The Pink & The Blue

Yesterday at lunch, a friend was shopping for a birthday card for her son who’s going to be 12. The selection she handed me to choose from were all of the jokey/insulting variety. That made me sad.

My daughter would be heartbroken if I gave her a birthday card like that – not that I don’t joke around and insult her once in a while, but she sure wouldn’t like it as her special birthday message.

So, I tried to find a nice, sweet, loving birthday card suitable for a 12-year-old boy, but there weren’t any. And my friend couldn’t imagine giving him one if there were. And he’d be grossed out or something apparently, if he were to receive a “mushy” card.

Do we really treat our sons and daughters so differently still, I thought to myself. Of course when I was growing up there was one very clear set of expectations for the boys and another for the girls. But in 2008?

I think maybe yes. As a single parent, I don’t know how many people said to me, “it’s a good thing you had a girl!” Because, I guess it would have been impossible for me to raise a boy on my own without turning him gay or something (And, yes, more than one person actually said that to me).

Are we still raising boys and girls so differently?

  • People call their daughters, “sweetie” or “honey” or “pumpkin” or any number of variations thereof. They call their sons by their names or they call them “bud” or “buddy”. Or how about: “sport”?  (I heard a guy call his son that the other day. It made me smile and feel like I was in the 1950s)
  • There’s a lot more cuddling, hugging, kissing and stuff of girl children by both parents. Boys get a pat on the back or their hair mussed up.
  • There are still some pretty huge differences between toys/clothes/cards/school supplies for boys and  for girls. Vibrant pink assaults you in the girls’ aisles. Camouflage is the colour du jour in the boys’ aisles.
  • Schools and summer day camps, especially, are a good place to observe the great divide. Arts, dance, theatre are predominantly attended by girls while sports, science, technology are mostly populated by boys – unless there is a specific “girls’ science camp” or something. (To emphasize the point the other hand, I’ve never seen a specific “boys’ dance camp”.  My daughter attended an arts leadership camp for a month this summer. There were 3 boys in a class of 32.
  • Boys are released into the wild a lot sooner than girls. They get to roam around freely while girls are kept on a much tighter rein. From the playground where the boys are left to perform feats of derring-do high atop the play structures and the girls are hovered over in the sandpile by anxious parents; to the teen years where almost all my daughter’s female friends are driven around by their parents, are checked up on regularly and are expected to be home at a certain time. The male friends all just seem to be able to come and go on their own; whenever and wherever they wish.

Am I imagining things or do you notice these differences, too? Of course there are exceptions and probably you’re all going to tell me I’m nuts and you treat your sons and daughters exactly the same. I suspect, however, you really don’t and probably can’t.  Are boys and girls maybe so different naturally that we, as parents end up treating them differently because, in part, we are reacting to their cues?