“B. can come over to play, but I can’t handle the boys. Boys always make such a mess and play so rowdy. And I have no boy toys. B. probably doesn’t get a chance to play with girls. It was such a shock for me to have a boy after having three girls. Boys are so different, aren’t they?” my neighbour said. (Her son is all of 18 months old and one of her girls absolutely does NOT fit the “girl” stereotype.)
“Why can B. go over to play in their house and we can’t?” my son A. asked later, hurt in his voice. “We always clean up after ourselves when we play in someone else’s house, and we always listen when Mrs. K. tells us to do something. It’s not fair!”
“I’ll take B. with me to pick up more boxes,” my friend said, after having asked her in front of the boys. Thankfully the older two didn’t care to go anyway, but D. was interested in going with.
“D. would be fine to go,” I said. “He won’t have any trouble sitting in the vehicle.” D., being the youngest, is often a lot more mature about sitting still and behaving himself than most 4-year-olds. I’d rather take him shopping than the other three. My friend laughed a little, disbelievingly, and politely but firmly said,
“I’ll just take B.. She’ll be able to handle it in the car.” And that was what sparked my burning anger.
I’m not angry with my friend. She knows my family and children well and has only their best interests at heart. She wasn’t aware of what’s been simmering away in my heart and mind, gradually coming to a boil in the last year and a half. I am angry with a culture that creates these sorts of stereotypes and divides.
I’m done with gender stereotyping in families. My husband and I are privileged and blessed to be the parents to three boys and a girl – the perfect family for us. We had no control over what sex our children were when they were conceived, so we’ve always chosen to believe that God intended our family to be this way. I’m not sure I would have wanted to have the responsibility of deciding that, anyway. There seems to be an idea in our North American culture that a complete family contains one or two children, and if a family has two children they should be one of each gender. Family magazine covers rarely feature more than one or two children, and if there are two on the cover they are usually a boy and girl* or two girls. Not that there is anything wrong with having one or two children. My intention is this: families should be accepted and celebrated for being families, and no censure felt or implied due to number or gender of children.
As the mother of three boys and a girl I also notice a distinct bias in favour of girls. Again, it’s the boy/girl stereotyping at work. The stereotype, in brief, is that boys are rowdy, loud, obnoxious, obsessed with blood, guts, and bodily functions, rude, and disturbingly wiggly. Girls are sweet, quiet, polite, cute and pretty, and easy to have around. I have heard more comments than I care to count that follow this line of thought. It usually comes out as, “At least you have a girl! Poor thing to have three brothers. She must be your little princess.” Then they turn to B. and say, “It must be hard to have three brothers and no sisters.” The implication is that she’s extra-special because she’s the only girl. What about having value and worth because she’s a person, because she’s loved, because she’s been created by God? And what about her unique interests that sometimes, but not always, fit into the stereotype? I don’t like the “poor me” attitude that is fostered by those sorts of comments. Now I’m in a quandry. I haven’t figured out how to graciously handle these sorts of situations.
A. can sit still for long periods of time, loves reading and imaginative play, enjoys sports but hates competition, is sensitive and compassionate, loves collecting things and knows more about animals, birds, and insects than most adults I know, and is highly logical and intellectual. B., the girl, is wiggly, often loud, hates bugs but loves biology, enjoys writing, is very competitive and loves sports, and enjoys playing pretend or doing cooperative things. She is also dreamy and cannot concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. C. is intensely musical and mechanically minded, regularly falls off his chair, makes up elaborate stories to pretend with his stuffed animals, and is cuddly and affectionate. D. is loud, a clown, very articulate, and interested in anything that moves.
I’d rather people took children for who they are instead of forming opinions based on what gender they are. I wish people looking in would be willing to spend the time it takes to get to know my children as individuals, and if that’s not possible, to remind themselves that children are individuals and are precious because they are human.
Note: Hannah over at The Femonite blogs regularly about these sorts of issues. If you’re interested in reading more, head on over to her site.
*I realize that magazines have space issues to work with, and that showing a child of each gender is attempting to equalize the playing field. I’d be less irritable if magazines made an effort to show real families on their covers instead of projecting a carefully edited image of correctness.