Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toys: Boys Vs. Girls

Boys play with trucks. Girls play with dolls. For many years, this was just how it was. Then came the 1970s, and all bets were off. Boys were encouraged to play house and dress-up. Girls were encouraged to play cops and robbers and trucks. But in my personal experience, girls and boys just play differently naturally. And there’s nothing wrong with that! There’s a reason that gender roles have evolved, and it’s because boys and girls are fundamentally different.

If I’d ever doubted that, I’d have had to change my tune after watching Ryan this morning. He discovered the Barbie stuff that’s been stashed away in the corner of the den since his sister was a little girl. A few months ago a friend of mine was visiting with her three daughters, and they discovered the same stuff. In an instant, Barbie’s house was set up for a party: food on the dining table, chairs set up in the living room, Barbie herself with primped hair, high heels, and a party dress. Her Jeep was parked sedately out of the way behind the house. When Ryan got at Barbie, however, she was completely ignored, her house was a mere backdrop, and the true star of the show was the Jeep. He pushed it back and forth, flipped it over to spin the wheels, and fiddled with the seatbelt straps. He eventually noticed Barbie again, but instead of fussing with her hair he used it as a handle to smack her against the Jeep, and instead of putting high heels on her dainty feet, he tried to chew on them.

Granted, some of this behavior is simply because he is younger than the girls. But I’m convinced that the majority of it is because he’s a boy. He likes using his strength to explore, by hitting and chewing and stepping on things. He has the manual dexterity to handle small objects but he’s much more interested in using that dexterity to figure out how things work, or to make noise with them. Simply put, he plays like a boy.

And Herb and I naturally play with him like a boy. We roughhouse with him, tossing him in the air, playfully (but gently) knocking him over, wrestling with him until he dissolves into helpless giggles. I’m sure if he were a girl we (or I, anyway) would be much more sedate in how we play. We’d still toss “her” in the air, but we’d be more gentle about it. Instead of making his stuffed animals growl and tickle him, I’d teach “her” to gently pat them. No doubt we’d spend less time taking things out of “her” hands so she wouldn’t hurt herself.

And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to treat girls and boys differently. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to treat two boys differently if they have different personalities and different likes and dislikes, so why would you treat a boy and a girl the same if they have different personalities and different likes and dislikes? I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there who disagree with me, and who will give their daughters trucks and their sons dolls. And that’s fine. But I won’t do that, because I know what my son does with dolls. He uses them to whack trucks.

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