24 May 2007

Girls and Boys

The chat over at Ask Moxie has me feeling like a simpleton.

It started out simply (ha ha) enough, with Moxie's review of a book called The Dangerous Book for Boys. Sounds like a fun book, from what I've read at Moxie and other sources. Some readers got riled up, though, about the fact that there's no dangerous book for girls. So a discussion started up about what would be in the companion book for girls. At the same time, readers started making suggested reading lists for girls and boys and discussing what life skills girls and boys need to acquire as they grow up.

Guess what? A lot of the stuff that people thought should be in the book for girls is stuff that's in the book for boys! And many of the books on the suggested reading lists are crossovers, too, as are the life skills.

Here's why I feel like a simpleton. Why have two different books at all? And why two separate reading and life skills lists?

I do think there are differences between boys and girls. But at the same time, I feel like the cool, "dangerous" things in the Dangerous Book for Boys would be of interest to many girls. And at the same time, I think anything that is not in a boys' book that would be included in a girls' book would be of interest to both sexes. I think much of it comes down to individual differences between kids, not necessarily gender. As for what kids should read and learn as they grow up, I think that's all basically the same.

That said, having boy/girl twins makes for fascinating observations on the differences between the sexes. As it would happen, I have a very verbal girl and a very physical boy, very stereotypical sex-based differences. And while they both love to play with the same toys, they often do so in very different ways. Maddie is an inspector. She looks at everything at close range, turns things over and around, and takes her time with things. She can sit for quite a while with a shape sorter, for example, just inspecting each piece, talking talking talking as she does so, and taking them in and out of the container. Riley, on the other hand, will spend just as much time with the shape sorter, but he starts by upending it, kicking the pieces around, waving the container in the air, shouting a bit, banging pieces together, and then abandoning ship. He's more reckless, less measured. Again, stereotypical differences.

But are these truly boy/girl differences? Or are they just Riley and Maddie differences? So hard to say. It will be interesting to see how these differences and others come to play as the twins get older.

The bottom line is that I feel like I belong in the camp with Moxie's readers who wonder why there isn't just a Dangerous Book for Kids. I don't feel like it's bad that the book was written for boys, but at the same time, I don't really see the point.

As for suggested reading lists that are divided by gender. That's just silly to me, even bad. I know that many boys especially are struggling readers and that it can be hard to find books and genres that appeal to them. A list of "boy books" might make reading seem more cool to them. But good children's literature is good children's literature. Compile a big list of that with lots of genres and styles represented and let boys and girls find something that appeals. I think dividing book lists by "girl" and "boy" sends a unneeded message. The Dangerous Book for Boys might belong on that list, and some girls might read it. All the better for them. And some boys may be enamored of Little House on the Prairie. Awesome.

Same thing on life skills. We should all know how to cook and change a tire and tie a necktie and tell a story. Even if some of those skills will be more used by a boy than a girl or vice versa, that doesn't mean that it's not good life knowledge to have.

Am I oversimplifying?


Anonymous said...

no, not oversimplfying. you are right.

Jenn said...

I got a copy of the book to review and never thought twice about it being for boys. It was written by a pair of brothers and I have b/b twins. I thought a "girl" book would be neat, but it's not like if I had girls I wouldn't let them read this book. I think a bigger deal is being made over it than there needs to be.

With my boys, they tend to trade off on being the inspector and the destroyer. I wonder though if they were b/g if I would notice more when one was doing something sterotypical of their sex and think that one was usually one or the other instead of trading off like they do.

Klynn said...

Not oversimplifying, but maybe overanalyzing (like most of the people participating in the discussions). It's just a book, not an evil perpetuator of anachronistic gender stereotypes. It sounds like a great book. One that I would have liked as a kid. IMHO (and remember: opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and most stink) just let kids be kids, and buy/read the book if you or your kid would like it.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Why not a Dangerous Book for Grown-ups while we're at it? My son got it (Dangerous Book for Boys, nor DB for Grownups)for his birthday last year (the British version), and my daughter has read more of it than he has, particularly the bit on skinning rabbits for some reason. I think she has a bit of Elmer Fudd in her. By the way, I hope I didn't sound harsh in my comment on your previous post. I was speaking more from my own experience of troublesome and invasive in-laws.

Maureen said...

While I agree with Klynn that the book is not "evil," it and other products like it do help perpetuate sex/gender stereotypes by selling the idea that there are inherent tempermental differences between girls and boys. This in turn helps teach these differences to kids.
The book in and of itself is not bad or, really, harmful, but I just don't think we need one more thing in this world telling us how "boys," or "girls," are supposed to behave. It doesn't do anyone any good.

Tanya said...

Not oversimplying, I agree as well. My daughter loves dolls and princesses as much as tools and bugs.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

My observation: I had identical twin daughters in 1960 and a son in 1963. I gave the girls trucks and cars and my son dolls, which eventually became G.I.Joes at his insistance. I was determined that MY children would not be limited to the stereotypes.

You would think that my son, having his two sisters as examples, would follow in their footsteps. However, he had some inner urgings of a different type.

The girls, while playing with their little cars and trucks, would talk their way from place. "And now we are turning the corner and stopping at Grandma's house, and now we are getting out of the car and walking to the door and knock-knocking on the door, and now we are leaving Grandma's house and getting in the car to go to the store, and now we ..." My son picked up his car and said, "Rowrrrr, rrrrruuummmmmmmmmmmmm, bang! Squeeeeeelllll, arummmm-rummmm-mmm screachhhhhh, boom!" The girls cuddled their dolls, while my son tied his to a "parachute" and threw it off the deck to see if it would float slowly down.

Before he could walk, my son would push the pedal-fire-engine along the patio (his legs were too short to sit in it and pedal). When he approached the edge, he would hold onto the side of the vehicle so he could "walk" to its middle, turn the steering wheel, hold on as he inched his way back behind it, push until it turned, inch his way back to the steering wheel, straighten it, and return to the back to push it along this other edge of the patio. Where did THAT come from? The girls never did that. Was he simply as brilliant as his mother (moi) thought? My son's wife has thanked me for raising such a sensitive and loving person, but I wonder how much was already there when he was born.

My daughters are also loving and kind while not fitting any stereotypes. One of the twins is married to a banker; before they had children, when each of them drove vehicles they chose for themselves, her banker-husband drove a conservative black sedan, while she chose a red truck with rollbar and lights. Also pre-motherhood, the other twin daughter hauled a boat behind her work vehicle so she could launch it into lakes in order to motor out and get samples of the water for testing.

I think I accomplished my goal of raising self-reliant and sensitive adults, but nurture and environment definitely combined with something each was born with.

Iselyahna said...

First, I don't think you're oversimplifying, but second, why would oversimplifying be bad? We're too set in either "Boys and girls MUST do these things differently" or "For the love of God, treat them EXACTLY THE SAME!" Why can't we just enjoy the differences and encourage the things that are just kid-wide and person-wide?

TweedleDea said...

not over simplifying....

Lisa said...

I think you are right on, here.

I have boy/boy twins, and although I do see them doing more "boy" things than some girl toddlers I know, they are different in the same way Maddie and Riley are different.

Aaron is especially verbal, can sit for a long time and examine things, likes to color, draw, read, etc. Naim is much more physical, not so verbal. Must manipulate everything, and doesn't sit down for long. Yet, Aaron is more into anything with wheels, whereas Naim likes to play with dolls and dollhouse and pretend more. If they were b/g twins, I also wonder if these characteristics would be attributed to gender. I do think there are some differences, but yet I think in childhood it is waay overrated.

And, separate reading list? separate books? To me, that just reeks of patriarchical contrivance.

HamiHarri said...

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I found your blog from someone off of weddingbee.com believe it or not. I really enjoy reading your updates. And I just wanted to let you know that you have one more person thinking of you and yours out here on cyberspace ;)

buddha_girl said...

Oversimplifying? Absolutely not.

Robert, my Buddha, is a stereotypical boy like Riley. He's a beast.

I recently bought a book at my school's book fair - Boy's Reads for Boys Read.

There are VERY short snippets written by MEN for boys. The men are well-known authors with a few illustrators thrown into the mix. They talk about farts, comics, burping, chewing toenails, etc.

I know it was meant to lure reluctant males into reading, but this book appeals to anyone who loves the gross stuff in life!

buddha_girl said...


I just caught up with yesterday's post. I'm glad you're able to feel and express your anger. You don't need to qualify or quantify it. It's there. You lost a love of your life. Your babies lost a champion for them. You're now mommy AND daddy all rolled into one.

Knowing that his parents were able to have even a second more with him - a second you could have had...yeah, I'd be angry too.

Anonymous said...

I think it's called that to make it appeal to boys. Maybe the implication is that it's too dangerous for girls. It's an exclusivity thing.

When I was little I had the American Girls' Handy Book and the American Boys' Handy Book and liked them both a lot. They were all the more fascinating for being old. The girls one has lots of candy recipes.

Rachel said...

I agree that it doesn't need to be labeled "boys" at all. I do think there are *some* innate differences between boys and girls, but I also think that we consciously and unconsciously reinforce them.

Another thing I kept coming back to was the mothers of boys said the boys wouldn't touch a book that was supposed to be for girls. I find that depressing. It just reinforces the whole idea that anything "girl" is somehow inferior.

It must be interesting to have one of each and see how their differences develop over time, like your own little gender experiment. :)

Pantheist Mom said...

Nah - I'm with you, Snick. There certainly are differences in boys and girls. (I would have argued that was not true until I was blue in the face until I had one of each and have been around tons of kids). Of course they're different. They're different genders, and that's not a minor thing.

But as far as pigeonholing interests? What's the point in that? My daughter loves to paint her toenails and wear frilly dresses, and she plays on the little league baseball team (she's the only girl left) and she loves Pokemon. She has playdates with more boys than girls, mostly because the boys are into more interesting things, in her opinion.

The key is to just talk to your kids A LOT. When mine asked me if "such and such" was for boys (or girls), I'd tell them the truth. No. You can be interesting in whatever strikes your fancy.

People can get all wound up in knots over the silliest things. You've got a great attitude. The twins are in for some fun times with you as mom.

Angela said...

That's what I love about having a girl and a boy seeing their differences and similarities. You are not oversimplifying at all. There are differences based on gender but of course exceptions to every rule.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Snick, I believe you, as owner of this blog, are able to delete that long comment by Anonymous that has nothing to do with this topic, if you want to.

Snickollet said...


Thanks for the tip. I deleted the long, annoying comment. Ugh.


Thanks for helping me articulate how I'm feeling. I love how people seem to see into my brain and distill down to the heart of what I'm trying to say.

vixanne wigg said...

I just saw this book at the bookstore and was immediately drawn to it for my son (who is 18 months old and would not care about this book for many more years).

Boys don't tend to read as much as girls do. So I kind of like the idea that this is a book JUST for boys. I think it makes it more appealing for boys.

It's funny. Before I had a boy I think I would have said what many of the other posters have said. But girls get so many of the fun things. I feel like when I go shopping I see so many cooler toys and clothes for girls than boys (maybe because I'm a woman I think they're cooler). They are even "stealing" boy names! I think it's okay to have some things just for boys.

My son is also very physical and not very verbal. It drives me crazy, but I think there is definitely something to the stereotypes.

leighs said...

The underlying point of this book is that boys have, over time, gotten farther and farther away from acitivites and experiences that in other times and cultures would be expected of them as they transition into manhood, and the loss of these "dangerous" activities has led boys to create their own, potentially more dangerous risky behaviors like racing their cars, stealing, drugs, etc to fill a need inside of them. This is what this book is attempting to give back something missing in their childhood that they need spiritually. It isn't a slight against girls. I think that males and females of ALL ages are both similar and different, but that the differences are neither good nor bad. They just are.