We live in times when boys and men have had the freedom to reinvent the boy / man code – or do we? Some fathers stay home and raise children, many contribute to the caring for their little ones, feeding, rocking to sleep, picking up from school, cooking and dinner together. My neighbourhood is filled with men carrying their babies in slings and snugglies – a beautiful sight!
In the west, at least, women have apparently benefited extensively from the ‘feminist revolution’, everything from gaining career and economic positions once only reserved for men, to grappling with ideals of attachment parenting and ‘being there’ for our kids.
In other words, the confines of traditional gender roles have been stretched a little, and so children are growing up with a wider variety of what it means to be a boy or girl, a woman or a man.
Still, the questions arise, what do we want to teach our boys / girls? Are boys naturally more competetive, aggressive, and prone to war play? Is it only natural to acknowledge this as fact, and by doing so, encourage it?
There is no doubt that media, and mass market toys play a massive role. In most cases, males and females are cast in diametric roles, more black and white than ever before – compare many Disney Versions of classic fairy tales with their original stories if you don’t believe me. Movies, TV shows, news, video games are filled with images of violence, massive warfare. The boys and men are almost always tougher, while the girls and women need the hero to save them. This is not always the case, but most often, the exceptions see women cast as tough and ruthless as well.
Questioning gender roles has been important for me. During the first years of mothering, I was sure there couldn’t be any difference between boys and girls – it was all social conditioning, nurture, not nature. Now after 6 years raising my own boy, and caring for and hanging out with many other children of all ages from families that differ in many ways: economically, marriage status, sexual orientation, life-style values etc., many of whom are trying to raise their children in less gender-stereotypical ways, I think I can say generally speaking there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ play needs and physical energy. Yet, yet, yet, there are too many exceptions, and in the final analysis, it is really hard to separate the influence of biology, individual temperament, family values, social conditioning and mass media.
I do not have answers, but rather endless queries and a desire for more dialogue. What I have to offer is a great deal of observation.
So, here we go:
Are boys more prone to or need more aggressive play?
Are they more physical, less able to sit still, more likely to be hands-on or kinesthetic learners?
What, in fact, is aggression? Is needing to use the strength of your body and will (mind, ideas, choices) the same as aggression, competition? Or could these apparent drives be used or named differently?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Tune in for more tomorrow,