My husband is out of town, which means I am doing all of my work and all of the house and family duties that I usually do (well, some of them), and trying to keep up with the things my husband does around the house, too.  Perhaps you think that means that when he’s gone I’m the one fixing stuff and dealing with spiders.  If you think that, you clearly do not know my husband.  I’m always the one getting parts at Home Depot and dealing with bugs.  He does dishes and laundry.  I thank him, and leave my stuff all over.  Once, a mom came to this house to pick up her child from a play-date.  This was before my husband and I were married.  He was a single dad and I was just his girlfriend who happened to be over.   David met her at the door and she exclaimed over how nice the house looked.   When I entered the room she said “Oh, that explains it!”.   She was genuinely surprised that David knew how to keep a clean and neat home.


I used to believe everything that “Free to be You and Me” taught me about gender.    Then I started to parent.  When my daughter was about two, I happily observed her playing with her Spiderman action figure.  “Hooray,” I thought. “Way to subvert the dominant paradigm”.  Then I watched closer and saw her laying Spiderman down while saying “Spidey needs a new diaper” as she pretended to change him. One kid’s action figure is another kid’s dolly.  And I’ll go ahead and say it: the action figure kid is usually a boy and the dolly kids is most likely a girl.


Many gender generalities are inaccurate.  Girls do not cry more often than boys nor are they more fearful or emotional.  Boys do not dislike the color pink or flowers or sparkly things unless they are taught to.  Girls are not the majority of those who participate in and enjoy cooking projects.  Most everyone is excited by firefighters and potty humor and rough play. 

I have observed, though, that many other gender generalities are accurate.  I am convinced that many gender differences are at least in part inborn.  Year after year, on average, more boys than girls do Legos, and more girls than boy play with the baby dolls.  Boys are more likely to have violent conflicts; girls are more likely to have complex strategic social maneuverings that cause hurt feelings. 


Here’s the thing about that, though.  So what?  Even the most accurate generalities are still just that.  They tell you nothing about individuals.  They also may lead to wrong thinking about groups.  Yes, on average more boys than girls play Legos, but there are many girls who play Legos in my class each year.  The variations from the ‘average’ are common and unremarkable.  They should be treated that way. Majorities, in this case, are far from totalities.  This knowledge of accurate generalities should not steer any parenting or teaching decisions (and I wish it influenced fewer marketing decisions.)  My left handedness puts me in the narrow 10% of the population, yet no one has ever been amazed or shocked to meet a real south paw. I’m a minority, but there are enough of us to make it unremarkable. 

Let’s continue to provide ‘girl’ toys to boys and ‘boy’ toys to girls.  But let’s work on being less surprised when they take us up on it.



8 thoughts on “Boys and Girls are Different in Some Ways but It’s not That Interesting

  1. A note on Legos and the ability of marketers to influence the ways kids play. My two daughters, aged 6 and 9, both love Legos. For the older one, she likes imaginative building, and she likes to play something specific with me, her Dad. Our younger one has fallen in love with the new Lego Friends series, which I think is only 1-2 years old. It is marketing genius. In the past Lego just made pink castle Legos, which didn’t succeed, but for this series, they have designed a whole world around a group of 4 girls living in “Heartlake City.” Most of the toy (color, theme, accessories, characters and pets) has been completely redesigned to appeal to girls, and they (toys, books, online resources) are adorable. My daughter prefers to play with them over building them, which I think is a gender difference. But overall, I’m so impressed with and grateful to Lego’s marketing team for finally coming up with this. It’s teaching her to follow directions, helping her with spatial understanding and hand eye coordination, and giving us something special to do as daddy and daughter. It’s very imaginative and comes with much less baggage than Barbie or similar “girl” toys. While I am a strong believer in nature over nurture, at least in the younger years, this Lego Friends experience has shown me a positive example of toy marketers successfully shifting a decades-old gender paradigm.

    1. It’s interesting to hear your take on it as a marketing buy and a dad. They were controversial and people were offended, saying girls already played with Lgos, and of course some did, but Legos does their research, and they are making a product that fits with how kids really play. I would prefer, though, a less obvious color scheme for the ‘friends’ line. Boys by 5 are already trained to think they do not want to play with anything pastel, so they lose out on some great new Lego options.

  2. Love your topics and the thought-provoking writing!!!! I agree that gender differences are not interesting when it comes to predicting individual preferences or behavior (so I love your title!!!) but i think it will be really interesting to see how gender-play differences shape our thinking over the next few decades. I can only hope that it opens our eyes to new insights about children as individuals and their shared experiences rather than closing our minds to labels and stereotypes.

    I wrote about some of this research a few years ago and I love that it gives me something new to consider when I’m in a class:–children-genetically-programmed-say-scientists.html,,

    Of course, my two big lines were – identity should not become ideology (ala Cinderella Ate My Daughter) and kids are what they play (so let’s be sure their play is being shaped by their own preferences and authentic questions and curiosity!

    Oh, sorry to go on and on…just picked up a book you may enjoy if you’re a Free to Be fan:) –

    Happy Summer – do you take a teaching break?

    1. That research is certainly interesting, but sometimes is strikes me as a little silly. I am imagining other scenarios of showing infants two different things and drawing conclusions from their gazes- a baseball and a high heel, a cooking knife and a sword. It seems like the sort of study you might read about from olden days where they ‘prove’ differences in race or class based on infant attentiveness. Always interesting to think about, anyway. I sorta have the opposite of a teaching break, as evidenced by this weeks posting. In the summer I co-run a camp for elementary-aged kids at my synagogue. It is exhausting and rewarding. Do not apologize for a long comment, I love it, I’m happy to have any thoughts from an official spokesperson for Clorox Clean-Up Creative Messy Play (I just read your impressive bio. from your web site)

    2. So…will you write about camp? Your readers really don’t want to see you take a writing break! (I’m ignoring the bio comment:)

    3. P.S. The When We Were Free to Be is an interesting book. Here’s one sentence that has me thinking about what I assumed to be “developmental” was culturally shaped (duh). “Free to Be invited children to experiment with social roles and to contemplate the future with a spirited sense of optimism….By creating an imaginary middle ground between adult-imposed expectations and unfettered free will, Free to Be enabled children to experience momentary feelings of liberation and acquire values necessary to resist the more conservative dictates of the dominant culture”. It’s also interesting to read about the Early Childhood community contribution to the project and its social history. Think you’d enjoy it…in your spare time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s