. Every day she sees him is a joy.

This week, on Tuesday, Patience, after witnessing another one of these scenes, asked me, "Why does she like That Boy? Why is she glad to see him Why does she like playing with a boy?"

"Because she likes him," I said, exasperated instantly, sick to death of this old conversation, past the ability to understand or be understanding about Patience's inexplicable and long-standing enmity with males, "He's sweet, they like to play the same things, they have fun together, because she finds him a great person to be around."

I retierated my schtick about prejudice, but as usual, it merely induced a bad case of the eyerolls.

But it all made me sit back and think.

I like males and find them fun friends too. I've never had any bias against boys, or labeled any toys boy or girl. I've set up play with boys and girls alike. I can't think of anything I've ever done to promote this, and in fact, can think of years of things I have tried to end it.

Then along comes #2, and she is happily prejudiced-against-boys free.

So...where does this come from?

I still don't understand these rules and who makes them, but I can promise everyone out there that I haven't made any such rules. It's all Patience.

Now...please please please feel free to tell me personal and parenting experiences in this, especially if you have any insight or reassurance that one day, Patience will not make gagging noises every time I mention something nice about a boy or suggest playing with a boy---I mean in the next few years, not as a teen. I do not wish to think about that age quite yet. I'm just thinking of the immediate future.


I realize this topic is not nearly as meaty as you might have expected, given the title and my propensity for epic posts. There is another side to it, the more philosophical and less personal, and I'll save that for another day. Maybe comments will help guide the direction it should go, so invoke your right to speak! LOL

Also, I am still working on the HPV post, so feel free to send me links if you haven't yet and thought we were past the deadline. I will get to it soon, promise!

Lastly, what is a metapost?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


kaliroz said…
I don't know if she'll ever grow out of it, Julie.

I had four brothers. I had no choice but to embrace boys in all their dirty boyishness! :)

What are Patience little girlfriends like? If they're reinforcing her dislike of boys as friends then that could be a part of the problem.

You know, reading your post, was like reading my life. I think we had a lot of the same experiences ... and I totally forgot how to speak boy when I got old enough to have feelings for them.

The funny thing is that since college I've been wading through their world once again ... somehow I regained the ability to speak their language and have been lucky enough to know several men who have become dear friends.

Here's where the problem lies ... for me.

EVERYONE assumes that, because I spend so much time with these men, that there's something else going on. No matter that I'm married to a very kind, wonderful, goodlooking man -- no, to some (more than I would like) because I go out for drinks with these guys or out to coffee or make late night food runs with them when I'm visiting, there's got to be something up.

There's this whole culture that can't see men and women being true friends. Sure, there comes a moment when it seems one, or the other, of you might develop a crush but you can navigate past that and develop a deep, deep friendship.

My male friends say they can talk with me in a way they can't their other male friends. One man, in particular, talks with me about his relationship because you just don't do that with guys. On my end of things I can be gross and un-PC and loud and brash and drunk and a total football nut around the guys and they accept it. It's okay around them that I don't wear makeup or paint my nails or fix my hair. They accept me for me.

Actually, I think this ties a bit into your other post Julie, the one about vanity.

What's that saying? Women don't dress up for men they dress up for other women?

We women can be pretty hard on one another.
Gwen said…
Hee! My head is remarkably stationary after that one. Yay! :)

My oldest daughter isn't as yukked out by boys as yours is, but she prefers not to play with them. Or so she says. Because she spends plenty of time talking about them, so I know she interacts with them without prejudice, but if you ask her, "Oh, is Nikola your buddy?" she'll look at you all strangely. "Moooommmy. He's a boy!" At the same time, one day she kind of whispered to me, "Mommy, I have a secret. I do like boys." I'm frustrated by the way the culture has influenced her to think about friendships and gender but I try not to make too big a deal out of it either way, because all my talktalktalking doesn't seem to have much effect.

My younger daughter, on the other hand, LOOOVES boys. Her best friends are boys AND she has huge crushes on boys in her sister's class. Go figure.

I always had boy friends growing up. I think, being a "bitch," I am easier for boys to take than girly girls. Still, there were always these awkward moments where boys who I thought were just my buddies wanted more from me.

Now that I'm a grown up, it's harder to be friends with men, even though in almost every job I've had, my closest friends were men. For one thing, my husband always steals them. It's true! I'll be all buddies with a man, and then inevitably he meets my husband, and that's the end for me. Bye, Gwen, we're going out for beers and burping!

Spending all day as a SAHM has severely limited my ability to make male friends; this is definitely a very women are friends with women, men are friends with men culture. Blech!

I have one male friend currently, but he's a computer friend, and I know when he meets my husband, as he surely will, it's just my fate, poof! that will be the end of us, too. I should have married someone less charismatic ..... :)
NotSoSage said…
Hmm...I look forward to future posts.

I think I sort of waffled, too. My closest friends until I started elementary school were boys, but at some point, the "ewww, boys" thing kicked in. Now I must say that I relate most to men who are not stereotypical men and women who are not stereotypical women(although I think those people who exist at either extreme are probably rare). I have a hard time talking about trucks AND make-up.

I've been planning on doing something on this topic myself, so I can't wait for the discussion!
I grew up around boys and men. Then I learned in school that boys were the enemy. In high school they just scared me. In college I surrounded myself with male friends. And now? Women scare me. :)

It all comes full circle. We prefer what we prefer. It's unfortunate, however, that we allow ourselves to be swayed when we're young. But I suppose that's part of growing up.
thailandchani said…
I grew up in a very woman-centric environment and men seemed kind of like distant relatives, almost another species.

Still, what you're describing with the kids sounds more like socialization. It would take me five pages to describe what I mean ~ but just see what your gut instinct is on the statement. You might already get it without any further words on my part. :)


Anonymous said…
It is a funny thing - my 4 1/2 year old boy has got it all figured out; he's a sensitive kid and prefers to hang out with the girls in his class. He has many male friends, too, but he's not a rough playing kid and the girls look out for him.

So far, the only time it has been an issue was when the children in class began pairing off, and he worried that none of his girl friends wanted to marry him. In their class, all the girls, and even some of the boys, wanted to marry one great kid that just didn't happen to be my son. Then the next day, one of his gal pals wanted to marry him and all was right in his world - it didn't matter that I told him that I didn't meet his daddy in preschool.

My little girl is around boys all the time with her big brother and his friends, and some younger siblings, etc. Just the other day, I realized that at some point, she might need/want to socialize with other girls. She played tea party in the sand with another girl at the park today and it was sweet.

Having been through a thing or two, my plan is to help guide my children to have a lot of friends of both genders and not get too serious with either best friends or boy/girl friends too fast.
Unknown said…
Well, first, I think a meta post is a post about blogging. I've been seeing the term meta pop up a lot lately and I think it has to do with blogging about blogging.

I only had girl friends when I was little, except for my cousins. It wasn't until high school that I developed friendships with boys. By college, my best friends were guys.

A few years and some marriages later, most of those friends have devolved into acquaintanceship. Sadly. My husband never had a problem with my friendships with the opposite sex but the wives have had views. Which is fine. I do have a couple of male friends now but those friendships look different than the ones I used to have.

My husband is friends with a couple of women but they are my friends too, and I don't have any issues with it. (He had one friendship years back with a woman at his work which I did put the kibosh on. She had a history with married men and while I didn't think Paul was "at risk," I wasn't sure what she was thinking.)

Okay... I'm really drifting off topic here.

My daughter lives pretty much in the No Boys world and my son, as a young child, lived in the No Girls world. However, the exceptions are the family friends we have. They are/were quite content to play with the sons/daughters of our friends. I think it is more at school, where there are more kids around who might reinforce a tendency that my kids do that.

I'll be curious to see how it all pans out in the end for them. I hope that they develop good friendships with members of the opposite sex. I've gotten a lot of insight, fun, laughter, philosophical discussion, etc. from mine!
Julie Pippert said…
Roz, okay replying to you got out of hand have motivated another post (you and several other commenters). And as for male-female friendships...yet another post. Excellent comment, thanks!

Gwen, absolutely, although my husband has never had the hootzpah to steal my male friends. Sometimes I even try to hand them off. He is, however, the male version of me in many ways, which is to say, he likes being friends with women. I do think there can be such a benefit to a true friendship with the opposite sex.

But, as you and Roz both shared, in my case too that has led to some confusion and troubles.

And, at this point in life, it is harder to have. Most of my daily friends are women, which is awesome. But then sometimes I'll get to chatting with my friend's husband, also a friend, and I will think, it's so nice to talk to a guy!

Jill, you know what? I think you just figured it out for me. I don't think it matters too much to me about's more of a meeting people who are in the middle. I am working on the might be a bit. I have quite a queue going. And I look forward to yours, too.

Mrs. Chicky, yeah, I can only imagine how much further along I might be had I stayed true to self, but then I wonder if I would...who would I be without appreciating and learning?

Chani, I'm a little stymied. All I can think of is that you are hitting on what Roz and Mary touched on: that it is a sort of peer group deal. Which, I think, is something worth considering, and so I am.

Jakelliesmom, that's cool to hear your experience with your kids. And you know, your goal? Wise. yes, I aim for that too.

Mary, ahhhh...contectually that makes sense. Thanks for defining that for me! That's interesting about the wives. I'm curiosu too. And I hope the same thing for the same reason.

As always excellent comments...lots of good experience and insight. Thanks!
Sparky Duck said…
an opinion from the other side of the fence. Patience may grow out of it eventually once she realizes that alot of time, friends of the same sex are out to compete with you, whether they realize it or not. I have always gotten along better with women, and that is strictly as friends, though I was a teenager once, so Im sure there were a daydream or two that you wont wish to hear about.

But most times now, I am able to have a conversation with a woman, strictly platonic, and find that it is intelligent and an actual conversation. With most men, unless it is about there career, or the most recent sporting event, its alot of "umm how about those Eagles"

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