I really don’t believe that boys and girls are all that different. On some things, sure. Bear does the heavy lifting in the house, for example. And I am perpetually suffering through the effects of having a woman’s biology that is constantly trying to torture me, if not outright kill me. But most differences, I think, come down to how we’re raised. Men are usually taught not to deal with their emotions, so most women will seem more nurturing in comparison. Girls aren’t encouraged to play in the dirt, or wrestle, or play with trucks, so by the time they’re grown all that stuff is a world away from them.
We talk about this all the time in activist circles. LGBT rights and feminism are deeply concerned with our ideas about gender. We say that while differences certainly exist, there is far more difference amongst genders than between genders. You take someone like me, a crafter in heels and lipstick who is unathletic and doesn’t like getting dirty, and put me up next to a female forest ranger or firefighter. We’re both women, and neither of us should feel like we’re the “right” kind of woman, but who has more in common? Me and her? Or her and her male firefighter colleagues? The human experience is too vast for boxes about how men are and how women are. It’s just how people are.
And yet, there are definite trends. When I’m with my woman friends, I feel a power there in our shared womanhood. Is it just shared experiences? Or something more? My mom friends all tell stories of boys turning barbies into guns and girls turning trucks into baby dolls. Tiny little girls insisting on pink dresses and princess stuff. Boys making car noises before their first words. It’s an argument that sociologists, anthropologists, and hosts of other ists have been having forever – nature or nurture? Chicken or the egg? Are they taught this because they love it? Or do they love it because they’re taught this?
I was watching some dumb sitcom the other day and one plot line was the dad telling his son that whenever he wanted to get out of trouble with a woman he shouldn’t put up a fight, he should just immediately give in and say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He taught that with this one bit of wisdom the son could get away with anything, just use these magic words afterwards and he could always have his way. The kid then went on to pull all kinds of shenanigans and get out of trouble every time as he would just say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” to his sister and aunt when he got caught. Because women just want to be right. They don’t care what you do, as long as they win the argument in the end.
It was just a dumb sitcom, but by the end I was fuming. That’s not how women react, that’s how PEOPLE react! Because you APOLOGIZED! Only a jerk would reject the apology and keep yelling just to satisfy their own rage. When someone says I’m sorry, people who haven’t been raised by wolves stop being angry and accept that the lesson has been learned. But in the world of this sitcom, women are nags always trying to keep men from doing what they want to do.
I could write a book about how and why this happens (short version: too many men in the writer’s room), but it happens hundreds of times a day. Every day. And eventually we stop noticing it. The world we live in teaches us that men are one way and women are the other and we rarely stop to consider if that’s how it really is. Underneath the razor commercials and anti-aging ads.
This is another one of my silver linings in being a mom of a special needs kid. The rule book was stripped from our hands and it was terrifying and overwhelming, but it means that the only rules we have to play by are the ones we make for ourselves. I think many moms get there one way or the other. We were kicked into that lesson.
The first time I was at a scrapbooking night and realized how many cute papers and embellishments I’d never get to use – first steps, baseball games, soccer teams – it was heartbreaking. And then right behind that realization came the thought that if I was rethinking what and why and how I scrapbook, that meant I didn’t have to use any embellishments just because it was what they were selling, and I started thinking through everything I was seeing on the shelves. Out went the “All Boy” stickers, the “Little Man” die cuts. Those things are gross, and offensive. People use them because they love their children and they’re proud of them, but think about what the opposite might mean. What exactly is someone who’s not ‘all boy?’ A girl? A gay person? A trans person? And if you’re bragging that your child is All Boy, does that make it bad to be something less than that?
The “All Boy” stuff is almost always covered in tire trucks and mud, camouflage, sports balls. What if you have a kid like mine who loves hugs and kisses, music and books. Where are the All Boy papers covered in letters and numbers, or kissy marks? They don’t exist. Because when people say “all boy” they mean something very specific. And anything different is not All Boy and therefore not worth bragging about.
When I saw these muddy knees, my heart lept. Not because he’s “All boy” but because of how hard won that playtime was. These muddy knees represent Atti dragging himself through the house, out the door, and into the grass. It shows that he got up on his hands and knees after years and years of therapy to accomplish that. It’s that work ethic that I am proud of. His love of nature. Who he is. Not because he’s officially checked off the “Boy must play in dirt” box.