Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Gender and children

Jody at Raising WEG has a fascinating post about boys and the toys they choose. She has much better comparison points than me (she has triplets - two girls and a boy), and has posted about her boy's toy choices, and his peers' reaction to them. One thing she said which I found interesting was that "The little girls are far more flexible than the little boys, there's just no question about that one." In her examples, it certainly seems true. And yet...

My boys, particularly C, the four year old, seem more able to exercise their femininity than their female friends. C's four year old girl friends tend to play princesses and fairies, and like to draw, and dance and sing. C, while he loves trains, and rockets, also loves the colour pink and dressing up in crowns and using a magic wand. Of course, I know C better than I know his friends. He tends to do the feminine things in the comfort of his own home rather than with his friends (although we have a great picture of him playing dress-ups at playgroup). Maybe the others (most of whom have older brothers) secretly play with trains and rockets at home.

Before I had kids, I was pretty convinced by my feminist reading that gender was pretty much 95% nurture. I saw a great example of that on a BBC program about childhood development where they gave a baby dressed alternately in pink and blue to people to play with. The pink baby got cuddled, and told how beautiful "she" was. The blue baby got stood up and told how strong "his" legs were. It was a striking difference.

And I could go on and on about behaviours that are described one way or the other depending on whether boys or girls do them. My favourite example is when two kids say to another one "you're not our friend". When girls do it, it's sad how early girls these days start bitchy behaviour. When boys do it, it's just an individual example of bad manners, and treated accordingly.

But there are more subtle differences that I find hard to explain with nurture. I've certainly increased my proportion that comes from nature rather than nuture after parenthood and watching them develop (I'm not sure how far, though...) My boys do seem to need to run around more than their girl friends. There does seem to be a drift to only have friends of the same gender. And is the fact that both my boys only role play with trains as characters, rather than dolls or teddy bears, just because they are interested in trains, or because they have never been interested in nurturing behaviour?

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