October 17, 2010
When I was young, I was convinced that differences in gender were the result of social conditioning.
I knew it.
Of course this theory was part of an ongoing rant and search for equity. I was not afraid of the word feminist, I looked it up and it did not mandate I stop shaving, grab a rainbow VW van and have a lesbian fling.
My first year at University, I took a class called “The psychology of the female personality”. This was just the class I needed to prove my theory right. Then, the professor told us this story….
She had a son. She gave him a doll. This was the 70’s and she was very proud of herself. He loved that doll the first day and she smiled. She thought “I can change the world”.
The next day, she looked out her window at her son playing in the back yard. Then she looked again. He was making a big mud puddle. that’s nice she thought. She watched him go back and forth to and from the outside tap. She looked closely, what was he using for the bucket – it had hair?
HE WAS USING THE DOLLS HEAD AS A BUCKET.
I have three girls. I raise them in a gender neutral sort of way. They have trucks. They play ball. They love mud. They all three have very different personalities. One is incredibly impatient and has violent tendencies. One’s favorite color at four-years was orange, the next one’s color was black and the last one’s favorite color is pinkandpurple (yes, one word). One has aspergers, which is considered to be a “male” brain. Despite all of this, none of my daughters have ever considered taking off a dolls head to use it for something practical.
My sister who is a professor of Child Development swears that in the deepest jungles in societies where there are no firearms, little boys pick up sticks and say “Pow, Pow!”. None of my daughters has picked up a stick and said “Pow Pow”. (They have had very little exposure, but still…)
I’ve spent most of my life around young children. I’ve worked in infant rooms, I’ve worked in toddler rooms, I’ve worked in pre-schools. I’ve watched. I noticed patterns. Girls mastered the potty earlier. Boys were a bit more clingy. Interests were different. Of course there were exceptions, there always are, but there were definite patterns.
When I developed Arithmetic Village, frankly, I thought I was gearing it toward girls. The common misconception is that girls don’t unerstand math as easily as boys. It’s not true, according to this article, but I had bought into the lie and I had girls to educate. The stories, the rhyme, the jewels, the characters, the gentle rhythm, the slow pace, all are supposed to be innovative ways for girls to learn. Offering right brained activities to work with left brained functions. I thought I was being a bit gender exclusive. Then I put on a workshop. Lots of boys signed up. I was worried what they would think.
The girls liked it and they had fun, but the boys loved it! Little Leonardo slept with his treasure chest. Michael couldn’t wait to put on Tina Times shoes. Lucian said “I’ll never forget you” on the last day of class.
Why was it a hit with boys too? I think it is because the Arithmetic Village workshop was so active. We played lots of games, we ran and tumbled to lose jewels, we went on scavenger hunts, we even dressed up! They liked “being the Math”.
How have my experiences effected my beliefs about gender?
I now believe that gender differences are mostly genetically and partly social. I believe that we should embrace the differences fully, and encourage acceptance of not only everyone’s gender, but also their temperament. And I hope all three of my daughters gracefully embrace the word “feminist” as long as it is needed.