Gender Studies

I have sons and daughters: three girls, then two boys, and then three more girls. Our house is basically a giant toy storeroom, and you play how you want to play, no questions asked. My boys mostly choose weapons and robots and dinosaurs, but occasionally baby dolls. My daughters play with tea sets and doll carriages and lace-up toys, but also light sabers.

A few years ago, I found myself trading funny kid stories with a group of moms. I told them about my then three-year-old daughter who—unlike her older sisters—had older brothers as role models. She was running along and suddenly took a magnificent header, SPLAT, right on her face on the floor. “And then,” I said, “She just got up, shook it off, and kept running! It’s because she has older brothers.”

Shocked silence. I might as well have said, “It’s because we stopped binding her feet!” I might as well have offered them my business card as leader of the Artificial Gender Manipulation Consortium, now offering classes on How To Reinforce Outmoded Stereotypes. The group broke up and wandered away, the spirit of motherly camaraderie quashed. (For these and other reasons, I stopped hanging around with this particular group of mothers. If I’m going to be a pariah, I want it to be for something cooler than a reputation for patriarchalism.)

Recently my son and I were at Burger King.He leaped off into the bowels of the tube-and-tunnel play structure, and I didn’t see him for a while. As I finished my coffee, I watched three girls, probably around 9 years old, scramble up to the highest platform in the playground. There they settled, and began to make some rules:

“Okay, this part is the jungle,” one girl proclaimed, “and the other part there is the ocean. We can go in here, but only if the other ones are in there, too.”
“And this part is scary, but we like it over there,” said the other girl.
“And we have webbed feet. Webbed feet, and we can breathe underwater.”
“And we have red eyes, and fangs that come out when we’re mad.”
“And this part is the ocean, but we don’t know what’s over there. That’s for the animals, and we don’t go over there.”

Sounds promising, I thought! A nice bunch of imaginative girls. I waited for them to begin the game that required such elaborate rules.

But they just kept chatting. And then I realized: This is the game. They are entirely content setting up an imaginary household, complete with different rooms for different purposes, and different roles for various creatures that dwell there. They may be talking about fangs and webbed feet and jungle creatures, but they’re basically playing house. And sure enough, one of them piped up, “And the baby sharks can play over here.”

My son reappeared, and waved happily to another 8-year-old boy who passed. “Who’s that?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I was in the toy aisle at Walmart, and he just threw a sword at me and started fighting. He’s really good!”

I think if he met this kid 40 years from now, they would be thrilled to see each other, and probably start sword fighting where they left off.

Make of it what you will. Maybe these girls and these boys were the victims of social engineering, and their natural, malleable natures have been subtly plied since birth to conform to an artificial stereotype ... and maybe they haven’t. Maybe they’ve yielded to the pressures of society and become what the world has told them they must be ... or maybe they’re just being what God made them to be. Male and female He created them. If they’re interchangeable, why bother making two kinds?