Sugar and Spice, Snips and Snails, and Other Silly Stuff

Gender norms are wildly overrated and fairly useless. You heard it here first! (Unless you heard it somewhere else first. In which case, dang it. I really wanted to be the one to break the story.)

Two experiences have led me to this ardent belief, or unbelief, about gender: Raising 2 kids, and existing in this world as myself.

I’m a guy who likes some so-called “guy things” — football! hard rock! scary movies! And in other ways, I’m the exact opposite of the traditional sitcom male — unsentimental as a husband and ineffectual as a dad — dull traits I wouldn’t want to have in a dozen lifetimes. I like talking about emotions and feeling emotions and listening to others’ emotions. Let’s just say that Ray Barone and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor baffle me.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about parenting.

My son is 6 and my daughter is 4. My wife and I have raised them with no gender-based constraints on who they are or how they act. They can like what they want to like. They can play with what they want to play with. And eventually, they can love who they want to love.

They can have Type A personalities, although they can’t be bossy. They can have Type B personalities, although they can’t be lazy. Their boy parts or their girl parts don’t dictate anything except how they go to the bathroom, and eventually, how they will procreate (if they decide that’s what they want to do).

So with the guard rails of traditional expectations removed, how are my kids living up to society’s “natural” gender templates thus far? How is “nature” doing?

Well, many would say that boys are supposed to be good at sports, love cars and trucks, act physically aggressive, and be emotionally stoic.

Meet our 6-year-old boy, Greyson. He doesn’t care about sports and has very little sporting agility, sweetly loves birds (though he did love cars and trucks back when he was 2), carries zero physical aggression in his tall, wiry body, and is sweet and sensitive, often even hypersensitive. He is also smart and wonderfully creative and asks great questions and laughs easily and is filled with wild, weird wonder. He’s positively delightful.

Meanwhile, some would say girls are supposed to be more ambivalent about sports, less interested in cars and trucks, more physically passive, very sensitive and nurturing, and be happy to defer or submit or follow the leader.

Meet our 4-year-old girl, Violet Skye. She loves soccer (and is naturally athletic), likes cars and trucks more than her brother, doesn’t have a passive bone in her tiny active body, is very sweet and nurturing with our cats but also 10 times more emotionally stoic and resilient than her brother, and has the budding leadership skills to make her a top candidate for the 2056 presidential election. She is also smart and wonderfully creative and hyper-observant and funny and is filled with bright, beaming, buoyant wonder. She’s positively delightful.

We’re 0 for 2, I guess! Nature has clearly failed us miserably.

But seriously. Why did we ever think that boys are all one broadly defined thing and girls are another broadly defined, entirely different thing? There are very notable biological differences, sure. And there are overall sociological trends that are well worth noting, although some of those are societally derived.

But the gender templates that we have created as a society are both weirdly binary and wildly unimaginative. Not to mention constricting to both little girls (who should be encouraged to lead just as much as boys) and to little boys (who should be encouraged to emote just as much as girls).

If I pushed my 6-year-old boy to act “boyish,” I would be doing him a disservice. Why should I insist that he take an interest in cars or dinosaurs or guns or mechanical engineering that, at this early age, I have no reason to believe he is inclined to enjoy or at which he seems to excel? I would be suppressing his natural, God-given Greyson-ness.

My boy loves birds, and other animals, and nature, and creating stream-of-consciousness stories and free-form poems. That is what he likes. And I love every scrap of that. Every scrap of him.

Similarly, if I pushed my 4-year-old girl to act “girly,” it would be a false move that I would regret. I would be insisting that she take an interest in — what exactly? — I’m not even clear in 2022 what the gender norm-ers think girls are supposed to act like.

I know what I was raised to think were Biblical gender roles. Do people still think that all girls should grow into women who, without exception, want to be mothers and never pursue a career outside the home? Even girls who would like to do both? Or even girls who would rather not be a mother?

And if I insisted that the fiery, exploding Roman candle that is my 4-year-old girl be meek, emotionally delicate, physically passive, embody “sugar and spice,” or have no specific career aspirations beyond motherhood (which yes, is absolutely noble too!), I would be squashing her natural, God-given, Violet-ness.

My girl adores soccer and books and building things and coloring things and Caspian (the cat) and Caspian (the band). She maintains a wild array of interests. And I love every scrap of that. Every scrap of her.

That girl is going places. And her brother is too, albeit to a very different destination.

I’m thrilled to watch them on their journeys. The sky’s the limit for both of them.

Although on second thought, Violet Skye often wears a NASA shirt and both she and her brother are interested in outer space.

So who knows? Maybe not even the sky is the limit.

2 thoughts on “Sugar and Spice, Snips and Snails, and Other Silly Stuff

  1. One of the reasons I enjoy Korean TV is because the gender norms aren’t the same. In particular, men *emote*! Like the male surgeon who has just lost a patient and sits on the hall floor weeping … and another male hospital staff sits beside him and puts his arm around him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reads the first paragraph. General hilarity ensues. Reads the other paragraphs. Overwhelming desire for a group hug ensues. Masterclass on how to parent.


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