Monday, January 4, 2010

Such a Person

"He's such a boy." Every time I hear these words I am filled with anger. Since my son first began to move around on his own, people have said this to me, usually when he is being aggressive or destructive. I never know how to respond. A dozen biting remarks leap to my tongue, but I don't utter them. I know it is more important that I never think that way about him.

Now that he is two and a half, he picks up on most things people say to him. Before long, I think, he'll be wondering what this little phrase means. And that is the most agonizing of all. He shouldn't have to wonder what it means to be a boy. He should just get to Be.

My son has always been a sweet, loving person. He hugs and kisses without restraint, he says "I love you" "You're my best friend," to everyone he is enjoying playing with. He says sorry with genuine remorse and is brought to tears when his sister is in pain.

This kid is also obsessed with anything that has wheels. In the stroller he leans over the side to watch the wheels go around. He does the same to his play cars, and with such seriousness you would think he were an engineer. He also likes to dress up in his sister's princess dress and serve tea. His dad and I encourage him in all these things, because they seem to be good for him. He is a happy child, and that's all that matters to us.

Parent Map recently published an article citing two doctors (and their extensive research) who seem to agree. They say nurture, more than nature, determines gender-specific behavior. According to the article's author,
Boys and girls are different at birth – but those
differences are much smaller than you may think.
It’s how babies are treated that sets them on the
path toward more gender-typical behavior, magni-
fying those small differences until we become the
monster-truck/chick-flick stereotypes of adulthood.

My concern for my son is that he not feel forced into a self-image that doesn't suit him. We see the long-term psychological effects of poor self-image all around us-- in eating disorders, depression, and self-destructive behavior, to name just a few. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I think the less my son has to think about whether he is behaving like a boy or not, the better.

So anyone with a great idea of how to politely but effectively respond to the comment, "he's such a boy," I'd love to hear it. Or any other thoughts you have on the subject of gender, let me know.


  1. Heh, I had a similar reaction to people saying, "He's such a boy," about my child as well, although the fact that she is a girl gave me a built-in rejoinder. =)

    I tend to believe that nurture is a lot more powerful than nature when it comes to gender-typical behavior, but I think it's reinforced in such tiny, almost unnoticeable ways from the moment they are born that it's impossible to root out. Thing as simple as the tendency to allow boy babies to roam slightly farther away than girl babies, or the slightly higher likelihood that we hold our girl babies facing toward us and our boy babies facing away, get things going right from the start.

    I tried so hard to raise a tomboy, but instead, the moment she was old enough to start stating preferences, it was always for pink, fluffy and sparkly. What I've decided is more important than trying to avoid having our children learn cultural gender expectations (which they'll learn whether we like it or not) is to work hard to not value one over the other.

    The challenging truth is that most kids become increasingly "hard core" about their gender-typical behaviors up until they're 8-9 years old as they sort out their own gender identity. The good news is that after that, they start to understand -- intellectually, at least -- that their own behavior/preferences/etc. don't have to fit inside that box. When I look at my now 13-year-old and her classmates, it sure seems to me that they are less gender rigid than we were at that age. This tells me that our little efforts, even if they seem pathetic against the tidal wave of the culture, are actually having an impact.

    Sorry to write a book in your comments!

  2. Hi there,
    Just popped over from Teacher Tom's and wanted to tell you just how much I enjoyed this post (and Teacher Tom's comments). I have two boys and I can't tell you how many times I've heard those comments and, yes, they drive me crazy. Almost as crazy as the comments (usually from family) that I'm not encouraging my boys to be "boy enough." We're all socialized in ways that are under the radar, so to speak, and I agree with Teacher Tom that one of the best things we can do as parents and caregivers is to avoid placing value on these things and just let them explore, even when they're doing "typical boy" stuff--digging and dumping, play fighting with bad guys, etc. Though when my youngest walks around with a purse on his shoulder, even though I don't carry one myself, I want to jump for joy and say, "see See SEE! It's not innate, you nincompoops (my older son's favorite word right now)!" :)