Boys and Girls are Different in Some Ways but It’s not That Interesting

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.