In Defense of Boys.

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It was about 94 degrees last weekend here in LA, and my son refused to take off his brown, calf-high Ugg boots. You might be curious as to why a child would want to spend an entire day with his feet encased in a pair of fuzzy, insulated sweat boxes, and rightly so. But Davis has discovered that when he dons a white tee-shirt, tan pants, a white, zip-up jacket and those brown Ugg boots, he bears, with his sandy-colored hair and light olive complexion, a striking similarity to Luke Skywalker. You try telling him that he’d be more comfortable in sandals.

 

As much as I enjoy the Star Wars franchise, Luke Skywalker and friends have become a bit of an issue for me over the last several months. Like most second children, Davis has been exposed to things that might not necessarily be appropriate for a child of three and a half, simply because he sometimes plays with six year-old boys who are friends of Harper’s. Whether it’s Power Rangers, Transformers, or Star Wars, Davis is on the cutting edge among the boys in his preschool class – most of whom happen to be sheltered, over-protected first children who are still on a steady diet of Blues Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine and Lightening McQueen. Here’s a conversation I’ve had at least six times in the last several weeks:

 

Appalled mother: So, [insert trendy name here] has been coming home talking about Darth Vader and Chewbacca and light sabers. I asked him where he learned about these things, and he said that Davis taught him.
Me (looking sheepish): I know. I’m sorry. He has a lot of older friends. But actually, he calls them Dark Vader, Twobacca and life savers. Which is kind of cute, don’t you think?

 

Appalled mother (glaring): No, not really.

 

I have reason to suspect, too, that some of these mothers have complained about Davis to the teachers, because they’ve implemented some new rules in the classroom, such as, no pretending to fight with light sabers, no pretending to be a Power Ranger, and no pretending to kill other kids with guns. But as much as I wish that Davis wasn’t so obsessed with these things at such a young age, I find myself needing to cry foul.

 

YogaMomma
05.29.08

I've got a peanut who will make anything into a gun. He builds lego's into guns. His toothbrush, at times, can be a gun. Despite my hippy tendencies to want to squelch the evil guns from exhistance, I KNOW that despite MY wants, it is HIS childhood. He's not hurting anyone, he's not building bullets out of his legos. He's being a boy. The only thing that I/we can do as parents is to be mindful of what the influence is and keep the lines of communication open. Start talking now, kids. Before they stop talking, period.

ABCmom
05.29.08

AAAAMen! I have 3 boys ages 16mos to 5.5yo and have just started reading about up on BOYS figuring hell ya and then this week would you know a MOM of a BOY gets pissy with me about my son, being a boy. I am fearing Kindergarten...!

melissmoor
05.28.08

I agree with doyourbest and would add that even if you think you may have protected your children from gender assignment by reducing their exposure to the media, there is still an element of gender stereotyping that simply cannot be avoided, and that is deeply enmeshed in our experience of one another. While I strove to provide my son with a range of colors in his wardrobe as a newborn and within his room, neutral toys and, now the he is a toddler, encourage all sorts of play for him, I couldn't really prevent him from internalizing my husband's "maleness," which had been determined by a much more conservative approach to parenting than what we intended for our child. My relatives would purchase clothing with cars on them, trains, plains, and dump trucks. If I had a girl I would put her in these clothes as well, but would I put him in pink clothes with lace? Would my husband let me? In the eighteenth century gender neutrality was imposed on infants and toddlers during there growth and development in the first ten years of their life. All children were dressed in the same atire, which we would probably consider "girly." Eventually they were viewed as "little adults," and dressed as their parents were, boys as men were and girls as women. Childhood was only beginning to be explored by philosphers such as Rouseaux and Diderot, a push towards naturalism, nursing, and the concept of individuality of the child as separate from the adult were taking root. Sterotypes emerged not from necessity (as in the roles which had kept survival possible, men hunting, woman bearing children) but from the belief that human's had a "natural maleness" or "femaleness," characteristics which would make them suited to specific roles. Men hunted because they "naturally" were inclined to do this, as women were "naturally" inclined to be maternal. I am sure there is an element here of hormones. At some point we have to look at the biology of gender and agree that the higher concentration of testosterone or estrogen has a place in determining, not only physical characteristics, but mental states as well. Does that mean a boy comlpetely unexposed to violence would pick up a stick and start pretending to fight? Or that a girl unexposed to disney princesses would pick a bouquet of flowers, plunk herself down beneath a tree and wait to be rescued from some undefined threat? Probably not. But this same boy may be more likely to display more agression than the girl when defending "his" toy, but this says something about propertarian society than it does about gender. Argghhh capitalism.

veronica
05.28.08

Ahem! My lil one is a girl and she's emulated quite a few Jedi in her short 4 1/2 years. Yes, boys are more prone to war-play, but let's not make this a boy thing. It's a war-play thing. AND I gotta say that the girls in our class have had rules put on them. The marriage & gf/bf thing got way out of control a few months ago and the teachers needed to put a clamp on it.

I do agree that violence is central to our fairy tales, so to think that we're shielding them is a bit silly.

heidisf
05.27.08

I agree with you! My son is in a class of 8 kids-2 boys (he +1 other) and 6 girls. It is amazing to me how even in preschool, they are trying to make boys act like girls. Boys are hardwired to act like this-they are drawn to it just as most girls are drawn to pretty, soft things. I am making sweeping generalizations, but as a mom of a boy and a girl (5 and 2 years old), it is amazing to me how they are each NATURALLY drawn to gender things. This is why I am sending my son to a boys school where he can be a boy in whatever capacity he wants to be, and the teachers love boys and WANT THEM TO BE BOYS!

2boys
05.27.08

As a mother of two boys, I agree wholeheartedly with Risa. It wouldn't matter if they never saw Star Wars or anything with "violence" in it. If my older son watches Snow White, he emulates the mean witch and scary trees. When he watched 101 Dalmatians, he and his younger brother played Horace & Jasper trying to catch the dogs. It is hardwired into their little brains. A piece of toast is whittled into a sword or gun. A twig is a sword or a gun. A whatever is a sword or a gun. You get the picture?! I place limits on what's acceptable, but agree that my 2, almost 3 year old is seeing and doing things my first never did - because he's exposed to it and idolizes his older brother. I have learned that I have to let them be boys and not expect them to behave like girls - they're simply not. They can also be sweet and gentle and loving, but give me a break - you gotta let them just BE sometimes!

doyourbest
05.27.08

Agreed. We should all be less judgmental and let people be who they are. There is, however, a larger question here -- which is beyond any one of us to solve: the way movies and toys are marketed to boys and girls. Less exposure means less behavior to emulate (be it tea parties or fist fights). Much of our media -- including the news -- are just not healthy. Better legislation and regulation around children's media and advertising would make for a healthier environment where we are "free to be you and me" -- and avoid the debate of nature or nurture altogether.