Gender and Childhood: An Interview with My 5-Year-Old Daughtercarolyncastiglia
My recent post on the genderless childhood trend received lots and lots of comments and generated a pretty interesting discussion. I still feel that forbidding children to use gendered pronouns isn’t going to help us achieve gender equality, and I’ve always maintained that the extreme feminization and masculinization of childhood clothing and toys we’ve seen of late is problematic. (Especially the Princess problem.) So I wanted to know to what extent is all of this gendered marketing affecting or being observed by our children. I wanted to find out what my 5-year-old daughter, being raised by a liberal mother in a liberal city, had to say about gender roles and gender rules.
Here’s what I found out: contrary to what you might assume, boys are the ones being oppressed and presented with fewer options, at least in terms of exploring behavior and preferences on both sides of the gender divide. Girls today absorb the idea from day one that they can be pretty and powerful.
Me: Do you think there are any differences between boys and girls?
5YO: They have different kinds of pee-pees.
Me: That’s true.
Me: What about anything else?
5YO: Ummmm… uhhhh… boys like different things than girls.
Me: Really? Can you give me some examples?
5YO: Like girls like princesses and boys like superheroes.
Me: Okay. Do you think any boys like princesses or any girls like superheroes?
5YO: No, but maybe some older girls like superheroes.
Me: Okay. What about little boys liking princesses?
5YO: I don’t really think boys would like princesses.
5YO: Because they don’t like pretty stuff.
Me: What if a boy did like pretty stuff?
5YO: Well, it wouldn’t be like princess stuff.
Me: What would it be?
5YO: It would be like, it would be like… sparkly shells and rocks.
Me: Okay. Now, if you knew a boy and he did like princess stuff, would you think that was okay?
Me: Why do you say maybe?
5YO: Because you never know if he’d change his mind, that he likes superheroes AND princesses.
Me: Can somebody like both?
5YO: Yeah, but I don’t really like superheroes a lot. But, even tho I watch Go Diego Go, he’s an animal rescuer, not like a superhero.
Me: What don’t you like about superhero stuff?
5YO: Well, I only like girl superheros.
Me: Which girl superheroes do you like?
5YO: Like, when I was watching Backyardigans, they were showing like Bug Girl and stuff and Captain Bubble…
Me: What about Word Girl, do you like Word Girl?
5YO: Yeah, but she’s a girl one.
Me: Now, what would you say if somebody said you could no longer use the words he and she or him and her or boy and girl, that you had to just call people by their names?
5YO: That would be weird.
5YO: Because some people don’t know names.
Me: Okay. Do you like any sports?
5YO: I like baseball! And soccer. Maybe not soccer ’cause running makes me sweaty.
Me: So, do you think it’s okay for girls to like baseball and soccer?
Me: So it’s okay for girls to like baseball and soccer, but is it okay for boys to like princess things?
Me: Why not?
5YO: Because sports are for girls AND boys!
Me: But princesses are NOT for girls and boys?
5YO: They’re just for girls. But if you have, like, a cousin or a brother that wants to watch it with you that’s okay.
Me: What if your cousin or your brother wanted to dress up in a princess costume for Halloween?
5YO: Well, like, what if they changed their mind?
Me: What do you mean?
5YO: Like if they dress up in a bunch of costumes and see if they like it, and like if they don’t like it then they just… it’s a costume that they already have.
Me: So, something tells you that boys wearing dresses is not… what?
5YO: It looks silly!
Me: It’s silly, you think?
Me: But girls can wear pants AND dresses.
5YO: Yeah, because some girls like dresses and some girls like both and some girls just like pants and shirts.
Me: I agree with what you just said, but what about boys? What if a boy likes wearing pants and skirts, is that okay?
5YO: Well, some skirts are like skirts and then with like shorts under them.
Me: So those are the ones that a boy can wear, you think?
Me: So what about the boys that we saw at the parade? Remember the boys that we saw all dressed up in sparkles with makeup on their faces? That was pretty cool, wasn’t it?
5YO: Yeah, because they were dressed up in a silly costume.
Me: What if a boy wanted to wear a dress just normally, like to school, is that weird or not?
5YO: It’s weird! Well, it would be weird if you go to a public school.
Me: Do you think that’s unfair, that girls are allowed to wear pants and skirts but boys aren’t allowed to wear pants and skirts?
5YO: No, because boys don’t care about dresses!
So there you have it. According to my daughter, boys – at least ones who attend public school – don’t care about dresses. Of course we know there are a few boys out there who do want to wear dresses, but is there something to her assessment of the situation? For the most part, does the system as it stands serve us? We know girls and women have historically been (and in some parts of the world still are) oppressed and thus wanted in on male territory. Because we wanted in and worked hard to get in to the boys’ club (in more ways than one), we’re still trying to bust through the glass ceiling, but wearing trousers. The question is: do boys and men want in on “female territory” en masse? If they don’t currently, should we work to encourage boys from birth to explore their feminine sides more thoroughly? I say yes in regards to emotions, for sure, but our brains seem to be wired differently in terms of our ability to express ourselves. Then again, our behavior does have the power to change brain chemistry, so maybe we just need to evolve. Do we want to destroy the notions of masculine and feminine altogether, though? Let’s discuss.