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It’s not Big Guy’s fault he’s a sexist

Submitted by on Tuesday, 5 May 2009 2 Comments
cale_decoratingSuddenly, it's crystal clear why Big Guy declared recently that when he grows up and becomes a pilot, Dad will be his air marshal and I'll serve the snacks. No word on what role Boots will play, though I suspect it will have something to do with the lavatories.

And now I understand why Big Guy constantly "ewwwwwwwws" at anything pink, even though I hate pastels and the only two pink items I own are hand-me-downs. In my current frumpy phase, I'll even wear them on occasion.

Turns out, none of it is his fault.

The tendency to associate preferences with genders - boys like sports while girls like dolls - is an "innate" tendency.

At least that's what researchers at Pacific Lutheran University believe, based on a study of 450 children ages 5 to college.

"These results have important implications for how children think about activities that are culturally associated with the other gender, for example, how girls think about science or math," Pacific Lutheran psychology professor Marianne Taylor said.

It's one more reason parents trying to create a generation of empowered women - and parents of sons have just as much responsibility on that count as parents of girls do - still have a monsoon-strength tide to swim against.

Heaven knows I've tried with the guys, to the point of being criticized by neb noses for trying to raise girly men.

They help with laundry and love cleaning - far more than I do, actually. They adore cooking - everything from cookies to soup to spaghetti. Big Guy actually thinks he's the one who makes the macaroni and cheese these days, and far be it for me to tell him otherwise.

They love cake decorating, though that could have more to do with getting to lick icing off their fingers than it does a desire to become pastry chefs.

The only chore in our household that appears to have a gender assignment is mowing the lawn, and that's because I'm allergic to grass.

Yet despite all that, and even though Big Guy's played soccer for two season with girls who can flat lay him out on the ground, in the past few months his conversations increasingly have been peppered with gender cliches.

"You can't like purple," he'll tell Boots. "That's a girl color."

"Is that girl really a soldier?" he asked during vacation. You bet your combat boots she is, and I think you need some remedial "Mulan," young man.

As Taylor pointed out, knowing that children believe these differences are inborn does change the dialog I'll have with the guys in the future.

I've always been very careful, for example, to offer what I hope are non-preachy explanations when they pop up with something that's contrary to the values I'm trying to teach.

"Yes, some people will try to trick you. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. You don't like being tricked, do you? If you don't like it, don't do it to other people."

Seems I need to step it up with gender cliches as well.

"Yes, some people think pink is a girl color. But I don't like pink, and I'm a girl, aren't I? People can like whatever color they want, whether they're a boy or girl."

That's still not going to convince them to wear pink shirts, but maybe it will give us something to build on down the road.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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2 Comments »

  • Leslie K said:

    I tried to make sure Ryan knew how to do laundry and cook…now he is 20, a Lt in his Explorer Unit, studying to go into Law Enforcement – and Grandma does all our laundry and the cooking.

    I think what I needed to remember is that everyone – girly or boy-ey (?) – really need a well trained GRANDMA….

  • Debra said:

    I think that’s my problem, Leslie. Grandma is 3,000 miles away. Not that she’d do our laundry if she were 3,000 feet away.