Monday, January 22, 2007

Nature versus Nurture

How much of what defines us in our gender roles is innate versus learned? This is something that really intrigues me and has for longer than I have been a parent. I think most parents set out with the intention not to impose gender roles upon their infants. To enact it, is far more difficult, especially as the infants turn into toddlers. Of course, with an infant you have societal pressures. Rarely was Leif ever called a girl. But I also never balked at dressing him in blue. Unlike many parents of girls I know who jump all over ANP clothes (Anything Not Pink). (And those parents probably have stories of even though their daughter was sporting pink, was still called a boy.)

This morning I heard an exchange at daycare that made me smile (being the shoe whore that I am). Our closest friend’s daughter was admiring another little girl’s shoes. “Ooooh,” she swoons, “I yike your shoes T!” The teacher comments also on T’s shoes. C continues on, while touching them, (yes, I sometimes long to touch the shoes too when they are particularly pretty) “sooooo shiney and sooooo pretty!” I smiled when I looked over and saw T wearing black patent leather Mary Janes. I wanted a pair so bad when I was a little girl. But they weren’t “practical”.

On my way into work it more dawned on me that I don’t think my son would ever say something like that. Ok, so he might acknowledge another boy’s new shoes, but the swooning was something I have never heard in my own house. (In our house we get either yelling or whining, the later being excessive right now, and rarely anything in between.)

On the other hand, right now my son is into growling. He strives to “scare” us and evidently all the girls in his daycare class. The other day another parent brought his daughter in. She stops, points at Leif and says, “daddy, that’s the scary boy”. And if nearly on cue, Leif turns and gives her his biggest bear growl. This is apparently not uncommon in his class right now… among the boys. But a few of the boys (probably following Leif’s lead) have taken this to the next level in targeting the girls to “scare them”. Nipping this in the butt is proving more difficult than initially anticipated.

Are they targeted simply because they don’t growl back? And why don’t they growl back? (Ok, I would have never growled back as a little girl, but it was probably shyness.) Or is it more complicated and that the kids are finally starting to recognize the difference between boys and girls? I mean they all walk around with their pants around their ankles lately. Leif is embarking into that obscure area where pronouns are coming into use. The other day he referred to Winny, our dog, as “him”. I corrected his error and he looked at me with a blank look. How do you teach gender idenfication? (Venturing into an area here that this blog is NOT intended to head... redirection. I am good at that.)

Leif has his core group of boys that he is close with and plays hard with. But he still enjoys interacting with the girls and doing such tasks as “washing babies”. He loves his baby doll, but also loves playing “crash”, where he just runs into a room and throws himself on the floor, all the while giggling and screaming “CRASH!” (Whereby I hope and pray there isn’t a table in the way.) I never played this game, never had a desire to and don’t recall even my tomboy-ish sister doing this. I don’t see the little girls in his class doing this, but it is evidently a favorite pastime among the boys. If the girls wanted to join in, they could. What stops them? My answer would be that it doesn’t look like fun.

Leif does things here and there that make his dad cringe. Like insisting on sitting with me as I put my limited make-up on in the morning and have powder put on his face. These are things that I can see as “learned”. No one has told him, nor has he observed, that this is not something boys don’t do. The fact that I do is relatively irrelevant, especially since I am a single datapoint and therefore statistically insignificant. (Who said math isn’t instinctive?)

Obviously it isn’t purely nature or nurture, but a mixture of both. Sorting out the roots of behaviors is fascinating to me, but my experience to draw upon is often singular and “well when I was a little girl”… and I was a prissy little girl.

I started this blog with a focus… it has wandered around a little and while I would love to tie it up with a closing statement, I don’t have one. They are all just my single data point observations of my son, statistically insignificant. But to a mom and observer of human nature, fascinating.

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