is it stereotyping, or is it noticing?

Fellow single mom blogger Leah at Single Infertile Female recently posted about the differences she notices between boys and girls in the toddler years. Her most controversial observation was that the boys seemed to have much more energy than her little girl: bouncing off the walls, pinging around the room, running nonstop energy. She got blasted by several people for stereotyping little boys and therefore limiting little girls to quieter, more demure activities.

I have to say, I have noticed the same things she has about boys vs. girls, which is that in general boys are louder, more restless, and instigate and enjoy rougher play than little girls. Now that I have a little girl of my own, I’m noticing it even more. Not because my little girl prefers gentler, quieter play… exactly the opposite, actually. She has a hard time playing with girl friends in toddler music class, her daycare, or even on the playground, because she is so rough and tumble. It’s the boys she gets along with and plays with easily. They don’t take offense to the fact that she grabs things from them (or tries to), jumps around and sometimes jostles them, tackles them, and tears around the room knocking things over as she goes.

The little girls her age, at least all of the ones we’ve met so far, do NOT think it’s funny when she knocks over their toys. They don’t find anything amusing about splashing each other in the face in the pool, or throwing dolls against the walls to see if they’ll break. They don’t particularly want to jump up and down and fall into a heap on the floor. In fact, the little girls in the play groups or get-togethers we’ve been to avoid M at all costs, and want her to just stay away from them. The boys? She just fits right in, no problem.

As the mother of a girl, I’m the last person who wants to stereotype based on gender. But as parents you can’t help but generalize based on observation. How am I not supposed to notice that I have the only little girl in every single group that’s bouncing off the walls with the boys? Am I supposed to be blind to the fact that she prefers to destroy dolls, while the other girls are pretending to feed and rock them? No. I notice it. And I also recognize that it’s fine. It’s fine for her to be different in that sense. The majority of little girls may gravitate towards taking care of dolls, or may dislike rough play… but not ALL girls, and I just happen to have the type of daughter who fits in better with “the boys” right now. I’m sure there are plenty of moms out there with little boys who feel that their little boy fits in better with the girls at this point. This may stress them out, but hopefully it doesn’t.

It also doesn’t mean that I’m saying she is like this 100% of the time. There are plenty of times when we sit in a chair and read books quietly. She is a snuggler at night, and gives lots of hugs and kisses. She is able to be gentle with babies and animals, at least with some coaching. She can concentrate on taking things apart and putting them together with intense focus for long periods of time. High energy boys also do these things. She’s not limited to only rough and tumble activities… she just enjoys them. A lot.

So even if your child plays and gets along best with the opposite gender, it’s not a big deal. And it’s FINE to notice it, and remark on it, too. It’s totally ok to make observations and group people into categories. We are human, that’s what we do. As long as we acknowledge the difference with love and appreciation for it, it’s not a terrible thing at all.

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Categories: parenting

7 Comments »

  1. I noticed some moms really got their knickers in a twist over Leah’s observation/post, and I thought it was ridiculous. Making an observation about genders doesn’t mean you’re negatively stereotyping or saying ALL girls are a certain way, and I think some people really came down too hard on Leah for it.

  2. For me, I try not to generalize by the child’s sex. I would rather just notice the characteristics of their play and not categorize them by gender stereotypes. Instead of saying a child does mostly boy activities, I would be more apt to say “she really likes running around and being very active!” Or “he loves knocking over blocks and yelling boom.” That said, observe away! Label your own child however you want. But, do not look at my child and say “he is such a boy!” I might snap next time. He is just a kid, doing kid things, and exploring the world as he chooses.

  3. Totally agree. My son is out of control. I was afraid it was just him until my next play date when all the moms of two year olds chimed in with the same struggles. Three was a harder age for my girls.

    People are crazy and want to think they can break these kids into whatever they perceive as good.

  4. Ha! I’m still in shock over this one – particularly because most studies point to a difference in energy “norms” between genders as well. This is not some made up phenomenon. And every mom I have ever talked to has noted similar differences (even those who, like you, feel like their kid may be one of the outliers) – so why on earth would it ever be considered controversial to write a lighthearted piece about one persons particular experience and observations? Totally caught me off guard. But I think you make SUCH a good point. Even falling outside the “norms” of gender play is not a bad thing at all – kids are kids and there are no absolutes to anything. I would NEVER advocate trying to push stereotypes upon children or enforce gender specific play – any more than I would advocate for enforcing gender neutral play. Let kids follow their own path and play how they want to play. But observing some of those differences as they play out right in front of you certainly can’t be that bad of a thing. It’s happening, we can see it, so why can’t we comment on it?

    • Right?! One could (and I would) argue that enforcing gender neutral play, in order to seem en vogue or enlightened, is just as damaging. So what if 75% of little girls prefer to play with dolls? So what if your little boy gravitates towards wrestling and trucks? And so what if they don’t! Just commenting on what seems usual is not limiting, as long as you AREN’T limiting your kid.

  5. Despite my helicopter mom tendencies it turns out G is her own person, and that person is a Real Princess. Her words. To everyone who will listen. We recently went to a boy’s birthday party and sat on the sidelines in complete bewilderment. My kid wears tutus to school and has tea parties on the regular. Not because I think she should but because that’s who she is. If she chose baseball instead I’d be just as supportive. She is who she is. And I acknowledge this.

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