Girls just aren’t interested in that sort of thing

I occasionally find myself wide awake at 3 AM because my body thinks it’s funny to be a jerk sometimes, and as I lie there pretending to be asleep so my cats won’t decide it’s breakfast time, I often end up thinking Deep Thoughts. My thoughts this morning ventured back to childhood and some of my youthful interests, and I got to thinking yet again about the bizarre gender divide we’ve set up around certain activities.

There’s a continuing narrative, even in these “woke” modern days, that those born of the male and female persuasions are naturally and perhaps even biologically interested in different things. Girls like this and boys like that, and that’s just the way it is. And while we’re now beginning to encourage girl-type-children to enjoy pursuits outside of the stereotypical “feminine” realm (while stubbornly insisting the boy-type-children stay firmly in their place), we still have this idea that being born male or female automatically inclines a person toward certain endeavors.

But if we’re not biologically programmed to like certain things, then why do so many girls act this way while boys act that way?

Well, let’s talk about that via my own example.

When I was a young female-type-child growing up in the wilds of rural Pennsylvania, I had a wide range of interests. I liked dressing up, playing with dolls, and sewing, and I also liked playing with cars, climbing trees, having pretend sword fights, and imagining I was Luke Skywalker zipping along on my speeder-bike (which sadly was just a regular bike, but we must work with what we have). As I got a little older, I developed an interest in carpentry – I loved being in the garage on a warm summer morning hammering nails into boards, building lopsided masterpieces that were a hazard to anyone who dared to touch them. I played baseball, basketball, and football with my younger brothers, and at school in gym class I was a star field hockey player. When I passed age ten and decided I was close enough to sixteen to start saving up for a car (a fund that was permanently stuck around $50 due to my continuing need to purchase other vital items), I started becoming deeply interested in learning about car repair. I also wanted to take karate lessons, as I loved the idea of being able to defend myself with a quick sweep of my hands.

You might be wondering what became of these youthful passions, and if I am currently a star hockey player who is also a master of karate, carpentry, and car repair. Alas, I am not.

Sadly, I received very little encouragement in any of the above pursuits, and my interest in them gradually faded as a result. I was actually told flat-out by my dad that “girls don’t do karate,” and while my grandfather bemusedly allowed me to watch him as he fiddled with car engines in the garage, it never occurred to him to say, “Hey, why don’t I teach you about all this car engine stuff?”

My carpentry pursuits were likewise looked upon with amusement rather than as a sign of a talent that could be nurtured, and I was instead pushed gently but firmly in the direction of gymnastics, cheerleading, piano, and other endeavors more firmly in the realm of the feminine.

I don’t hold any ill will toward my parents or grandparents for any of this, because I know that none of it was malicious. They were only doing what they felt was right to prepare me to fill my predestined role in society. But when we ask the question, “Why do girls like this kind of stuff while boys like that kind of stuff?” I think it’s important to remember that kids naturally have interest in a wide range of things, but sometimes without even realizing it, we steer them in the direction of what we’ve come to believe is right and good and proper for someone of their gender.

My younger brother was chastised and teased for being too sensitive – it wasn’t right for a boy to cry when he was upset or get emotional over the end of a movie. I was yelled at for wrestling my male cousin, though some of the yelling may have occurred because the match ended with me triumphant and him crying. (His own fault, I felt, for saying, “Girls can’t wrestle.”)

The point of this isn’t to “woe is me” re: my own childhood, which honestly was a very good one despite some mild gender-related roadblocks. It’s more to suggest that this is something we need to be aware of, because quite honestly, it’s hurting everyone. While we may frown at a girl (or grown woman) who exists in the “masculine” sphere more than the feminine one, our reaction to boys and men who do the opposite is far more extreme. Boys are told unequivocally that acting “like a girl” is weak, shameful, and wrong. Is it any wonder, then, that they grow up thinking women are somehow “less” than they are?

We owe it to kids to let them be themselves, and to not get so hung up on categorizing them based on whether their body checks the “male” or “female” box. We’ve started sending wonderful messages of empowerment to young girls, but we seem to forget that empowering women doesn’t work unless we also work on dismantling the harmful anti-female messages we send to boys. And of course, there’s also the fact that these deeply instilled ideas of gender play a huge role in the continued existence of homophobia and transphobia, because queer people often seem to break the “rules” that were established in our young brains re: how certain people are supposed to act.

While I have no plans whatsoever to reproduce, I would like to adopt a child someday, and I hope that when I do, it’ll be socially acceptable for my kid to develop an interest in anything her/his/their weird little heart desires. If my daughter wants to be a hockey-playing mechanic with a black belt in karate, awesome. If she’d rather dabble in dress-making and learn to bake a mean souffle, awesome. I’m not sure I’m entirely certain what a souffle even is, but I will support her. And if my kid says, “Hey, I don’t think I’m a boy or a girl, I think I’m just me,” I will be a very proud parent and hope that society will know enough by then to be damn proud of my kid, too.

PS: I would like to mention, in terms of obnoxious gender-related things, that upon searching for stock photos to use in this post, I discovered that many pictures of grown-ass women are categorized under “child” (no men, of course, because that would be RIDICULOUS), and “girls playing sports” will show you a few photos of tennis, lacrosse, and swimming before switching over to images of dudes running around covered in manly dirt playing with balls. Very disappointed in you, stock photo site. VERY DISAPPOINTED.

2 thoughts on “Girls just aren’t interested in that sort of thing

  1. And sometimes it’s nothing to do with the parents, but with marketing and society, or just preferences. When my friend had her first child, a daughter, she was determined to not force her into pink clothes – she railed against all the pink baby-grows, decorations, and later toddler clothes, and so her daughter was dressed in blue, red, yellow, green – but never pink. Alas, as she got old enough to express her wants and preferences, her world became awash with pink and Disney princesses, despite my friend’s best efforts. Some girls ARE girly girls, though I suspect all her school friends wearing pink Disney stuff definitely helped.

    I don’t remember the Toys R Us (RIP) catalog being as heavily gendered in my day as it became in later years. And I’m not old, dammit. I was not a doll person, I never played ‘mommy’ with a baby doll, I climbed trees and played cricket and basketball, and I insisted I have the blue toy rabbit (Mike had to settle for the cream one: neither of us wanted pink). The first (of a grand total of three) Barbie/Sindy dolls was a horse riding doll – with jodhpurs, a red jacket, and not a scrap of pink in sight. I definitely was (and still am) female-identifying, but frankly my hobbies had/have nothing to do with my gender. And that’s how it should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff, Tiff!

    I share your frustrations with the prevailing prejudices regarding gender roles. I took up sewing in high school (taught by my girlfriend) with the notion that I could make tailored sweat clothes for myself since I couldn’t afford to buy the branded stuff. I also took up cooking to impress that same girlfriend. My mom was convinced I was gay because of that, but hers was bias from her generation and growing up in a very regimented culture–30s and 40s Japan.

    Being of slight build and shorter than average, I shied away from contact sports. I liked the kinetic energy of football, tennis, and running, but lacked the coordination, pain threshold, and distaste for the winner-take-all aggressiveness of Eother sports. I was able to garner respect from the guys, but only after risking injury to myself and others. Thus I discovered early onward that most guys are crude, self-centered, hormone-driven animals. While much of this is inculturated, a sizable cause if in herent biologically. Like manifestations and definitions of gender, their complexity is informed by many sources–genetics, culture, institutions, religion, peer groups, family members and dynamics, etc. Add to that the biological differences between xxx and xxo brains and how they process information results in a wide spectrum of behavior and preferences.

    Even growing up with two sisters, I can’t say I understood the female condition. I was a prisoner of my era, and sadly, harbored uninformed opinions that could only be characterized as misogynistic. It’s taken me a long time to become aware that I was so narrow-minded about so many things. It’s a tough pill to swallow to accept the fact that aggrieved groups have so much to educate the rest of society about. I, like most mainstreamed people, just assumed that “reality” was based on the prevailing mores and history indoctrinated into us by the gatekeepers of dominant civilizations. That’s not to say there’s lots of disinformation and misinformation from every active agent in the human race, as the construction of “social reality” is fraught with competing agendas. The foibles of individuals and their tribes as well as the vagaries of historical circumstances make us all victims as well as perpetrators of injustice at one time or another.

    I’m so impressed with you as you seem to have a clearer idea of what you’re about and being comfortable with who you are. You’re a remarkable person, Tiff. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be along for your journey.

    Love, Clint

    Liked by 1 person

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