A Line in the Sand(wich)

31 May

No one would ever accuse my nephew, Mason, of being a picky eater. When asked what he wanted for his birthday dinner, he replied, “Sushi and crab legs.” He’s four…So it came as a surprise when my sister-in-law, Jamie, was recently met with an unwavering refusal in response to her lunchtime suggestion. This is how it went:

Grilled Cheese yaydiy.com

Jamie, “Mason, do you want a grill cheese?”
Mason, “No.”
Jamie, “Why? They’re delicious.”
Mason, “NO!”  
Jamie, “I think you’ll really like it.”
Mason, “NO! I don’t want girl cheese – I’m a boy!”

I love when kids mishear things! Molly has been asking to watch TD since she started talking. I have zero plans for correcting this – is that terrible? (And I won’t get into how often we ask about TD in this house. Let’s just say I’m not “proud.”) I just so enjoy the sweet silliness of hearing these mistakes come out of such innocent and serious faces.

While Mason may have heard the menu item wrong, there is one thing he did get right – he is a boy.  And with this acute awareness comes staunch loyalty to everything boy. This allegiance to his gender group does have its benefits. It gives him a sense of self, a sense of belonging and a feeling of connectedness to all other members. However, with this strong affiliation and attachment to his own group comes an unwillingness to open himself up to experiences associated with the opposite sex.

 There was no way Mason was going to eat a girl cheese. Those are for girls! Well at least it sure sounds like they are…. I find it so interesting to see where he draws the line. This is the same child who, a minute ago, raced around my neighborhood on Molly’s princess bike, proud and self-assured. I’m sure those days are numbered though, for as Mason continues to create his concept of what it means to be a boy he will become more discriminating when choosing activities in which to be involved. 

 The same process is true for all children. Kids develop an understanding that they are a particular gender.  Then they begin to believe that they should be involved with all things related to their gender and not with the other gender. Once they develop this way of thinking about their world it’s as if a line has been drawn in the sand. I’m a boy. I can’t have anything to do with girls at all. I will be drawn to, engage with, learn from and remember information related to things I deem to be “for me.” If I believe something to be “not for me,” I will avoid it or forget about it.

 I know it’s a typical path of development, but it makes me sad to think that these two close cousins may find less common ground as they get older. I sure hope that’s not the case, and I do think there are things we can do to prevent kids from isolating themselves from one another. By increasing contact between boys and girls and providing them opportunities to have positive experiences with one another, we can mitigate a lot of negative consequences of gender segregation. So perhaps with a little encouragement and positive reinforcement, Mason and Molly will eat girl cheese and watch TD together for years to come – without gender getting the way.


5 Responses to “A Line in the Sand(wich)”

  1. Cookie's Mom June 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Nicely done! Brilliantly written and insightful. Of course, now that I have read your post I realize I am doing very little to assist my son in engaging with the opposite sex at the playground or in terms of arranging play dates. It requires a conscious effort, doesn’t it? Boys and girls at this age (my son is coming up on 4) just seem to play differently by default, but it is possible to engage them in something that they both will enjoy… at least for a short time. Crafts, for example.

    My son’s favourite colour is still pink. I’m just awaiting the day that he comes home from school or a play date to announce that pink is for girls.

    • superheroprincess June 4, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It may require a conscious effort, but you’re right – it definitely is possible to engage boys and girls in something that they both will enjoy. And hopefully these positive experience with one another will encourage them to seek each other out more in the future, which, in turn, will provide them with more opportunities to learn from more peers.

  2. Laura April 28, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    Hi! I am new to your blog, and I loved this.
    My daughter’s favourite food on earth is grilled cheese. One day when she was 2 1/2 or 3, she adamantly wanted a greilled cheese and only a grilled cheese for lunch. Problem was, we were out of bread or cheese or both. (How does that happen?) Finally comprehending that she was not going to get what she was asking for, yet undaunted, she asked, “Well, then can I have a boy cheese?”
    She will be 5 soon and many of her best friends are still boys. I disagree that boys and girls play differently by default at this age. She loves to play at the playground with her friends, boy or girl, or have a playdate to make a herd of plasticine caterpillars and space explorers. She might do this wearing a tutu and a tiara or an astronaut suit or a dinosaur tail and bunny ears.
    I think boys and girls learn to like different things because the world shows them different things. People are more willing to roughhouse or accept roughhousong in boys. They swoon and praise the girls for being pretty and demure.

    • Hillary Manaster April 29, 2012 at 8:03 am #

      Welcome Laura! I couldn’t agree with you more – kids do learn to like different things because of the messages they receive from the world around them. It’s so great that your daughter has many girl AND boy playmates and is interested in engaging in such a wide range of play. The diversity in her experiences will lead to so many more learning opportunities – cognitive and social. I love your “boy cheese” story and the image of your 5 year old dressed in a tutu and playing space explorers – sounds like a five year old I know 😉 I’m so glad you stopped by, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your experiences shared here!

      Sent from my iPad

  3. Andie Bright August 29, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Hello again, having only just discovered your site (I just posted a long comment on the blog after this one), this post also really intrigued me. As I mentioned, my 1.5 and 3 year old girls have no ‘line in the sand’ drawn just yet and I too, will be sad the day that changes. But the conscious effort to keep their options open and avoid limitations (in terms of challenging the ‘only for girls/boys’ and ‘not for girls/boys’ statements they learn from outside the home) will be my job. I’d like to add to ‘Cookies Mom’s’ crafts idea with two more fantastic activities for all – cooking and gardening. I have a friend who owns a smallholding who says there’s not much in life that can’t be learned through cooking or gardening and I’m inclined to agree! The fact that creating play opportunites for both sexes these days requires conscious effort shows how unconsciously most of the beliefs about gender segregation lie. I for one am determined to unearth and dispel them! Keep up the inspirational work! PS I too adore the mispronunciation of the young…TD?…Awwwww….

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