Thursday, August 1, 2013

Differences Between Boys and Girls - Not What They Seem

I joined an Endow group.  Yes, a Catholic New Feminist type group, but more about that later.  As our group explores what femininity means in Catholic terms, we touch on any number of topics.  Since the basis for our group study is Pope John Paul II's Letter To Women and since he is discussing the uniqueness or "genius" of women, we often end up mulling over those characteristics that distinguish the sexes, one from the other. 

Most recently, we asked the mothers in the group with children of both sexes, myself included,  to reflect on the differences they may have observed when their children were young.  I brainstormed a bit and came up with a few ideas but realized that my list had nothing to do with my own children. My boys are talkers, my daughter is not.  My boys did show a preternatural pull towards footballs, tennis balls and rubber balls, but my daughter showed no interest in either dolls or girly chit-chat. Anyway, I never noticed many sex-related differences when they were young, say before the age of 3.  ( Actually, there's something to that. Read first paragraph here.)

Funny thing is, you don't have to be a parent to know that there's a reason for stereotyping male and female behavior.  Parent or no, anyone who's walked into a roomful of kids, gone on a field trip with a second-grade class or attended a family party where there's a gang of 4-10 year olds will be struck by differences in behavior.  At the family party, the girls will most likely have their heads together jabbering about the color of their dress.  The boys will be jumping from high places.  On the field trip, the girls will hold hands quietly with their partner and listen to the museum guide.  The boys will need reminders to get back in line and look at the exhibits-that's-why-we're-here.  We're speaking now in generalities of course.  This isn't to say that if a good game of hide-and-seek is underway at the family party, the girls won't be just as engaged as the boys.  And there will be those boys on the field trip who are captivated by the museum exhibits.  What gives.

My own list of typically boy traits was the pretty standard one.  Males are physical, doers not talkers, action-oriented not observers. They tend to excel at gross motor, but not fine motor skills.  They are risk takers, adventure seekers and have a greater sense of freedom to do as they wish.  Boys are less given to exploring their feelings and emotions, but if they do so at all, it won't be through hours of talking.  They are bottom line, likely to problem solve and reach a conclusion rather than obsess and discuss.  Girls?  Why, they're the opposite of course.

The only problem is that this list doesn't get you very far. If males are so inept at verbal expression, shouldn't all comedians, politicians,  teachers and therapists be female?  Shouldn't all neuro-surgeons and violinists --fine motor skills--be women?  Yet, real world experience aside, my list of typical boy traits is accurate, and, if today's PC gender-neutral propaganda is taken off the table, my list is widely-held, widely-acknowledged and probably exactly the same as yours.

The list isn't wrong but its interpretation may be.  I'm reminded to consider my women's group New Feminist readings.   The observable differences between the sexes belie our connectedness, our very sameness, our complementarity. Men are really not from Mars nor are women from Venus.  We're cut from the same cloth, fallen from the same tree and, if it weren't for our human pride, we'd probably be able to peacefully co-exist without the persistent need to articulate the differences between us.

More to follow.

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