Thoughts on Gender and Children
Katya Reimann Gardner
I am the mother of sixteen month old twin daughters. They are sturdy, and full of fun, and one of the things they love best is to be thrown up in the air. To be shaken until they giggle. To be swung dangerously by their heels. I try to keep it toned down, but it is difficult. They throw themselves over edges, when they know I am standing by. They've learned how close I need to be to catch them before they hit the ground.
My husband, who is tenderhearted, looked at me the other day and worried, "What would we be doing with them if they had come out boys?" I could tell that visions of inadvertant shaken- baby syndrome were dancing in his mind. "We'd treat them just the same," I answered. "Don't worry, we wouldn't be too rough."
Parents play rougher with their boy babies, or so the story goes, so from the first they're getting the cue that they can take it, like a man. We're gentle with our girls. We teach them to be cautious. What is nurture, what is nature? We don't know the answers yet. I want my girls to be tough. I love it when they are fearless and laughing. To me, that's a splendid thing, seeing them both like that together.
My friends all tell me that we will hit the frilly dress stage soon. That our house will be filled with BarbiesTM. We might as well get used to it, now. It's going to happen. You can't avoid it.
But I am the parent, I answer back. I'm the one who gets to make the choices. People laugh when I say that, and not particularly nicely. "They're only yours for the first few years. Once they get out of the house, they're gone. You'll see. You'll learn that."
When I was growing up, I played with Barbies. I watched some crappy television programs. I played dress-up with my friends. I bought nail-polish, when I was a little older. I bought lipstick. I experimented. None of this happened directly under my parents' eyes, and that was ok. My parents, who didn't desire to control this aspect of my upbringing, didn't send me off to my friends' houses with a list of the verboten snacks and games. Yes, they usually had met these girls' (or boys') parents, but otherwise they just dropped me at the door and let me go. And with my friends, I experienced all these things. One of my friends even had a Barbie "Play and Bake" stove--which was fun, if somewhat repetitious, until we ran out of the preformed batter-stuff.
I do have a fond memory of playing with that oven. I even have a fond (if embarrassing) memory of the summer my best friend had a crush on Shaun Cassidy--she had subscriptions to a couple of the teen magazines, and posters of him all over the walls. I remember going along with it, and entering some pre-teen contests, just on the chance that we could meet him. My God--what would I have had to have done if I'd won? Looking back, it boggles my mind. Shaun Cassidy wasn't really my type, whatever Joanie thought of his looks. But I was really too polite to want to say so.
I liked my own toys, and they weren't Barbies. They were blocks, and a huge bag of plastic animals, and a wall-sized apartment building that my father had built for me that I was perpetually working to fill with furniture, most of which I made myself. My father was an artist--occasionally he'd take the time out to make us wooden toys. Those were annoying because they didn't always fit the scale of the other animals and blocks that my brother and I were using. Eventually we would find some way to integrate them with our other stuff. Not always as my father had envisioned, but that was ok. He didn't police that.
Boys and girls are different. Sure I know that's true. I dressed my girls up for Easter in little cotton dresses with embroidered rosebuds and smocking. That's not something I would do to a son, if I had one, and my mother's heart nearly burst as I watched them tottering around our front lawn, picking up plastic easter eggs and trying violently to crack them open to retrieve their prizes. They--my girls--they were so beautiful. I was so proud of them.
I'm not going to let them play with Barbies at home, and that will be ok. Because there are all different kinds of women, and some of them don't need to play with dolls. To me, playing with Barbies--or wearing pink, or letting a man open a door--these are not the things that distinguish women from men. That, at least, is something I hope I'll be able to teach my daughters-- and my son, my nephews, my new young cousins, if ever I have them.
If, as Ekaterin sometimes felt,
--Lois McMaster Bujold
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