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Should we parent boys and girls differently? 

Cathy from Nurture Store asked me whether we should parent boys and girls differently. In a perfect world, I think there would be very few differences in terms of how we should parent boys and girls. As I wrote in my post on the Bias Against Boys:

Are boys are girls really that different?

There are two camps when it comes to gender differences. There are those that insist that the differences between boys and girls are biologically hard-wired. And there are those that insist that the differences are learned. Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, summarizes existing research on the subject by saying that while inborn differences do exist, they are quite small but they are then nurtured and exacerbated by the way we treat girls or boys. The small difference that does exist is that boys are slightly more likely to seek out power and girls slightly more likely to seek out connection. And then society takes over and reinforces these differences rather than minimizing them. Generally, despite being a girl, I think I have tended more to seek out power than connection. But becoming a mother changed that and I have become very nurturing with my kids. I believe that each human being has the capacity to be powerful and connected and I challenge parents to help their children, both boys and girls, become confident and caring individuals.


So boys and girls are not that different. But then enter society. From the colour of the nursery, to the choice of toys and activities, to the types of emotions that are considered acceptable, society treats boys and girls differently. I am not aware of any society or culture that treats girls and boys the same.  So to answer the question, I think unless you live in the woods, cut off from society, and homeschool your children, you do need to parent boys and girls differently.

We need to teach our girls:

  • That there is more to life than meeting your prince

  • That big rigs, trains, dump trucks, and fire engines are pretty cool

  • That boys are not dumb

  • That no one is allowed to hit them ever

  • That they can play hockey, box, and ski jump (even if the Olympics doesn't think so)

  • That they can be political and business leaders

  • That math, engineering, science and information technology are great careers

  • To not let anyone tell them to cover up or strip down

  • That their health issues are important, even if research and care for them is underfunded

  • To say no

We need to teach our boys:

  • That it is okay to cry and it is good to express your emotions

  • That they can like pretty colours, flowers, sunsets, and cute furry animals

  • That girls are not sissies

  • That violence is not an acceptable way to resolve disputes

  • That women and girls are people, not objects

  • That they can be stay at home fathers

  • That they can play with dolls

  • That their health issues are important, even if society tells them that only the weak see a doctor when they are suffering

  • To respect no

The lists could go on, I'm sure. So yes, I think we need to parent boys and girls differently to counteract the negative messages that society sends them. But more than that, I think we need to parent each child as an individual. We need to look at their personality, their strengths, their weaknesses, and the way that society impacts them, and then parent accordingly. We need to consider what will help each child to be happy and meet its potential as a human being.

Image credit: Jason Pratt on flickr

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Reader Comments (100)

This is something that I have such trouble with. From the very pajamas we put on infants we have to reinforce brute strength in boys and shy reservation in girls. It made me sound like a broken record, and no one I know understands why it even bothers me - but why does my three month son need to have power tools, dump trucks and footballs all over everything? He may not understand at three months but I understand and people treat him differently once they know he is a boy. We have tried never to force any type of gender role on either of our children and it surprised me when my daughter gravitated towards pink princesses and my son towards cars and trucks... to see such overt and classic boy/girl stereotypes was an odd feeling. We try to discourage it when necessary and encourage any choice they make. When you get down to it does it really matter if he finds flowers beautiful and she likes race cars? how could it possibly matter?

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

I couldn't have said it better myself. Every time I hear someone say, we tried to raise them neutral, but girls just like the princess stuff I cringe inside. It stuns me that so many people seem to think their kids are growing up in a cultural vacuum, unaffected by what they see and hear around them. I know that no matter what I'm doing at home strangers keep calling my daughter princess and telling her how pretty she is. So my job is to be the balance to make sure that she sees all the options, stays strong and connected and knows herself. Thanks for the great post!

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Craig Lai

I'm reading Reviving Ophelia and Real Boys right now and I'm struck by how similar the advice is: stay attached, encourage strength and don't let society lock your kids in "gender straightjackets."

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterradmama

I grew up in a home with a sister, and now I have a daughter and a son. I think that having a mixed-gender household, while it's not something you can control, is actually advantageous. We have a greater variety of toys, for instance, than I had in my house as a kid. My toddler-aged son really looks up to his big sister and loves to wear her jewelry and play with her dolls, and my 5-year-old daughter likes the cool trucks people give her brother. (We try to be gender neutral, but other family members do not.)

All the same, I face a lot of emotional triggers with my 5-year-old. She loves Barbie and the Disney Princesses and all thinks pink and sparkly. I can't say exactly how, but whether I did it without realizing it, or society did it, or her friends at school did it, she has strong views on 'boy' things and 'girl' things. I try to counteract this as best I can. I am an engineer, my husband and I have an equitable relationship, my standard uniform is a black shirt and jeans. But still, she persists, and I see similar behaviour from other children her age.

I think that maybe, there comes a point when kids need to define who they are in a number of ways. One of those ways is through their gender identity. All that we can do as parents is set the best example possible, try to counter stereotypes when we see them, and trust that as they get older they'll figure it out. I seem to remember being very girly at one point, myself, and I'm definitely not now. But, man, when I hear my kid say, "I don't want to be smart, I want to be beautiful," I die a little inside.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I agree. In a perfect world there would be no reason to parent differently based solely on gender. However, there are so many gender-based messages that it is important to parent in a way that counters those stereotypes.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

I think some parents have a tendency to overthink this. What toys a child plays with is, IMO, much less important than the lessons they learn every day from observing their parents. My daughter sees me fix my long hair and put on makeup and heels and swoon over shoes. But she also sees that I'm not afraid to speak my opinions, she sees me work hard and get dirty. Hopefully, she'll be seeing me cross the finish line at a 13 mile road race in the fall. She has seen her father cry and she sees everyday how well he treats me. I think those are much more powerful than playing with trucks.

I grew up watching Disney movies and never ever thought that I had to wait for my "prince." Then again, I grew up with fantastic parents who were, and are, fantastic role models.

I certainly don't think of myself as just like a man, just smaller and with breasts, nor do I think my daughter and son are the same just with different parts. And there is plenty of science that shows that men and women are different at a chemical level. We metabolize drugs differently, certain cancers and diseases strike us differently, and hormones play an incredible role. In some ways, I do think boys and girls ARE different. Maybe not in stereotypical ways. But I don't think it's advantagous to treat children all exactly alike. Instead, we should treat them like the individuals they are and tailor our parenting to meet their needs.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I think it is interestingly more acceptable to raise a girl more gender-neutral. Last fall I bought my daughter a tool set feeling proud of myself that I was "breaking gender boundaries." When I got home I realized a double standard: Would I have felt so proud of myself if my daughter was a boy and I bought him a pink tea set? A Barbie? Would I have done that at all?

And I agree we don't parent in a bubble at all- even if we wanted to. I put a dress on my daughter- dark purple with blue and green tie dye. Not sparkly, not glittery, not pink. She's only 22 months old- yet she took a step away from me and twirled that dress. "Where did she learn to twirl dresses?" I wondered.

If our next is a boy, he'll probably end up with pink and purple diaper covers. Frankly, I think the old idea of having all children in dresses is great for diapering- and I'm tempted to get some "gender-neutral" baby dresses to prepare for this next one.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTopHat

As the mother of 2 soon to be 3 boys I have done quite a lot of research on this topic. I am currently reading "The Wonder of Boys" and it talks about the biological differences between boys and girls and how we can set our males up for success without having to bring girls down.
The thing is that it is OKAY for boys to be more aggressive, active, etc...as long as they can display these emotions in a safe and appropriate way. We have to show them, not smother them with what WE (as females) think is acceptable for males.
We need to get more adult male involvement. Think about how many role models are male in every day life and there are not many...teachers, mothers, and friends mothers have the most access to boys.
We just have to remember that fighting for women's rights doesnt mean fighting against men's rights.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlisha

I just want to say that giving the children the opportunity to explore whatever gender rolls they choose does not mean that we have to take away the feminine or masculine from within ourselves or them. I was raised by a feminist and view myself as progressive and my daughter plays barbie and baby. I just gave her an over the top girlie fantasy fairy party. It is what she loves. What bothers me is that in order to be seen as a feminist or a strong woman we are told to deny that side of ourselves. The list does not say anything about it being ok for little girls to want to be stay at home moms. My daughter can run and play with the her brothers all while covered in sparkles and tulle and her brothers will be wearing their babies in a sling. It is not about treating boys and girls differently or denying a boy a truck or a girl a barbie. I think we need to focus on raising our children to look inwards and find their own truth. Our boys need to feel confident if they want to wear pink socks or a bell costume to camp on prince and princess day or our girls want to be darth vader for halloween. Its about honoring them no matter what they choose not blaming society because our daughter swant to play house and our sons want to destroy it. My tag motto is "to raise intrinsicly motivated ethical children"

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAwkward Mama

It is such an interesting argument, nature versus nurture or some combination of them. Add in culture and society and gets even more interesting. I used to be firmly in the "nurture" camp and am now less so. I still believe that most of what our Western society thinks of as "girl" or "boy" is completely constructed. I now also think there are some inherent differences between boys and girls that can be emphasized or not depending on how they are raised and there are always exceptions. I don't think that means girls will gravitate toward pink and boys toward trucks however...

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrenna

Seeing the title, I was worried about where this post would go. But I *love* your list of how boys and girls should be parented differently.

I tend to think there are some pretty inherent differences between boys and girls-- like the way that my 2yr old is insanely in love with cars and trucks, something I have never pushed. I also agree with TopHat, that it's much easier to raise girls to be gender-neutral (it's cool to be a tomboy!) than with boys (what a wuss!). So I struggle and try and do my best to try not to impose too many gender rules onto my kiddo.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy


I agree that role models are extremely important. The challenge there though is that regardless of the roles that parents take on within a particular family, children still need to learn that those are not the right roles. I think this is especially challenging in families that want to teach their children about equality and opportunity, but where the family has chosen traditional roles because that was best for them and their circumstances. I think when the home situation reinforces the societal stereotypes and assumptions, parents have to work harder to explain and show their children that other options are available too.

With regards to the differences between men and women, I do not see myself as "just like a man with breasts" (I won't say smaller, because I'm 6'2") and I also don't expect a man to see himself as "just like a woman without breasts". While biological differences may affect the type of health care that women and men need, I do not think that the differences require a different parenting approach. Perhaps some minor differences (e.g. teaching a boy how to care for his uncircumcized penis, teaching a girl to do breast exams, etc.) but nothing that would cause me to treat my kids differently on a day to day basis.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree that society exacerbates gender roles but I am NOT convinced that inborn differences between boys and girls are "quite small." As a feminist, mother and sociologist (a long time ago), this subject is close to my heart and one I am trying to understand. I can tell you that I am learning a lot from my son. He is fascinated and obsessed with machines and this, most definitely, ain't from my nurturing. Based on my social experiment also known as mothering, I am more inclined to think the differences are significant.

The real tragedy, of course, is that our society values and rewards the things that boys are supposedly "naturally" good at (i.e. power seeking) rather than what girls are "naturally" good at (i.e. relationship building). We need only look at the salary difference between the Wall Street guys versus caregivers.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrace


I agree that it is okay for boys to be more aggressive, active, etc. However, I don't think that would impact the way that I would parent my kids. I would give both girls and boys the opportunity and encouragement to be aggressive and active. I wouldn't force my daughter to be aggressive if she didn't want to, but I would give her the same opportunity to take up boxing, for example, as I would my son. And if she got the idea from society that she should be quiet and accommodating, I would teach her to be assertive.

I certainly agree that fighting for women's rights doesn't mean fighting against men's rights and I wrote about some of the ways that our boys are disadvantages in my post on the Bias Against Boys: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/12/bias-against-boys/ .

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree with Awkward Mama. And, I think it's ok to give little girls the message that it's ok to enjoy frilly things, the color pink, tea parties, and even have the career aspiration of being a SAHM, if that's what they enjoy.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKacie

Awkward Mama:

I do not need to tell my daughter explicitly that it is okay to be a stay at home mom or that it is okay to like frilly pink things. Society does that for me ten times over. That is why those things weren't on the list. I never said that we need to deny a boy a truck or a girl a barbie.

My daughter does like princesses, pink, purple, fairies, etc. Okay, saying that she likes them is an understatement. She is OBSESSED with them. I don't discourage her or tell her that it is wrong to like those things, but I do try to pass on, in an age appropriate manner, that she can explore interests outside of the ones that society tells her she needs to like.

February 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

When I read the title I thought to myself: "We should parent our children individually, they are all unique and need their own unique parenting..." and then you went on to say that!!! Saved me the trouble of a long involved comment!!! Thank-you... Great minds must think a like. A Great book on this topic is "Why Gender Matters" by Leonard Sax. I always knew boys and girls were different but this book explains why they are different. Have a good day!!!

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterse7en

It's interesting that you think society completely endorses being a stay-at-home mother. Maybe it's a difference in nationality, socio-economic strata, cohort (I'm 30, not sure of your age) or whatever, but I never felt that was an option for me. An intelligent woman was wasted on such pursuits, and I would be a career woman, I thought.

As fate would have it, I'm now a surprisingly content stay-at-home-mother :-)

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Like several other commenters, I am probably more of an essentialist than you seem to be. But in the end this doesn't matter, as your advice is fine. What you did not say and what I would also not say is that there needs to be some kind of "positive discrimination" in really encouraging say boys to play with dolls. Then you might as well encourage them to wear dresses and do ballet (the girl's moves). 90% of the art of parenting must be to simply get off their back and let them do what they want to do and discover for themselves. Far easier, of course, said than done. But they'll soon enough encounter gender roles and peer pressure in society; they should be ready for that too. I would also say that the really most important thing is to love them so that their ego is both strong and supple. No list of precepts can ever substitute for being anchored in their sense of value as a human being. There is very much they will discover for themselves if they are only free to do so.

On a point of detail, I am not sure that boxing is a sport that anyone should be engaging in and I would discourage children of both sexes, unless it really helps for self-defense in some rough neighbourhoods that I am thankfully far from. Anyway I think martial arts have much more going for them. I would be similarly skeptical of (classical) ballet which projects a horrible female stereotype and is very stressful on the body; do yoga and contemporary dance. All of these activities are also much more accessible for both sexes and allow them to meet and mingle in a healthy way.

As for the prince meme, we just need to bin all those fairy tales, however much we loved them growing up, and write some new ones. One good theme for this new generation of fairy tales would be how people are mean to each other because of how they have been hurt as children by their own caregivers, and that we have to understand this as an explanation of human behavior, but it is not acceptable to treat children in this way. This threat to their psychic integrity is far more relevant, it seems to me, than instilling a sense of fear and mistrust of the unknown with stories about wolves and bears (both of which creatures behave in a natural way, which might once have represented a threat to us, but was in any case never EVIL). Peopling children's dreams with bogeymen is just a way of manipulating them.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSean

The role of hormones in how brains develop and in regards to behavior are quite striking. I'm blanking on the name of the book, but there is one that shows scans of the brains of boys and girls in particular circumstances and the differences are quite striking. I'll try to look it up, Something about the brains of boys. So I still believe that boys and girls are inherently different. That doesn't mean that I'll teach my son that he can't be a SAHD< but it does mean I might need to find an appropriate outlet for aggression comes from his brain and not from society.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

Excellent post, and I agree with Cohen that the gender differences are minimal. I hate to hear people say things like "boys with be boys" or "she's all girl". I've known sensitive men and brash women, so I know there is no clear line of "boy" or "girl". I think it is lazy thinking and lazy parenting to put people into a gender category. Your idea for parenting differently based on gender takes a lot of concious thought and work, and I think many people just don't want to think about society's role in shaping children to such a degree.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia


I agree that no positive discrimination is required. I think we just need to show all children that all options are open to them, despite what society might be telling them.

On the point of boxing, I'm not thinking of the style of boxing where two people actually fight with each other. My husband takes boxing lessons for personal fitness, but it is about the moves and not about hitting other people (called "boxercise" I think).

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I'm in my 30s and in Canada.

I don't think society necessarily pushes mothers to stay home. However, if a parent is going to stay home, it is usually still assumed it will be the mother. That is changing, slowly, but go to any playgroup and it is still predominantly moms who are there with their kids.

Here in Canada since we have one year of parental leave, one parent does usually stay home for at least the first year and it is usually the mother.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I don't have any boys, so I admit I spend all my time thinking about how to parent my only girl. I just wrote about talking to girls about being a woman at BlogHer this week, actually. http://www.blogher.com/multiple-choice-quiz-do-you-talk-your-daughter-about-being-woman

I definitely agree with you -- society will take care of the frills. I am of the "it's fun to dress up, but you still need to be able to open your own jars" school of thought. I try to emphasize to her that she is strong and capable, but it's okay to ask for help sometimes. I key in more to her individual personality than to the fact she's a girl, though.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens


Curiosity is getting the better of me....where did you think this post might go? :)

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


“it’s fun to dress up, but you still need to be able to open your own jars”

LOVE IT! Off to read your post...

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I'm not familiar with those books - I'll have to look into them. Thanks.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Like many, I think I struggle with this concept in some aspects. I have absolutely no issues with my (if I had any) boys playing with dolls or my girls playing with trucks. But I do struggle with where is the line drawn? There is no way I will dress my boy the way I currently dress my daughter! And I like dressing my daughter the way I dress her- which is very NOT gender neutral. Sure, she has a few red and blue outfits but she wears lots of skirts and pink (mainly bc its impossible to find 12month clothing that isnt pink or purple). I think boy and girls should be treated the same in most aspects. I agree with all the above points you made about what we need to teach our girls and our boys 100%. I also feel, though, (and I'm not saying that this feeling of mine is definitely correct but just being honest that it is there) that there are boys and are girls and I dont like the idea of forcing them into a one-gendered mold either. I'm not exactly sure WHERE that line is drawn. I believe in teaching boys to cook and girls to fix their cars. Its how I was raised- to be all around sufficient and not have to rely on a man to do the man stuff (thank God bc my DH knows NOTHING about cars!) but i still feel like there has to be SOMETHING that makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl. I know this can get into all sorts of hot topic issues with cross dressing and gays and stuff but i am just referring to how we typically raise our children in general. So, that is where my own personal confusion and questions jump in with this kind of subject.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBess

I have heard of those books, but I haven't read them. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm a mother to two girls and a boy so this is a topic close to my heart.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara


Thanks for your thoughts. I also don't dress my son the same way I dress my daughter. Partly because he doesn't want to, but partly because I don't want him to be picked on (I wrote more about that in Pink, Feminism and Gender Cues: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/09/06/pink-feminism-and-gender-cues/ ). So half of the reason he doesn't wear girls clothes is his preference (which may be societal influence) and half of the reason is definitely societal stereotypes. But he has had pink polo shirts before and some of the cloth diapers he wore as a baby were "girly".

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

There are the pink shirts now that say "Real Men where Pink". :)

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBess

My children, especially my oldest son, who is 4, are very sensitive boys. They feel for otheres, they can express themselves, they are attentive to what is going on in the world, etc. My boys are also very much 'boys' in the sense that they love trucks, and currently, playing with Nerf guns to no end. My 4 year old is into a 'soldier' stage - WWII, planes, etc... he wants to join the Army. (Not in a million years, sweetie!!!!) Anyway. My boys also play with their girl cousins dolls as their grandmother's house. They put the dolls in the high chair, feed them, change them, take care of them. My 2 year old wanted to buy a doll. I bought it for him. He calls the baby boy doll 'bebe'. He rocks him to sleep. Puts his soother in his mouth. Gave him a bottle. Wrapped him a blankie. And first thing he asked for this morning? His baby. I think it is the cutest, sweetest thing ever. We don't influence our boys one way or the other. It was natural for my children to love trucks, and to get excited when they see things like garbage trucks and street sweepers. My husband and I talked about this recently, like, how we didn't make them want to play with trucks, etc. It just happens. But also, it's totally cool for them to play with dolls, too. I'd hate for a parent to refuse their boy to play with a doll. It would have broken my son's heart if I said 'no' to him yesterday about buying his baby! Girls can get away with dressing more 'boy-like', obviously - jeans, red, brown, etc.. but boys really shouldn't wear pink and bows and stuff. That's just my opinion! And I know if I had a girl I wouldn't treat her any differently - I'm sweet talking, caring, attentive, with my boys. I don't treat them 'rough' because they are boys or anything like that.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLoukia

I am the parent of a son. I find that our society, especially the elementary educational system tends to favor behaviours that are more traditionally observed in female children. In general, it seems that girls are better able to sit still and follow instructions, do neat work, use words and not hands. The inherent physicality of boys is regarded as bad rather than something to be channeled appropriately.

I noticed that your list included several things men shouldn't do, but there were few for women. I suggest that you should consider the following:
We need to teach our girls:
Words are weapons, use them wisely.
Equality is a two-way street, respect and consideration should be mutual.

I realize I will likely be criticized for these comments, but I have seen far too many situations where words are used by females to provoke, to wound, and to bully.
Moreover, I think, as a society we tend to permit, to encourage an anti-male message. The t-shirt "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them" comes to mind. That message would not be tolerated, if it said "Girls".

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline


Not sure if you clicked through to my post on the http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/12/bias-against-boys/" rel="nofollow">Bias Against Boys, but it is on those same issues that you raise.

I wouldn't disagree with your statements on things we need to teach our girls.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

We have resisted Barbies so far because I don't think they send a good message to EITHER gender. But a pink tea set, sure...why not? :)

With regards to clothes, in warmer weather my son spent a lot of days in a cloth diaper and a t-shirt. Easy for diapering!

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Are you thinking of Pink Brain, Blue Brain? Or Why Gender Matters? I just got them and have only read the opening of Why Gender Matters so far, so I don't know what they both say in detail, but the gist is that there are inherent differences in the brains of boys and girls that impact certain behaviors and how those behaviors are perceived.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShana

I'm wondering why you are discouraging your daughter from enjoying pink princesses. If that's what she naturally gravitated towards, then why discourage it? That doesn't seem particularly fair or unbiased to me. (and I'd say the same if you discourage your son from enjoying cars and trucks)

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen@TheFrugalGirl

I'd highly recommend both. I use both in my children's lit classes to talk about gender constructions. Regardless of whether we decide to parent differently, personally, I think it is a very good thing for parents, teachers, etc to first recognize gender as a primarily social construct.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDon't Pat the Belly

We strive for a large degree of gender neutrality in our home. My son (9 months) has toys that I would consider gender neutral (blocks, musical instruments, stacking toys, stuffed animals, etc). I have worked hard to make sure that he see lots of images of gender constructions. More than 1 relative has noted that it's a good thing our son is in daycare, so that he learns to play like a boy. The irony is that about 75% of the time I pick him up from the home daycare (9 mos-4 yrs), the boys are playing kitchen.

Personally, I think that we should parent boys and girls as individuals. I teach children's literature courses and I *try* to discourage my students from boys books and girls books. They are great for reluctant readers, but from the moment children encounter books, movies, tv, they will learn what society expects boys to be and girls to be, there is no need to "teach" this with additional gender institutions.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDon't Pat the Belly

I'll answer that. Because princesses (especially as constructed by Disney) are not a benign form of gender expression. Princesses represent a kind of femininity based on being pretty, having pretty things and getting a pretty man. Rather than comparing the princesses to trucks, I would compare princesses to violent play. Each of them representing a model of femininity/masculinity that I find harmful to my child and the larger culture. So my daughter can have all the baby dolls and cooking sets she wants along side her building sets and trucks. But I'll be damned if I encourage her to embrace the pretty, passive princess.

That being said, if she starts to express an interest I will not make it forbidden. Rather I will seek out stories about princesses that do not fit the typical image. I will tell her about Atalanta and the Paper Bag Princess and I will continue to encourage her to enjoy a wide variety of books, toys and imaginary play. What it comes down to is that certain gendered constructs are severely one dimensional while modeling the worst of gender stereotypes. What I want for my kid is a diverse set of interests and friends that allow her to explore every aspect of who she is as an individual.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Craig Lai

Today's read: danger for kids...

Today's read: An interview with the author of Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) which, Babble says, "encourages letting your kids build bombs, play with fire,......

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth Skwarecki

Oh, that kind is great :)

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSean

Those are excellent books. Would also recommend Raising Cain.

I completely agree with your post. Small comment which I don't mean to sound nit-picky, but I always rankle at the notion that it's always the girls who are the victims and the boys who are the abusers. Can very often be the other way around. Just another example of gender stereotyping.

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

The problem with all such studies is that they're on brains which have already been affected by socialization. From the minute they're born -- and now, thanks to prenatal testing, often well before -- we are treating children with vulvas and children with penises strikingly differently. Even when we think we aren't, we most certainly still are. And everyone around them, everything in their world is. And that absolutely has a measurable effect on the brain.

Are there still inherent differences? Maybe, maybe not. I'm inclined to say yes, maybe, a little, in a very-much-overlapping-bell-curve far-more-complicated-than-we-like-to-think sort of way, but the simple truth is we don't know, and even brain imaging studies don't actually answer the question.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArwyn

I think the one thing this analysis really missed, Annie, is that we don't actually know what gender our kids are. We have assigned them a gender, based on their physical sex characteristics, and there's at least a 90% chance we're basically right, BUT: we might not be. My beloved child I call "he" might, in fact, be a "she". And I won't know that, just like I won't know his sexuality, until he's older and tells me for himself (or herself, or hirself, as the case may be). So while I agree it's important to counter the messages that our children will receive based on their assigned gender, I also think it's important that we remember that they're also picking up messages about the other gender -- which might end up being the ones they recognize themselves in and internalize.

I also want to link to this post over at Blue Milk: http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/come-play-gender-stereotypes/" rel="nofollow">Come play gender stereotypes! which makes the point that whenever a child's affinities conform with the stereotypes of their assigned gender, we say it is BECAUSE of their gender, but don't for those affinities which fail to conform. So as we talk about our children, we make them seem much more "boy" and "girl" than they might actually be from an objective standpoint. And then, of course, they absorb those messages: "These things are 'boy' and I am 'boy', so I should do these things." (I think to a certain extent this can even happen backwards, in an anti-conformist environment: "These things are bad because they're 'boy' and I am 'boy', so I should do these things even though they're bad.") So not only do we talk about them differently, but the way we talk about them then literally changes their minds. (A point I address a bit more in a comment up-thread.)

And kids are getting those sorts of gendered messages from EVERYWHERE. And then we wonder why a 2yo male-assigned child "just happens" to like playing with trucks? (Though, really, what's not to love about trucks? I for one adore 'em.)

(And to head off those who don't know me, http://www.raisingmyboychick.com/2009/09/raising-him-purple-defense-of-gender-neutrality-in-early-childhood/" rel="nofollow">I'm not actually in favor of raising children to be homogeneous, even when it comes to gender: I just want them to have freedom to be and to have recognized their OWN gender, and choose their method and degree of gender expression. Of course there are -- and always have been and always will be -- girls, for example, who really love girly things, and there's absolutely NOTHING wrong with that!; but what they think of as girly [princesses? really??], and whether that level of girliness is being shoved on all the OTHER girls whether they want it or not [hello pink toy aisle], are culturally variable, and I think worthy of critique and, yes, change.)

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArwyn

Annie, thank you for taking up my question and providing the opportunity for this interesting discussion. I run an Early Years setting from my home and one intention I have here is to provide a variety of toys, activities and experiences that all the children can opt in and out of regardless of whether they are girl, boy, pink, blue... I have two girls of my own but I'd hope that, coming into my home, you wouldn't be able to tell the gender of the resident children. My ethos with the children I work with is to always start with the individual child and nurture their individual talents and interests. I do see a pressure on my daughters though, from toys other people gift them or those their friends play with, to live in a full-on 'Pink' universe. One site I'm interested in is the Pinks Stinks campaign, especially the pages which promote 'alternative' rolemodels to encourage children to think of the wide possibilities women, and indeed men, have.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

Very interesting point! I guess that's why it's really important to follow a child's lead, at all times and ages. To keep the lines of communication open and as attached as possible. Because if my son suddenly starts showing interest in feminine things, and then maybe he discovers his own sexual preference and it's not "straight", then I will be right there with him, every step of the way.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

I think that following the child's lead is critical. However, just to clarify I think Arwyn's point was not about sexual preference (although being open about that is relevant too), but about actual gender.

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] Should we parent boys and girls differently? – PHD in Parenting [...]

February 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLovely Links – Heidi Klu

[...] Annie at PhD in Parenting considers whether we should parent boys and girls differently [...]

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