Gender bias and our wee ones - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 39 Old 02-27-2002, 05:25 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Maybe I am too sensitive about things like this. You all will let me know. I have a very sweet, often shy and quiet daughter who is 18 months old. I have lost track of how many parents of boys (all mainstream) have told me (as their boys bounced off of walls and leaped of the furniture) that I am lucky because "girls are so sweet and boys are just rough and mean". Aside from the whole 'nice way to descibe your kid right in front of him' issue... I don't think it's true. My dd is sweet because I am sweet and gentle with her. I have friends who are the same with their sons and they have similar results.

Another thing is the perpetuation of other gender stereotypes. At a birthday party this weekend the nice clown was making balloon toys for the kids. Flowers for the girls and swords for the boys. Nice, huh? I could go on and on. Am I nit picking? Does anyone else see this? Is there anything I (WE!) can do?
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#2 of 39 Old 02-27-2002, 05:34 AM
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I have seen this too. I've been told a few times that it must be nice not having to chase after a boy. Are they really more hyper?

i have tried to bring up my girls gender neutral - but gave up that idea when my dd pretended dish rags were dolls because she did not have any. We still encourage her to be involved in many areas, not only traditional girls or boys stuff. Hopefully she won't have the bias I had growing up: girls work inside, boys outside; boys get to stay out later, and don't have to call; boys got to use the car more, and speeding was ok.

Anyone else grow up with strangely biased rules?
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#3 of 39 Old 02-27-2002, 06:06 AM
 
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I remember from when I studied Sociology of Gender that it would be impossible to truly sort out the nature vs. nurture questions because no matter how hard we try to raise our children in a gender neutral world, there will be subtle gender differentiation and bias from the world from the moment our kids are born.

I mean, hospitals still often use pink and blue hats to identify boys and girls, or if nothing else, pink and blue marked crib cards. That may seem benign, but studies have been done with newborns randomly being given pink or blue hats, and the people around them respond differently according to which hat they are wearing. They talk to and hold the "girls" more often (no wonder girls are so sweet LOL!), and they are more tolerant of "boys" crying. They also comment more frequently on the boy's "strength" and independence. Even if your children are born at home, the first time someone asks your child's gender, the same cycle in motion can easily be set into motion.

And even if you were to do the impossible and get around that, no matter if you avoid TV, etc., your children are likely to see gender biased billboards or gender biased sign advertisements, or gender biased behavior and interactions between men and women in the world, etc. etc. before they can even talk.

So why do people insist that they tried not to impart gender-stereotyped behavior on their kids and that behavior must be innate because it didn't work?! I have no clue.

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#4 of 39 Old 02-27-2002, 10:45 AM
 
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Yes! This was my biggest concern prior to having DS and I actually worried about it during pregnancy. I know, weird, but I hate how society subtly decides our children's future for them via gender stereotyping. I always said I wanted any kids of mine to have the best tendencies of both genders, and that cannot happen if too much gender sterotyong goes on.

When we found out we were having a boy, I told everyone we knew to please not give us blue clothes. (Planned the same with pink and lace for a girl.) We still get blue clothes. :mad: Worse, as DS gets older, it is getting harder to find clothes that don't assume he will be a future construction worker, football fan, or commando in need of camouflage, khakis, and olive greens. Where are all the reds and yellows??? Even a nice, bright green would do. And purple! I'd be in heaven.

Why the worry over the clothes? My theory is that kids dressed like kids, in lively fun gender-neutral colors, get treated more like kids than boys or girls. Maybe I'm just placating myself, but I know that DS gets cooed over more when he's wearing bright fun clothes than the dull, future man-with-a-career clothes we see in all the stores.
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#5 of 39 Old 02-27-2002, 11:49 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Sierra

I mean, hospitals still often use pink and blue hats to identify boys and girls, or if nothing else, pink and blue marked crib cards. That may seem benign, but studies have been done with newborns randomly being given pink or blue hats, and the people around them respond differently according to which hat they are wearing.
Here's something interesting~~~
Did you know that around the Victorian era, baby boys were dressed in pink, and girls in blue? This is because pink is flashy, bold and vibrant ("male") and blue is mellow, passive and gentle ("female"). Then somehow it got switched. But it's interesting eh? Of course I don't buy into the gender stereotyping and I wouldn't ever unknowingly perpetuate it. It's one of our social illnesses, as far as I'm concerned.
When my son was a baby people would think he was a girl because our stoller had alot of pink, purple and yellow on it. They couldn't tell by his clothes because I was conscious of dressing him in unisex clothing. People get nervous if they don't know or can't tell immediately if somebody is a boy or a girl! Plus, his hand-me-downs are from my cousins, a boy and a girl, so I would dress him in flowers/ ladybugs/ sunshines etc. sometimes.
When I was little I was teased endlessly because my peers didn't believe I was a girl. I guess you could say I was (am?) a tomboy. I just loathe skirts and dresses and generally clothes designed for females. This is an inborn trait! At least I think it is...who knows what happened before I can remember.
But gender biasing sure goes on from the second we are born.
I have "raging yang"!!!
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#6 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 02:11 AM
 
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This won't be popular, but I do see a difference between the little boys we know and the little girls. It is of course a general trend and there are exceptions, but I see it. We started out totally into the general neutral parenting thing, but gave it up after getting to know our DD, who loves dollies and all things pink.
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#7 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 03:34 AM
 
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A wise midwife-friend of mine told me once that if parents don't know the gender of the child they are having, (and it isn't announced as soon as the child is born) that first moment of "oh my sweet baby is finally here!" is the ONLY time in our lives that there isn't a gender bias.

But oh, how important that very first moment is!
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#8 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 04:46 AM
 
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Karen and Peggy, I have to agree that I do notice subtle differences in boys and girls from a young age. While it can not be said how much is attributed to nature vs. nurture, and even how much is simply the child's temperment, I think that biologically we ARE different. This is not to say we aren't EQUAL (which is where I think most people get hung up) but we are different, no doubt about it, IMO.

While DD plays with a wide variety of toys, she is more nurturing and caring than DS was at her age. She also likes to help me a lot more. She likes order and putting things where they belong (still trying to figure out where she learned this - maybe it skips a generation, because I'm a born slob while my own mother is very neat and orderly.) While she is active, she seems more able to contain herself than the boys her age that we know. I'm sure that biology has some role to play in gender differences. It is only in the last 50 years that women have had the opportunity to do anything besides fulfill the traditional role of wife, mother or teacher, for the most part.

In Europe there is much less emphasis on gender differentiation in clothing for children. (There are some great catalogs and online resourses for gender neutral clothing, BTW.) I think this not only makes sense with regards to stereotyping, but it makes economic sense as well. Boys clothing can be passed down to a girl and vice versa. I would love to see more of this here in the US. It drives me crazy sometimes when I see that we are so limited for both sexes, although one can't help but notice that even as young babies, there are way more selections for girls than boys!
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#9 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 10:25 AM
 
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Well, of course we're different. But gender stereotyping from birth enhances those differences so that we don't really know how different we are biologically. I am still convinced that the biological difference in most of our behaviors and preferences is quite minimal; it's our culture and historical gender roles that play the larger role. Certainly, though, some boys will more naturally and at an earlier age fit the boy sterotype and some girls the girl stereotype. But how much of that is gender biology and how much is personality?

So far, DS (14 mo) is an average kid in terms of behaviors and hopefully he'll stay that way. He loves to read and dance more than anything else, and he's never yet been aggressive (except while teething). He loves to cuddle animals and dolls and is giving toward other children. Interestingly, since he was about 4 months old, his stay at home parent has been his dad, who is very much a "guy" (former army dude, football freak, etc : ). I know they roughhouse a lot, and surely do other things that I, the gender neutral freak, would be appalled at.

As for clothes, I'd love to hear about any gender neutral resources you have paula_bear. I have actually thought about buying DS some clothes from the girls' department (encouraged by an article I read somewhere . . . maybe mothering?) but whenever I look I discover that even the infant and toddler clothes have now become sexualized. Ugh.
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#10 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 11:09 AM
 
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I agree about the clothes - if it isn't pink, it has some sort of frills or lace so there is no mistaking it was made for a girl! The color choices are limited as well. You can check out Kids Nature (Organic European Clothing) online at www.kidsnatureonline.com
They are somewhat pricey, but they have great clearance items if you can handle shopping six months ahead...
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#11 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 02:01 PM
 
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I find this topic very interesting. I have a 9.5 month old ds, and only had a sister growing up. Both my parents have commented how different having a boy is. I was always quite active, but apparently my son is more so. However, my dh was more of quiet baby and child, not as rambunctious (until he was a teenager, however), so I definitely think it depends on the child. What's interesting is that as adults I have more of a "typical male" energy, and dh has more of a "typical female" energy. He works, I stay at home, but I am much more confrontive, critical, strong willed, etc., and he is much more passive, sweet, affectionate, etc. I'm not trying to say these qualities should be attributed to men or women, but they often are, and I have always found it interesting that we seem to have a role reversal in our relationship, and how it might affect our children.

Since this is my first child, I don't know if I would be different if it was a girl, but I find myself saying things to ds like how brave and strong you are, look how fast you go, etc. etc. I also say how sweet and loving he is, and stuff like that, but I find myself being aware of what I am saying when I call him my big strong boy, and wonder what I would be saying to a girl. My dh roughhouses with him, and when we've talked about it he's admitted that he probably would feel strange roughhousing with a girl, but for no good reason. I've told him that if we have a girl, he'd better get over it and do the same with her!

I too didn't find out what we were having before he was born for many reasons, but a big one was the huge emphasis I know everyone would have put on boy vs. girl. Like another poster mentioned, the constant football, construction worker, bug themed clothing for boys really bothers me. I admit I don't dress him in pink or frilly stuff, and blue happens to be my favorite color, but I would like to see a lot more reds, purples, greens (not army!), etc. But, since I am a real cheapo with baby clothing, he ends up in a lot of blue. I'm actually pleasantly surprised when everyone still thinks he's a girl because of his long hair!

Anyway, this is a great thread, and I'm very interested to hear what others have to say, because I definitely have the bouncing off the wall, high energy boy that people talk about.
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#12 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 04:13 PM
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As a child development standpoint, they are naturally different. Girls have an innate sense of community - and seem to focus on relationships naturally (with a huge emphasis on language). Boys have more of a sense of responsibility - they focus on tasks, and physical abilities more.

I know it is not so cut and dry - but each gender can do the same things, but coming from different viewpoints. KWIM?

These differences can be so subtle that it really does not matter in the long run -
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#13 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 05:11 PM
 
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Our sons have always picked their own toys according to their likes and dislikes. I go for basic jeans and tee shirts for clothing (their color choices) and we treat them as individuals.

That being said, my older son's (3 3/4) favorite toys are his two dolls and doll accessories. We can't go anywhere without each of the boys bringing a doll along. When we have time, my older ds brings along his double stroller and pushes his babies right along side me. My older ds was the most gentle toddler you can imagine. He was sweet, polite, caring and loving. He didn't hit, bite, nor was he aggressive in any way. He avoided the boys in our circle of friends who were a bit more rambunctious. I attribute much of this to the fact that his closest toddler friend was a girl. As he became more social and expanded his circle of friends a bit, the "boy" in him came out more. He is now much more of a handful than my friend's daughters of the same age (with one big exception). I attribute some of his shift to nature, but most of it to peer influence. Unless we are willing to put our kids in a bubble, they are going to begin to take on some of the traits that society expects of them -- I guess you could call it gender bias.

My second son has been all "boy" from day one. I think that much of his fiesty personality comes from just being who he is, but I think that having an older brother is a big influence.

IMHO, I think we are kidding ourselves if we think we can raise our kids to be gender neutral. There ARE differences between men and women that cannot be changed. Our brains are different, our bodies have different abilities, and these are not bad things. Men can be nurses, and women can be astronauts, but there are certain lines that get tough to cross. I personally am all for women being firefighters, but if I ever find myself trapped in a burning building and need to be carried to safety, you can bet that I hope that fire fighter who comes to rescue me is the biggest, strongest man on the force.

Recognizing our differences is not encouraging a bias. It is a celebration of who we are for all of our strengths and differences. The key to happy children is to teach them to appreciate our differences and not to see them as a handicap.

I am in no way saying that we should give our boys trucks and our girls dolls, I think my children speak to that, but ignoring the inherent differences between the sexes is equally unhealthy. We should strive to make our children the best PEOPLE they can be, not the best boys, girls, men or women.

Sorry if this rambles, I kept getting interrupted.
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#14 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 05:32 PM
 
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that's bad

my boys are neither rough nor mean

i think rough and mean is TAUGHT behavior

and i think the way they treated their boys, is why they act that way, unless they have medical issues.

girls are wonderful and so are boys.

they aren't that different

unless you make them so, by parenting in such a way to make them thus.

i teach my boys to be kind, gentle, sweet.

i also try to do lots of imagination games with them.

I have read that girls get more imagination game play time than do boys usually.. so i am fighting that

we have tea parties, imaginary playtime with stuffed animals...etc
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#15 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 05:38 PM
 
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Sleepies said "that's bad"

Is this directed to me? If so, what about what I said was "bad?"
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#16 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 06:53 PM
 
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Beth,
I have been reading this thread with interest and have thought about how to respond. You said it perfectly. While I don't think we should pigeon hole any one into "roles" I think we should celebrate our differences. I like the fact that men and women are different.

peggy
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#17 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 08:12 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by m&m
As a child development standpoint, they are naturally different. Girls have an innate sense...<snip>
Well, like I said in my post before, we really don't know if they are innately different or alike. There is no way we could know, as I described in my earlier post.

It is interesting that you said that girls have an innate focus on community and relationships, as studies have shown that even people who believe they are raising their kids to be "gender neutral" will still tend to talk *more* to girl babies than boy babies.

So then there is the question of the chicken or the egg, which is an impossible question to answer.

This issue gets more and more complex with each layer you unravel, from the experiences of those people born of the "third sex" (meaning someone who is a hermaphrodite or something similar) to the biases ingrained even in the studies we do to other cultures that are not set up to have our same gender differentiations (for instance, in some cultures, men are the nurturers and are focused on relationships). I just feel very strongly that there is no way we could possibly simplify this issue.

I am all for celebrating our differences, but the only difference I am absolutely 100% *sure* is at least partly inherent in our beings have to do with normal variations in personality. So I am happy to celebrate our personality differences, whatever they turn out to be.

Sierra

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#18 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 09:23 PM
 
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I'm pretty much in Sierra's camp (although with a stronger belief that many of the traits we're talking about are due to culture and nurture), and just have a few thoughts to add and clarify based on my previous posts.

I attempt gender neutrality to the best of my abilities because I want my son to have a chance to become the person he is to be on his own, as much as possible. Once he starts making preferences, I will support them, but he's too young for that right now, even in the toy arena. Soon enough, peer pressure will kick in, and already the world is responding to him as a boy. And, as someone else said, he's also already observing the gender roles and biases in our culture. By trying to deemphasize those things where I can, I am just trying to give him a chance to discover and establish his own personality.

Having said that, I do see a lot of problems with clearly engrained male and female traits. Even if these traits are partly nature, they are definitely emphasized by our culture, and often they are harmful. I don't want DS to be unable to express his emotions, nor would I want a daughter to be unable to assert herself fully. So, I am also trying to parent in a more gender neutral manner in hopes that my early influence on him will minimize the naturally male, culturally enhanced traits which I believe could harm his ability to be a complete, strong and loving person when he is older.

I already celebrate the many wonderful qualities I see in DS, and look forward to celebrating the unique qualities of him as a person as he grows and his personality unfolds. He's a great little guy and I don't want to get in the way of that. Nor do I want society to decide who will be for him, and while I can't stop that, I think I have a duty to in these early years to minimize it in whatever ways I can (hence, the emphasis on bright fun clothes).

sleepies, I am confused as to which post(s) you're responding to in the first part of your post. I certainly don't think anyone here in this threat is purposely raising their DS to be mean, rough, or aggressive.

K.
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#19 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 10:53 PM
 
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I will probably get flamed here, but I think that it is harder to raise young boys than it is young girls to be gender biased. People seem to think that there isn't a problem with a little girl who is a tomboy, or who is confident asserting herself. She is seen as a strong young girl, even as a toddler. I have a friend who has a girl who has all the typical qualities assigned to boys. People always tell her how great her daughter is, how they love her "fiestiness." They think it's great that she loves to "run with the boys" and get dirty in the sand, so to speak. I, on the other hand, have been criticised for "allowing" my boy to cry when someone hurts him or his feelings at the playground. I have had strangers make snide comments when my boys come in with their dolls. I once had a woman tell me that my boys were going to grow up to be wimps if I let them carry those dolls everywhere.

I have two wonderful and nuturing boys (thanks in part to their love of their dolls) and I am confident that they will grow up to be wonderful men, if society would grant them as much respect as they do the tomboy girl they think is so cute.

Sorry for the rant, it was a bad day today -- partly due to the above.
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#20 of 39 Old 02-28-2002, 11:49 PM
 
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I have pondered over the clothing/behavior issue myself. I have also noticed the limited clothing selections for boys - and I really do think that boys are put into much more rigid behavioral modes than girls are. I have wondered to myself just how far I would push no-gender-bias if I had a boy (I have 2 girls), and I found myself wondering whether I would dress a boy in pink or in dresses (answer, no) - and then I was trying to figure out why not?? -- [to be provocative, I asked my dh if he would mind if I dressed our hypothetical son in pink. He said, 'no way', and I asked 'why not?' and he replied 'pink is an ugly color. I don't think our dd should wear it either'...]

I agree, beth, that strong girls are 'in' these days, but emotionally sensitive boys are still labeled "mama's boys". this extends into limited career choices in adulthood: the stay-at-home dads i know have a rougher time in some ways than sahms - much less community support and more dissaproval within their families..
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#21 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 01:28 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I suspect that sleepies was refering to this quote from my original post.

Quote:
Originally posted by kama'aina mama
I have lost track of how many parents of boys (all mainstream) have told me (as their boys bounced off of walls and leaped of the furniture) that I am lucky because "girls are so sweet and boys are just rough and mean". Aside from the whole 'nice way to descibe your kid right in front of him' issue... I don't think it's true.
sleepies said
Quote:

that's bad

my boys are neither rough nor mean

i think rough and mean is TAUGHT behavior

and i think the way they treated their boys, is why they act that way, unless they have medical issues.
I agree sleepies!
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#22 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 01:33 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by jbcjmom
I think that it is harder to raise young boys than it is young girls to be gender biased.
I think you are right, and I don't even have any boys! My 2 girls are currently taking a dance class and they love dressing up in little ballet outfits. They have a same age friend who is a boy who is in Twe Kwon Doe (SP?????) They have decided that TKD looks like fun and want to try a class sometime. Their friend wouldn't be caught dead in ballet (and his mom even rented a video to show him that grown men do ballet). In 5 short years -- with very cool, open minded parents -- his idea of manly behavior is very engrained, while my little girls think that they can do anything.
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#23 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 03:36 PM
 
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Just because it's difficult to raise your kids "gender-neutral" (though I don't like the term because it kind of assumes that they will reside between the spaces of male or female constrained to a wardrobe or green and white and prefer thinking of it as giving them a full range of options) doesn't mean we should give up. If your dd's like to play with dolls and dress-up that doesn't mean that those interests are biologically-ingrained; they are just exercising options at the end of the traditionally feminine side. We just need to be sure that ds's get the option of nurturing play as well and that dd's get the option of active play.

That said I also agree with jbcjmom that it's harder for boys to exercise (I'm sounding like a stockbroker here, which I'm not, sorry) the traditionally feminine options b/c those activities are undervalued due to good old sexism. "Why would a strapping long lad like you want to wear a tutu; that's for girls (derisively)" So even though girls seem to have the advantage to be tomboys, the underlying sexist dynamic is really geared to keep them in their place.

So, I try to do my best. Some days my best is better than others. This spring, ds will wear pink; he looks great in pink; he owns a pink outfit. But, I hate that I actually have to think about it and psych myself up about it.

Cheers
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#24 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 04:14 PM
 
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Ds would love a pair of those sparkley, red Mary Jane's that look like Dorothy's shoes from "The Wizard of Oz." I tried to buy him a pair, but his feet are too wide. I think they would have gone great with his Thomas the Tank Engine shirt.

You should have seen the look on the face of the lady buying her baby iboy it's first pair of shoes. She thought I was nuts.
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#25 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 04:44 PM
 
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I tend to be the gender bias police - I even wrote my master's thesis on gender bias in elementary school classrooms!

I think that there is most likely just as much variation within a gender as there is between genders; so that one girl is just as different from another girl as she is from a boy. I think that each child is truly an individual. I agree that the messages society gives regarding gender roles are inavoidable, but like anything else, we arm our kids with what we can and trust that we've done a good enough job to help them learn to question stereotypes. My three year old did this once in a toy store, when i was buying her some stuff for her train set A woman on line said to me, "Oh, you must have a son at home," and i just played dumb and said, "What makes you think that?" She said, "Isn't that who the trains are for?' and dd piped up, "They're for me!" and proceeded to tell this woman everything she knew about trains!!!

Has anyone else noticed that some moms allow their boys to "get away with" innappropriate behavior with the "boys will be boys, they need to get out their energy" excuse? i go out to lunch weekly with a group of friends and their kids (dd is the only girl) and two of the boys there are allowed to run around the table when they are done eating, and even CRAWL UNDER the table to play!!! The moms rationalize it with, "well, it's just Wendy's, and they have so much energy." Meanwhile, dd and the other two boys there sit at the table and play with crayons or small toys when they are done eating. This drives me crazy, is it just me???
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#26 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 05:00 PM
 
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Peacemama, it's just laziness on the mom's part when they don't make their child get out from under the table. When we have lunch at the mall after playgroup, the kids (mainly the boys) will want to run around. My ds doesn't initiate it, but he is all for it once someone else starts. I always make my ds get back in his chair, even if it means cutting off my conversation. There is one particular mom who doesn't attend often who lets it go on until she is done with her conversation, then she yells at her son to stop. I do mean yell. It's embarrassing.
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#27 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 05:03 PM
 
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Peacemama, I know what you mean about excusing socially unacceptable behavior in boys. This drives me crazy, as well as the reverse, expecting girls to be well-behaved all the time and submissive, etc. While the possibility exists that "boys will be boys," this does not mean that one should not correct unacceptable behavior. I feel that parents who let their boys run unchecked with this sort of attitude are doing their children a great diservice (sp?). KWIM?
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#28 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 05:26 PM
 
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I think so, too, paula bear. And I feel sorry for the future kindergarten teachers of these kids (I can't help but think like that, as I'm a teacher, too!). There is a group of four or five very wild boys in dd's class at preschool and she tells me about it all the time. I've seen the leniency of their parents at playdates and birthday parties, so it seems that they fall into this particular categiry we're describing. It makes school a less secure place for her than it should be, and that bugs me.
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#29 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 05:30 PM
 
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I also hate it when parents let their sons get away with all sorts of nonsense because they are boys. You still have to parent them!!!

The flip side of this is when the same parents say how easy we have it because our children are girls, or even worse, say that we have it easier now but it will be harder for us once they are all teens.

At the same time, many of the little boys we know, even the ones with parents who are doing a good job, come up with all sorts of ideas that would never occur to my girls-- mostly involving climbing on things that should not be climbed on and the jumping off. :
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#30 of 39 Old 03-01-2002, 06:02 PM
 
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Just for the record, my dd loves to climb on things and sometimes jump off, too.

You know what I really hate? When people "warn" dh of his scary future job of protecting dd from all the boys that will supposedly be lining up outside our door...you know, "Oh, dude, you're gonna have to run them off with a baseball bat..." Somehow these comments creep me out, as if these guys are already thinking of my dd as a sex object.
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