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Kids Play and Gender Stereotypes

boys aggressive play gender stereotypeLittle boys: are they gun-loving Kings of the Hill who want to run around, argue and dominate? Or are they delicate, shy mama’s-boys who want to slip on red heels and pose in front of the mirror?

Third option: boys, like girls, are kids, who come in all shapes, sizes, styles and personalities.

My vote is for the third option, but that kind of thinking  often gets me patronizing looks from others. Haven’t I noticed boys tend to move in packs, the others want to know. (Yes, that is often the case.) Can’t I see that girls prefer one-on-one (mmmhmmm. I’m quite familiar with such behaviors as well).

But, devil’s advocate, have you, patronizing-look-giver, never known boys who focus only on their BFFs? Or girls who organize a game of tag or monster or — yes, it has happened — King of the Hill? See? Lots of options!

Though I’m the mother of a little boy who, yes, is very interested in the weekly garbage truck (a phenomenon that, I’ll admit it, frightened my two older girls), I stubbornly refuse to divide the world into boy/girl, pink/blue, rowdy/serene. I won’t do it.

Instead, I think there’s a huge range for all kids, girl or boy. Is one end dominated by girls and one by boys? Sure. But not every girl or boy has to fit into one or the other. Spectrum, people, spectrum!

That said, I do think we are too quick to call certain acts “violence.” I’m all for toy guns and swords. I think kids should be allowed to yell at each other and wrestle. We shouldn’t call in police when kids draw pictures of guns or write moving narratives of muscled boys slashing the throat of a glitter-crusted unicorn. In the wake of school shootings and the perception that every child is one violent cartoon away from committing similarly egregious acts, it would seem schools have gone too far by squelching rough play and shunning stories that involve death and dismemberment. We need to move past sounding the alarms about those who might wish to express their creativity through such unsavory stories (often boys!). We need to drop our suspicions, admit that rough play is normal and set up classrooms and play areas to accommodate it.

At the same time, we should talk about these things not just as girl and boy issues. This piece over on MSNBC, which makes the case that boys need aggressive play, is difficult to get through, what with all the gender generalizations. It’s nearly as bad as a viral ad, which Lisa Belkin describes over on the New York Times blog Motherlode, that demeans a little boy playing dress up (it recommends toughening him up with karate classes, since of course anyone in girl’s shoes couldn’t possibly be tough). The makers of the ad have apologized, but it’s a reminder that we still seem to want to define boys and girls narrowly.

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Photo: copyranter [via Momlogic via Motherlode]

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