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Boys vs. Girls

As I sit down to write, my three-year-old is playing in the next room first shouting "Chugga chugga choo choo!" with a train, then "zoom, zoom" with two racing cars. What gender is the child? I'm guessing most of you chose boy, and you'd be right.

Before I gave birth, I believed that the toys children navigate towards and the way they explore were entirely based on their environment. Five years into parenting two boys, I believe I was wrong. These children came out of me hard-wired to like what they like, to play and explore in their own ways. The older one can work for hours building robots, airplanes, trucks and boats out of Legos. My younger one recently terrified a girl his own age at Legoland when he bared his teeth like a T-Rex and roared at her.

At birthday parties and play dates, the girls, in general, seem more docile. They still run, they still play hard, but in most instances, there's a quieter way to them more of the time than the boys, particularly when other girls are nearby. They are more interested in choosing their clothes. They like dressing up. They love princesses.

In a Sunday op-ed piece about his sons and toy guns, Jonathan Turley wrote: "When I began to research this issue, I found a library of academic studies. ... The thrust was that gender differences do exist in the toys and games that boys and girls tend to choose. The anecdotal evidence in my neighborhood (with more than 60 young kids in a four-block radius) was even clearer: Parents of boys reported endless variations on the celery swords. There seems to be something 'hard-wired' with the XY chromosome that leads boys to glance at a small moss-covered branch and immediately see an air-cooled, camouflaged, fully automatic 50-caliber Browning rifle with attachable bayonet."

What do you think? How much of the differences between girls and boys is their wiring versus their environment?

Today's Talkers: Rat Disfigures Mo. Baby Sleeping in Crib ... Obese Boy to Stay With Family ... Five Reasons Not to Worry About U.S. Schools ... Study: College Students More Narcissistic ... Study Finds HPV Strikes a Third of Women by Age 24

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 28, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers , Teens , Tweens
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Right now, since my kids got ready for school real early, my daughter is instant messaging and my two sons are blasting each other on some computer game.

Years ago when a stray cat wandered into our yard, my daughter went inside to get some yarn, and my son went off searching for a good throwing rock.

My sons have always had a strict rule against picking up rocks since they were less than 2. I have never had to make that rule for my daughters.

Yes, boys and girls are wired diferently, but every human is intrinsically unique.

Posted by: Father of 4 | February 28, 2007 7:39 AM | Report abuse

DD just turned three in January. She does like her dolls quite a bit but she also likes her train. She has never once seemed interested in a weapon or pretend weapon. She has always been an advanced climber. But even with her extreme climbing, she does seem more docile then most kids. She has zero interest in the Princess. I keep waiting for it to happen. We have 4 princess costumes in her closet. But she has always had an interest in fancy dress up shoes, hand bags, and jewelry. So I think kids sort of fall on the spectrum. Her recent interest in trains and cars involve putting Fisher Price Little People in them and pretending to take them for a ride. She does say chug a chuh a choo choo too. So I am not sure. I was always a girly girl and I hope DD finds her own way.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 7:41 AM | Report abuse

This is so true. My son loves his cars and trucks. No matter what other toys I put in front of him, if they aren't something like a car or truck he has no desire to play with them. The exception is in dress-up. He loves putting on hats and shoes just as long as he can still play with his cars and trucks.

Posted by: Mama | February 28, 2007 7:52 AM | Report abuse

This topic was loosely discussed yesterday on "On Balance" and is fascinating.

I know most kids are hard-wired - but mine are not. My daughter is a tom-boy through and through and my son is not a typical boy with interests in trucks, guns and tackling other kids. My daughter once asked, mom do you think brother and I had our brains swapped? Sometimes it seems that way.

They both have tons of energy but Daughter has never played with dolls, had tea parties or dressed up a princess. When she plays "store" it is a sports store or vet clinic. She hates getting her nails done and I have to negotiate with her to wear a dress (used to have to put her in it kicking and screaming). Son does all the same stuff as sister but likes to read, will sit and do a craft without a glue war, runs and digs in the dirt. He doesn't play tackle with other boys and doesn't really care about sports. Daughter wants to grow up and coach the Redskins.

We didn't do anything but give them standard toys that they either played with or rejected. The one thing we were really careful about was not playing with them all the time. We made them entertain themselves and their true interests came out rather then ours.

Posted by: cmac | February 28, 2007 8:14 AM | Report abuse

CMAC: When your kids were little, like under 3, was most of their play mirroring real life. DD does not have tea parties either but then again, I don't think she has seen anyone sitting around having tea like that. We drink tea out of mugs and generally make it buy the mug and walk around with it. We don't sit around a table talking in fancy dresses. But she does love her toy kitchen and plays making food all the time. She also likes to feed dolls and put them to bed. She doesn't play school because I don't think she really understands that she goes to school. She has never seen fighting or war type stuff on TV or in real life. So she can't imitate that. I am just curious before the true imagination kicks in, do they just play by imitating life as they know it?

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Kids are socialized, not hard wired. Haven't you ever heard of nonviolent cultures?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I could say how much is nature and how much is nurture because I've seen kids who fit every single kind of mold. Sure, most of the little boys we know play with cars and trains, but my daughter also (if less enthusiastically) plays with cars and trains. These same little boys like to sing and dance and read books and have tea parties and picnis, things my daughter likes to do. My daughter isn't in to dolls, but loves her stuffed animals and zoo animals and little people and anything "little". I think everyone is just different!

Posted by: Vienna mom | February 28, 2007 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I have a boy and girl, 6 and 4. I think they both fall in the middle of the spectrum. My son loves legos, trains, and vehicles, while my daughter will play "daycare" and take care of her dollies. But my son never really went through that "superhero" stage at age 4, and my daughter likes the Princesses, but isn't obsessed with them. So, I think they balance each other. But, we tend to buy gender-neutral toys. Our playroom isn't an explosion of pink or Spiderman. Both kids get along well and play well with kids of the opposite sex.

I'll tell you, though -- Lego would make a mint if they sold a box of girly-colored legos. They're so boy-oriented that they've forgotten that little girls might like to build houses for their small stuffed animals, and that the hokey princess sets they offer don't allow for much building. Who advises these guys anyway??

Posted by: Arlington Mom | February 28, 2007 8:39 AM | Report abuse

And then there's my daughter. At age three or four, she was given a Barbie doll by one of my friends. She examined it carefully, announced "look, a doll with boobies!" and then held it by its head and played with it like a sword. I don't think she's picked it up once since then.

Hard wired? Maybe. But not in the way you'd expect. No matter how hard I try, I can't get her interested in dolls in the least. But she's eight now and still plays with her Thomas trains and toy swords. She doesn't care what clothes she's wearing as long as they are comfortable (t-shirt dresses are her favorite; but then, my son would like to wear them as well. He adores his sister's outgrown fleece nightgowns!). Try styling her hair and she'll scream like a banshee. She runs away from lip gloss and nail polish. She loves bugs and snakes and animals of all kinds. Her favorite color is and always has been blue. OTOH, she hates violent or scary movies of any sort, loves the garden canopy in her bedroom, thinks any sport but basketball is boring (unless it's Olympic level ice skating--that MUST be hard wired in the female brain!), and thinks superheroes are ugly and stupid.

I think that while some things that we think of as gender specific might be hard wired, I also think kids pick up a lot from their parents and their environment, and I think there is a LOT of subtle "pushing" of kids towards certain likes and dislikes that we aren't aware of consciously. I've seen parents, many parents, not just a few, praise their infant sons with "oooh, tough little guy!" while their infant daughters get "sweet princess." With this sort of gender identification starting so early in life, it's very hard to separate out what is learned and what is hard wired.

Posted by: Sarah | February 28, 2007 8:40 AM | Report abuse

I wonder how much of the child's preferences is determined by them watching the parent of their same gender? If mom is doing a lot of work around the house, digging outside in flower gardens, etc, wouldn't you expect your daughter to want to do those things as well? Same with boys; if they see dad helping to cook, etc, would that influence him to want to do the same things?

When we have a child, I intend to expose them to a variety of interests, boy or girl, and let them decide what they want to do. I don't want them thinking "I don't want to do that because that's not for (boys/girls)".

Posted by: John | February 28, 2007 8:47 AM | Report abuse

My daughter has 2 big brothers - and I see a lot of sides to her. On the one hand - she's tough, she walks all over one of her brothers (she's 2.5, the boys and 5 & 7) At day care, her favorite playmate is a rough and tumble boy and she loves the boys cars and building things. On the other hand - she also loves pink, putting her dolls in the stroller and has started "reading" to them. I think some of this she was born with and some of it is her environment -

Posted by: maria | February 28, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Sometimes, it is just what is available. Like I buy DDs pajamas at Costco. Good affordable Carter's brand pjs. I have noticed lately for the girls there are all kinds of words on the tops. Like cutie, princess, sweet heart. I have not looked at what they have for boys. But it does sent the message that girls are to be pretty and sweet. Do they say things like tough or bold on boys stuff? Or is this a girl thing. I think it is kind of funny because your average 3 year old can't read anyway. Or I they thinking sight recongition of words? But wouldn't it be better to have words like smart, kind, generous etc...

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse


I was the tomboy little girl, and never liked dresses or princesses or anything 'girly'.My mother is very feminine, and I used to watch her for hours put on make-up, etc. I became a veterinarian (seems like many tomboy-girls choose this profession).

My husband and I now have a 6 year old daughter, and, you guessed it--she's girly. So I think it is a combination of both (maybe the temperament skips a generation? like twins? because she's so much like her grandmother this way).

Posted by: Caroline | February 28, 2007 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome--boys pajamas are the ugliest things you've ever seen, especially starting at age three or four. No words (an odd difference that I never noticed before, but you're right that girls' p.j.'s have words and boys' don't), just sports, superheroes, camouflage, and trucks. I struggle to find the less ugly (IMO) robots, spaceships, and fire engines. It's getting more and more difficult as he gets older. Of course, he usually wants to wear that fleece nightgown I mentioned (it's lavender with a white kitty cat and the word "meow" on it).

Posted by: Sarah | February 28, 2007 8:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm on the nuture side here. I saw my husband treat the girl so much differently. He was so much more tender and careful. Oh, he was tender with the boys when they were little, but the look of awe on his face for kid #2 (the girl) was rather amazing. I tried treating them the same but what I call the 'pink' aisle won out. The out of home socialization turned her to the 'dark side.' All her friends wore pink so that is what she wanted too. The boys just wore dirt...I'm joking here. But none of their friends wore pink....ever.

Posted by: dotted | February 28, 2007 8:58 AM | Report abuse

This weekend, my 5-year old son ran around one morning outside in the snow waving his "sword."

That afternoon, he came back inside and played "library." It is a new game that he has made up- he is the librarian and he helps his dad and me "check out books."

So I guess we're doing ok.

Posted by: randommom | February 28, 2007 8:59 AM | Report abuse

"My younger one recently terrified a girl his own age at Legoland when he bared his teeth like a T-Rex and roared at her."
My 4 year old daughter does this kind of thing all the time - ferocious tiger! Sarah and John made the important point; some good research shows that from the earliest days of their lives, we cuddle and protect our "sweet little princesses" and expose our "tough little boys" to the world. Given that, how can you ever say it was nature vs nurture? You aren't raising them in a box!

Posted by: Olney | February 28, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Sarah, my mother gave my DD a pair of pjs with bugs all over them. Not lady bugs but regular bugs. My guess is she bought them for my nephew and forgot about them and when DDs birthday arrived, she just wrapped them up. Or she bought them on clearance. Not sure. Anyway, DD just loves pink, dress up shoes, hats, tiarras and jewlery. Only mildy interested in cars and trains. But when she saw these bug pjs, she got soo excited. She screamed with joy, "BUGS." She couldn't believe they made clothes with bugs on them. Of course I think they are uglier then sin but let her wear them because she likes them and because Grandma bought them. But I can't wait to pass them down to other nephew. BTW, youngest nephew as the sad misfortune of only having an older sister and parents on a tight budget. He wears all his sisters hand me downs minus dresses and skirts. Every time they take him in public, people say what a cute little girl they have. I wonder if he will be OK. I am just grateful we can give him his first pair of boy pajamas.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Really, people, to say that girls and boys come out of the womb "just that way" - and when a boy picks up a gun and a girl ignores claim total ignorance (that WaPo guns article made me furious) as to how such a thing happened. PLEASE!

Children are masters at picking up subtle social cues and environmental ones. Think about commercials, pictures on magazines in the supermarket, pictures on toy boxes, how older kids act around your children (in supermarkets, shopping malls, etc.), and you will see there are MANY non-parental cues about gender your child receives FROM BIRTH.

And think about how you greet a little girl. Do you say, Hi, oh, your shoes/hair/dress/shirt are so cute?

And when you greet a little boy, do you say, Hi, what are you doing/playing?

Ie, active vs passive assumptions.

That WaPO article with the college professor and their "gosh, I just don't know" where my sons' love of playing with toy guns came from...please! It showed virtually no thoughtful analysis (or interest in analysis), just a lot of complaining with a hint of a grin behind it.

I personally have no problem with toy guns, I should add. But to claim that boys "naturally" love them is WRONG.

Posted by: Rebecca | February 28, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you. I'm confused how any kid could possibly imagine a stick as "an air-cooled, camouflaged, fully automatic 50-caliber Browning rifle with attachable bayonet" unless they had been introduced/saw an automatic type weapon on TV, or through a parent faking a weapon, or playmate doing same. It is like faking a bow/arrow. Unless you were exposed to the idea, you probably wouldn't imagine it.

Posted by: rebecca | February 28, 2007 9:17 AM | Report abuse

the last wasn't written by rebecca. it was supposed to be to rebecca.

Posted by: to rebecca | February 28, 2007 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Agree with Rebecca. Kids are punted from the womb into two completely different worlds usually, dependent on their chromosomal makeup. For anyone who has taken an intro to Psych class - have you had to watch the video of the large college class where they have to observe two children, a boy and a girl, playing, and then characterize their play actions? When describing the "boy" they say "agressive, strong, leader," and when describing the "girl" they say "docile, sweet, caring, shy." At the end of class, the professor says that their sexes are the reverse of what they seem - they dressed the BOY in pink and the girl in red/blue so the class would think the boy was the girl, and vice versa. This stuff is extremely socialized.

Posted by: SAM | February 28, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Caroline ---

We have the same 'skipped a generation' thing going on too! My mom is very girly, loved to dress me up in a succession of outfits as a baby til I got big enough to assert myself, made me go to school in dresses and knee socks til I battled that back, stuck blasted rubber bands in my hair til I won that battle too. All in all she was a girly girly who would have loved to share that joy/appreciation with a daughter, and I instead (I don't how much of it was back-reaction) was a fierce tomboy, who still won't wear a dress/skirt unless it's absolutely socially obligatory, etc (and as an adult I'm in an male-dominated academic field where the norm is to wear khakis or dark jeans and, say, polo shirts).

With my 2 girls, I've tried to neutrally provide lots of choices and I do delight in finding clothes for them that, when I see them, cry out my girls' personalities. I love that "I know it when I see it"; I can't really describe my oldest's sense of style, fairly artsy, color and pattern-oriented, but I love that I can spot an item she'll love, and when I bring it home (along with the less inspired, everyday clothes, to fill out the wardrobe) I've guessed right, and she falls in love with exactly the items I predicted. (It helps that I do most of their clothes shopping at our local preschool's biannual huge consignment sale fund-raiser; I find lots of really appealing and diverse clothes at little expense, and feel like I'm compensating for my deficient shopping skills by piggybacking on the shoulders of truly amazing shopper-moms ahead of me in the pipeline.) My oldest went through a year when she chose to wear dresses everyday (her 4yo year), and she loved fancy princess dressup, and creative dressup as well. My youngest has *long* lingered in the princess stage, 4 years +, and was a dresses only girl for maybe 3 years (til this year, 1st grade), braids and styles her own hair as a hobby, etc, etc. She would pepper me with style suggestions --- mom, why don't you ever wear a dress? they're beautiful! mom, can I braid your hair? why do you always just wear your hair in a ponytail? that's boring! My mom would be in heaven parenting her, styling her hair, etc! I've often thought, with my youngest, that she channels her grandma (many aspects of her personality and looks are much like my mom's as well).

The only stipulation I've made to my own tomboyishness is that my girls can wear what they like, but underwear must be covered with shorts/tights/leggings/skorts/something, and their clothing can in no way hinder their movement/comfortable play. So I've ended up with girls, even when more or less girly in their dress and hair, who also love to play, climb, cartwheel and do monkey bars, and do not hesitate to get dirty and immersed in play. I find it a great compromise.

I wonder how common the generation-skipping is, I often look at my youngest and get this weird feeling, I'm parenting my mom! How ironic, she was deprived of the joy and kindred soulship she would felt, parenting this child!

Posted by: KB | February 28, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

My future child is going to turn out so confused. I already have a friend of mine holding onto some of her newborn child's clothes for me, but since she's only got girls she worried that if we had a boy they wouldn't be appropriate. I said "as long as they keep him/her warm that's all I'll care about". This pink=girl and blue=boy stuff is for the birds, IMO. I will expect my son to help in the kitchen and put away clothes, and if we have a daughter I'll have her out in the garage helping me build things from wood!

Posted by: John | February 28, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

John, I agree with you on the color thing. But SIL dresses nephew in a floral shirt with pink pants. I have to say, I am a little concerned. This is not just for dress up or around the house. She takes him out to stores and to day care like that. I have to say it is easier to have DD wear bug pajamas then to see a boy dressed in his sister's floral shirt. I am not sure why but it just is.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

When I was a kid (female) I played with Barbies and other dolls but I also collected toy cars and my most prized possession was a plastic sword/shield set. I was definitely more of a tomboy--no skirts for me, thank you. (I am still like that.) I was also an only child, so I must have requested the "male" toys--they did not belong to a brother.
I think we probably do come out hard-wired to some extent, but not necessarily the way we are expected to be.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

It all became clear to me at a 3-year old birthday party. The boys and girls would play with the same toys, say a truck or an airplane, but in drastically different manners. The boys would zoom around making zoom-zoom and ocassionally shooting sounds, while the girls would put people inside, and make up stories about where they are going and what they are doing.

Posted by: Preschool Dad | February 28, 2007 9:49 AM | Report abuse

On a seperate thread, have to express much frustration with the current state of kid's clothing. With the exception of newborn sizes, the clothes are incredibly gender polarized. All of the girls stuff is pink and purple with flowers and hearts, and mirrors the latest women's fashions in terms of cut and style. All of the boys stuff is blue with trucks or sports. Really hard to find some basic, gender-neutral styles, which totally reinforces societal stereotypes.

Posted by: Preschool Dad | February 28, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Write these comments about your child down and see how they turn out as adults. I think that there are many exceptions to the rule but the right brain/left brain thing is for real. It's not a matter of tea parties and dressup but more an energy thing. Also I believ that sexual preference plays a role as well.

Posted by: AJ | February 28, 2007 9:54 AM | Report abuse

On the dressing boys in pink pants, there is a hilarious character in Alexander McCall Smith's "44 Scotland Street" series who is determined to turn her little boy into something he is not (NOT!) interested in being. I found the whole thing a bit mysogynistic, but it is really funny nonetheless.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Preschool dad: Have you considered stores like the GAP or LLBEAN? I find they have more gender neutral stuff then other stores. I, personally, stay away from gender neutral because I don't want DD to be confused as a boy. Although that is less likely because she now has long hair. But I bought her a blueish purple winter coat at year one. And everyone thought she was a boy. It was really just a gender neutral item. If I had a boy and girl, I might be tempted to buy more gender neutral to be able to use hand me downs.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

foamgnome-your comment about not wanting your girl to be thought to be a boy interests me. To me, it is more like boys don't want to be seen as girls. Girls don't mind being seen as boys as much. Girls will wear blue. Boys will NOT wear pink.

Posted by: dotted | February 28, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Dotted: I have always been a girly girl. So I guess it did bother me when people would say what a cute boy I had. Unless she was wearing something blaringly obvious that she was a girl, I did get those comments in year one. Like I said now, it would be hard for anyone to mistake her as a boy because she has long hair. But I think a lot has to do that I see being feminine a positive thing.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Psychologists have been studying this for years. Boys want the guns and girls want the dolls.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 10:09 AM | Report abuse

But, what does it matter if strangers get the gender of your child wrong? It's not like they will get her confused with their comments, after all.

Personally, if we do have a boy, I'll enjoy correcting all those busybodies that no, it's a boy, and yes, I realize he's wearing floral baby clothes, and no, I don't believe it will affect him in later life.

Posted by: John | February 28, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I think girls can be drafted as soldiers too, but that is not what the discussion was about, was it?

Posted by: Ralph | February 28, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

My DD declared when she was 3 that she would only wear "pretty" dresses, and they had to pink or purple. She played with dolls & play kitchens. She stayed in dresses until she was 9 or 10, when she declared a hatred of everything pink or purple, and would only wear jeans. Now 19, she wears black, green, blue, has black belts in 2 martial arts and working on a 3rd. She is very artistic, and when she does wear a dress, it's something classic, a la Audrey Hepburn. I never allowed toy weapons, but every stick, empty paper towel roll, etc was a sword or gun to DD and her 2 brothers. I think the sword play came from Robin Hood, but I think the gun play came from outside influences.

Posted by: Sue | February 28, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Hey Ralph, no one gets drafted. Women can volunteer for military service, however, they are generally barred from direct combat roles.

Posted by: Sue | February 28, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

From when I was about 3 to 6, my best playmate was a girl. She was 2 days older then me and lived 2 houses down the street. She taught me how to zip coats, tie shoes, skip, jump rope, color in between the lines, swing and ride a bicycle. We would also play card games, Trouble, Dominos, Operation, and, of course, doctor.

She moved away when I was in the 1st grade, so I had to find a new friend. on the other side of the block was a group of boys. I saw them pushing trucks around on the driveway and saying "Brrrmmm, brrrmmm".

Then I gave it a try.


Posted by: Father of 4 | February 28, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I have 5 year old boy/girl twins and I can tell you that boys and girls are hard wired differently from the beginning. We have tons of gender neutral toys in our house as well as, the steorotypical boy and girl toys (e.g. dolls and trucks). My son often partakes in dress up play and I will paint his nails if asked. My daughter will play with cars and even throws a pretty decent football in the back yard.

The funny thing is that my son is rarely interested in playing dress up and even though my daughter throws a football better than my son, she would rather play with her dolls whereas, he will play with a football outside for hours.

The bottom line is that my son prefers to play with the more traditional boy toys and my daughter prefers to play with the more traditional girl toys.

I tend to think boys will be boys and girls will be girls. I only hope that their exposure to each other and each others toys will give them a deeper understanding and appreciation for the opposite sex.

Posted by: Twins Parent | February 28, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Rebecca's right - parents are NOT the only social factor that affects children's thinking. Even if you treat your kids as if gender doesn't matter, other people will treat them in certain ways based on sex. And media has a huge impact on the way kids see the world. I don't have any children of my own, but I babysit for a couple of young girls, and one of them asked me once what I wanted to be when I "grow up." When I told her I want to be a professor she said "I thought girls couldn't be professors. Whenever I see a professor on TV it's always a boy." You can bet her parents never led her to believe there is any job closed to women, but she still got the message loud and clear from the surrounding culture.

Posted by: mm | February 28, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I have two boys, my sister has two girls, and a lot of their preferences are clearly innate. It isn't 100 %, but it is uncanny. There's *no way* that my 1 year old son was getting subtle cues that made him absolutely fascinated to the point of obsession with trucks, while my neices had absolutely no interest.

Now, my boys will sometimes play in a toy kitchen for a while, and my neices will swordfight with my sons on occasion, but given a choice they definitely focus on the play that is more typical of their gender.

Before I had kids I thought that boys were encouraged to focus on mechanical toys and games with fighting themess, while girls were encouraged to focus on princessy and domestic games.

Watching these kids grow up has completely changed my mind.

Posted by: In the hard wired camp ... | February 28, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

As the mother of a 5 year old boy and 2 year old boy/girl twins, it is obvious to me that boys & girls are just different. My oldest has always been interested in things that go, spin, and make noise. He had stuffed animals and little people toys but never played with them. These same toys were introduced to my twins when they were ready for them. The boy follows his big brother's lead and wants to play with the trucks, trains, planes, fire engines, etc. My daughter is all about the little people and stuffed animals, she wraps the dolls in blankets and carries them around. She loves shoes and pretty clothes. If I try to put a pair of "boys" jeans on her, she takes them off. She loves tiaras, and shiny necklaces. When she was 5 months old she stared for hours at her aunt's jewels. Her twin brother would lay on the floor for long periods of time staring at the cars and trains his brother had. I have no doubt that my kids were born interested in these things. My daughter will play with the boys and she loves to rough house with them, and run and jump and climb and play ball with them. But there is no denying she is interested in the more traditional "girl" things. My sons will rarely play with the toys my daughter likes unless they are using them as a prop in their latest train wreck. This is just who they are.

Posted by: Mom2LED | February 28, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

DD is 13 - and I have to fight her to wear gender neutral anything. She shops exclusively in the boys/mens section (except for bras and swim tops - but wears the bikini top with the mens swim trunks). She's been this way since she could voice an opinion - pictures from two years old on are of her doing acrobatics or filthy in girly clothes if they were forced on her, or her comfortable in boys clothes. She's also got a major fascination with knives and swords, and is a dinosaur/bug buff, and took judo over anything else (including music) because she wanted to be able to kick some butt (her words).

I think some of it is nurture, but a lot of it is just nature. DD grew up with two moms, one girly, one not girly, and has some of the weirdest ideas about what a girl can do I've ever seen - doesn't flinch when non-girly moms (now that the parents have divorced and remarried, she's got two not girly moms, two girly ones) do some things that are not typically female - cutting down trees, car maintenance, etc. but thinks it's so funny when girly moms know how to change a tire or hang a picture - even though I am the girliest of the bunch and was a technical theatre major in college and own MANY power tools of my own! But the girly moms are assumed to be the computer masters, as well as the cooks, and to be ones that know anything medically related.

Posted by: Rebecca in AR | February 28, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome said: "I have to say it is easier to have DD wear bug pajamas then to see a boy dressed in his sister's floral shirt. I am not sure why but it just is."

In a similar vein, I've noticed more and more "boys' names" getting used for girls (Ashley, Taylor, Lindsey, Riley all used to be boys' names, for example). Girls and women are more readily accepted if they choose to adopt some "male" likes or characteristics (if girls want to play with swords or run around at recess or dress up as Captain Jack Sparrow, no one makes a major case out of it) than if boys choose to adopt some "female" likes or characteristics (for example, if a boy wants to wear dresses or play the "mom" when the kids are playing house). In my totally nonprofessional opinion, I've wondered if it's fear that the boys might "turn out to be" homosexual. I say this as someone who believes that sexual orientation is something you're born with and is immutable. However, when my little nephew played with Barbies for a looooong time and was often playing dress-up in his mom's clothes, some family members started to get really freaked out. Whereas they didn't freak out when my niece (or I, for that matter) acted like a complete tomboy and refused to wear dresses for the longest time.

Even if you think sexual orientation (or fears about sexual orientation) doesn't come into play here, I think most people would admit that society (by which I mean my society, American society) is more accepting of "masculine" women than of "feminine" men.

Posted by: yet another lawyer | February 28, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

My daughter and her best friend (both girls, age 9) are two of the highest energy children I have ever met. This is great when they're playing soccer, out in open fields or playing on the monkey bars. Put them in a house and chaos and destruction will happen. They were a bit over-crazy one day at the playground and one father said that they acted like boys. As parents we know that people judge them differently because they're girls. When boys act this way, people say they're just being boys. Our girls are considered crazy by most parents of girls and don't get a lot of call-back play dates.

That said, these two girls never pick up sticks and play with them as guns. Their brothers played with each other as kids and they always did that sort of thing. The girls will play dress-up -- not that either likes girly stuff but they seem to like changing their clothes 7 or 8 times a day. The boys never did that. It does seem to me that these boys and girls do make different decisions about how they play.

Posted by: soccermom | February 28, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I confess that if my future daughter refused to wear dresses it wouldn't bother me, but if my future son wanted to wear them it would disturb me quite a bit!

Posted by: John | February 28, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

good confession, John. But here's the question: why is that?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

yetanotherlawyer: That is totally the truth about girls names that used to be boys names. I was shocked to meet female Evans and Dylans. When we named DD, we specifically wanted one that was very feminine. When we thought of boys names we wanted ones that sounded masculine and were disappointed when names like Dylan were now being used for girls. I don't think my nephew will grow up gay if he wears his sister's clothes. But I do think he will be picked on in kindergarten. I understand they don't have a lot of $$ but couldn't they go to garage sales or second hand shops. When we buy nephew clothes, we specifically buy all boy stuff. His father seems grateful but his mother could care less. She says she really wanted two girls anyway.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome (I hope you don't think I'm picking on you--it's just that I like to comment on your insightful comments!), you said, "I don't think my nephew will grow up gay if he wears his sister's clothes. But I do think he will be picked on in kindergarten."

I hope my comment didn't come across as if I was saying folks uncomfortable with, say, boys in dresses means that all *those* folks are worried the boys will grow up gay. With my nephew, I was a little worried that he'd be made fun of and have a hard time making friends in school, like you with your nephew. I think the fear among my family members was that my nephew would be *seen* as gay by the other boys, and/or possibly called derogatory names and made fun of (or worse, hurt) because of it.

And I haven't met any girl Evans, but I have met some girl Dylans and Ryans. My husband and I had the same issue on names. We didn't want to give our son(s) a name that had started being used more frequently as a girl's name, because in the future it might *only* be known as a girl's name. (How many male Ashleys or Lindsays do you know, for example? "Gone With the Wind" and Lindsay Buckingham aside.)

Posted by: yet another lawyer | February 28, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

re: Names - I've also been somewhat surprised. I run a girls' softball program so I get to see the entire collection of names - the trends are indeed interesting. A couple of years ago, our 9-10 year old league had 141 girls - 17 of whom were named Taylor. I threatened to put an entire team together with nothing but girls named Taylor.

My youngest daughter is named Mary. Out of 141 girls in the league, guess how many were named Mary? That's right; one. 17 Taylors; 8 Lindsays; 6 Ashleys; 7 Shannons, and one Mary.

Re: not wanting your son to wear dresses: it has nothing to do with fear of homosexuality; it has to do with not wanting your kids to be picked on. A boy who wore a dress or skirt is going to be harrassed unmercifully by schoolmates, neighborhood kids, etc. And it's not going to be forgotten soon; he's going to be living with that for a long time.

I try to advise my son (and daughters) about other clothing choices that will get them teased: please don't wear dark socks with sandals; please don't wear jeans with legs so short it looks like you're expecting a flood; etc. Personally, I really wouldn't care about what he wore as long as it was clean and appropriate for the weather, but I do care about him bearing the brunt of all the jokes.

Posted by: Army Brat | February 28, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

You know, I'd have to think about that (why it would bother me to have a son wear a dress). Now that I think about it a little, if he wanted to wear a dress (we're talking small children here) I wouldn't specifically bar him from doing it, although I might point out that dresses are usually worn only by girls and women. As a child, of course, what he (or she) would wear would be up to me and his mom, and there would be few dresses lying around for a son to try on!

Posted by: John | February 28, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

yetanotherlawyer: I wasn't offended at all. I actually think your right some people are afraid that either the kid will turn gay or people think you will make him gay or a cross dresser. No, I just think if they don't invest in some boys clothes by the time the kid hits PS, he will be beat up daily. It is one thing to say, I let my son play with a baby doll because he wants to. And another to say I intentionally dress my son like a boy because we won't take the time to go to a garage sale for some boys clothes. Well, I hope his bug pjs last a while. It might be the last boy pjs he sees in a while. We concentrate on outdoor boys stuff for us. Figuring that is where the social impact will hit him first.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Call it a kilt, laddie, and all is well with gender identity.

Posted by: James Buchanan | February 28, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

As a father of 4 young boys that are 3 to 9, I have to say that it seems to be a combination of hard wired, environmental (TV, school, neighborhood), and parenting. Since my oldest two were little, my wife and I were particularly careful to prohibit many types of tv programming, including violent and disrespectful (you'd be amazed) cartoons. We did not purchase guns and swords or military items because we were concerned that they would not understand the gravity and reality of what killing is and didn't want them to pretend that when not comprehending the real effects. This was difficult for me, as I am a military history enthusiast and grew up playing guns, etc.

Sure enough, as much as we shielded and screened, sticks, hands and assorted household items invariably became makeshift swords and guns. Eventually, we have allowed a limited number of toy weapons -- they gravitate to swords more than guns -- but our playroom hardly resembles an armory.

As they grew, we became less rigid and learned how to 'parent' this normal behavior by discussing things with them and teaching them about morals and the value of life etc. Thier little brothers naturally imitate thier behavior and engage in 'gunplay' at younger ages then they did, but again, we do our best to instill our values in them while allowing them the freedom to use thier imaginations.
When things get too aggressive, weapons are confiscated and corrective punishments are doled out.

So far, they are turning out to be affectionate, caring (as much as is normal at least), well rounded boys who have many other varied interests like sports, building things, nature, art, science and reading. I can't say they've played dress up on more than a couple occasions though - opting to dress up in more typically traditional male roles when they do.

Posted by: Brian | February 28, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

When I told her I want to be a professor she said "I thought girls couldn't be professors. Whenever I see a professor on TV it's always a boy."

This reminds me of a little boy I know who once scoffed, "I don't want to be a lawyer! That's girl's work."

Posted by: Neighbor | February 28, 2007 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes I think the tendency to say children are polar opposites is partly because people don't have large families much anymore. If a family has two children, they tend to see them as opposites when actually they are only different. I am from a family of 8 siblings. We had such a variety. And such a mixture of traits! I was a very quiet calm total tomboy, one of my sisters was a wild, adventurous, somewhat violent (as a small child anyway) total princess who loved ballerinas and pink. My brothers, I would say were a little more gentle than some "typical" boys, I recall more than one playing with dolls as a toddler (but no dress-up), they are quite normal men. I think in general it is best to hold back on the urge to type-cast your children in any way (the "smart one", the "princess" etc) and see who they really turn out to be.

Posted by: Catherine | February 28, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I have ten children, 5 boys and 5 girls. I can tell you, hands-down, no doubt about it, girls and boys are wired differently. It is a fact of life. It has been borne out repeatedly by out by science. People who are bothered by this need to get over it.

Posted by: Ron | February 28, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I was surprised how differently my kids can play with the same toys and react to toys. My 4 year old DD is pretty girly, but she also is very athletic and loves to climb everything including trees. My 2 year old son does like lots of "girly" stuff like his sister's princess dresses and ballet costumes but that was what he had to play with in the house. We have gotten him other costumes like a pirate (actually they both got pirate costumes) and a firefighter coat/hat/stuff. But we do see how he loves trucks, trains, and other vehicles which his sister for the most part ignores.

My daughter does like to play swords, although they don't have any, but my son is suddenly very interested in toy guns. Several of our neighbors have them. I'm not anti- toy gun so don't have a problem with innocent childrens play. But it's interesting to me how daughter shows only nominal interest in guns and swords whereas son just wants one of his own so badly.

Posted by: New Poster | February 28, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

My 2 daughters have never picked up a doll in their lives - except to swing it by it's hair and to see how far they can launch it. They likewise have had zero interest in the toy kitchens purchased for them. They could care less about what they wear, as long as it's comfortable.

Now, at ages 7 and 10, they are both in the Gifted and Talented programs at their schools and they don't play with toys at ALL. I am mystified! They love computer games, arts and crafts, outdoor sports equipment, and board games. I remember playing with toys until I was 12 or so . . . and I was in GT, too. I don't get it.

Posted by: Judith | February 28, 2007 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I knew I was different when I could write my name in yellow in the snow and my sister couldn't.

Posted by: Bob | February 28, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Children's personalities are largely "hard-wired". As a parent, it's been my experience that people attribute stereotypical behavior to the child's gender, and everything else to the child's personality. When my oldest daughter fusses with her hair, why, that's because she's a girl. When she plays a FPS video game, that's not because she's a girl, it's because she's 'energetic'.

Posted by: mythago | February 28, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

2 girls and then a boy - lamps etc. starting breaking in the living room as soon as he could walk

Posted by: David | February 28, 2007 12:34 PM | Report abuse

If you have never explored the baby name graph, please follow the link below. Amazine to look at the changes in popularity for girl and boy names.

Posted by: DataDiva | February 28, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

My kids, 6 and 3, appear to be traditionally "hard wired," for the most part. When my 3 year old daughter (who has a traditionally male name) was a baby, I loved dressing her in pink; I loved the way she looked in it. As she grew (and my ex-husband began complaining about all the pink), I expanded the clothing selection to lavendar, yellow, etc. But to this day, her favorite color for clothing and hair accessories is pink. She really doesn't like dolls much. It's purses, play shoes and play jewelry, tiaras and My Little Pony and Dora books and videos. She's feminine but not really docile; she knows when to speak up for herself.

My son likes cars and trucks but loves animals. He also loves to bring home rocks, wrestle, play boisterously, etc. Except for liking My Little Pony also, he is pretty much your average boy.

The discussion about boys in dresses is interesting. My question is simply -- why should a boy wear a dress? What does it prove or not prove? Is there any rational reason? Especially in this day and age where even girls aren't wearing dresses much anymore.

Baby boys often wear gowns for baptism and infant gowns as newborns (I could have sworn that I've seen really old pictures of boys up to toddler age wearing dresses). As the boys age, the gowns give way to pants and shorts. I don't want my boy to wear a dress, and not because I am afraid of it influencing his sexuality. There's just no reason for him to wear one.

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | February 28, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the dress conversation was about having boys wear dresses, I got the impression that it was could/should boys wear dresses during make-believe play if they want to. As I wrote earlier my 2 year old boy wears his sister's princess costumes sometimes when they are playing dress-up. But they play that in the house, not outside, not at daycare, etc. Do we think that it's going to affect his sexual orientation--NO. He also likes to wear my make-up (he sees mommy doing it so naturally he wants to do it also).

Since your son is older than your daughter he's probably not been exposed to as much (if any) feminine dress-up clothing. But would you be upset if he wanted to wear one of your dresses around the house because they were playing some game? I think that's what the conversation was getting at.

Posted by: New Poster | February 28, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

That's what I was trying to put into words; I couldn't really think of a good reason why a boy would want to wear a dress. There're plenty of reasons why a girl would want to wear pants, but a dress is typically for a more formal situation, and boys have their own clothes for that.

If I have the opportunity to do so, I'll use that argument (other than "because I say so")...

Posted by: John | February 28, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

but a dress is typically for a more formal situation, and boys have their own clothes for that.

As a full fledged girly girl, I found that statement kind of sad but true. I wish girls would go back to wearing dresses on a regular basis.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm female and 29. I don't have children but I can share my experience as a former child and observer of children. I hated dolls and never wanted to play with them growing up. I thought they were so boring and stupid. I did like stuffed animals. I also liked toy cars a LOT. I liked squirt guns and ping-pong-ball guns, not really the more realistic guns. I liked robots and LOVED dinosaurs.

I really don't remember seeing the hard-wired-ness in the friends I had. We all played with Legos, Voltron, etc. I seriously think a lot of it is socialization - people ply girls with cutesy doll toys and boys with Super Mega Monster Man-Eating Trucks. Children learn from an early age - I think from birth - what is expected of them gender-wise and comply, or rebel, accordingly.

I see this in my friends and relatives now having children. With their boys, they're like, "Oh, he's so interested in how things WORK! He's so interested in TOOLS!" etc., and they never say that about the girls, even when, from my observations, either (1) the girls seem just as interested/good at figuring out how things work or (2) they've never GIVEN the girls access to tools or other toys they can take apart/put back together in the first place!

(I must give dolls their due, though. Later, in my early teens, I started collecting dolls and antique toys. I sold most of my collection a few years ago and used the money for a down payment on a condo! Thanks, dolls!)

Posted by: LilybethDC | February 28, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Bought my oldest son a baby doll when I was expecting my second child, to model behavior towards his new baby sibling. I showed him how to be "nice" to the baby, then handed it to him. He was fascinated by the crying sound the doll made and repeatedly beat its head into the floor to make it cry. Needless to say, I wouldn't let him hold the baby for a while.

Posted by: Sue | February 28, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

The thing that bothered me about the Turley article over the weekend was not that his boys play with guns. Boys will do that--they will pick up sticks and make believe they are guns. It's that they purchase guns that look real to facilitate their play. And then Turley is surprised that parents are ahgast because that's how boys play. Well you can let them make believe, but giving them toys that look like the real thing is abhorrent. I would never stop my kids from playing cops and robbers or whatever else, but I don't need to buy them toys that look like the real thing.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

foamgnome - good questions on the mimicking. I would say yes, they mimick - both kids loved the little kids kitchen. No tea parties - again, neither did we so why would they? Some of the truly girl and boy things they learned were from other kids but they never developed into an interest. My daugher used to come home from a friend's house with face glitter or lip gloss but never asked to buy it- just wasn't interested.

Of course if your kid wants to coach the Skins you know the parents had some influence, but I think for the most part whatever they wanted to play was fine as long as they weren't killing each other. I did puzzles and started them out on a game but never hung around and orchestrated their play unless there was a problem.

They have tons of neighborhood kids to play with too, so they tended to (and still do) roam around in a little gang with "oversight" from several neighborhood moms. They tend to do the sports things though - none of the boys are sitting down for manicures.

Posted by: cmac | February 28, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

How do you know what the toy guns looked like that he got his boys? There weren't any pictures in the Post. The toy guns I've seen look like toys, shiny silver often with some kind of bright colored plug at the end of the barrel. They are no more real looking than my daughter's "glass" Cinderella slippers or the cookware for their play kitchen.

Some toy guns do in fact look more like real guns, but you can't say for certain that's what Turley was giving his kids.

Posted by: New Poster | February 28, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Dresses just for more formal occasions? Haven't you all ever seen t-shirt dresses? They're either all knit (like Hannah Andersson play dresses) or knit top/woven skirt (like my mother makes for my DD). If it weren't for cold weather, my DD would wear them every day--super comfortable, non-binding, easy to play in because you get complete leg movement, wash-and-wear, easy to dress yourself even when you're tiny.

Who was it who said to call it a kilt? Maybe I'll get a few for my nightgown-wearing DS! I think he likes the free movement and natural air conditioning!

Relating back to yesterday's topic, both of my kids have autism spectrum disorders. It's really fascinating in many ways to watch them develop because their likes and dislikes are so completely NOT influenced by society so it's a bit easier to pick out what is natural and what is learned. They don't notice or care what other people think or like and they don't learn particularly well (if at all) by imitation, especially my son who is far more affected. There's no doubt in my mind that there ARE differences between boys and girls in the way that they play generally speaking (but clearly not specifically and universally across the board), but their choice of toys and clothes are IMO mostly driven by society. Girls don't like pink and boys blue because of brain chemicals. Girls don't opt for roller skates instead of skateboards because of something they were born with. Boys don't avoid dresses and floral patterns because of their testosterone levels. If you call something an "action figure" to make it appealing to boys who would never play with a "doll," it has nothing to do with the Y chromosome.

Posted by: Sarah | February 28, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

How do you know what the toy guns looked like that he got his boys? There weren't any pictures in the Post. The toy guns I've seen look like toys, shiny silver often with some kind of bright colored plug at the end of the barrel. They are no more real looking than my daughter's "glass" Cinderella slippers or the cookware for their play kitchen.

Some toy guns do in fact look more like real guns, but you can't say for certain that's what Turley was giving his kids.

Posted by: New Poster | February 28, 2007 01:12 PM

Turley specifically addressed this - toy guns today have the neon orange cap distinguising them from the real guns - they didn't used to. Turley also said they don't buy the guns that look like the real ones - he may have mentioned the huge water guns that look like sub-machine guns.

Posted by: cmac | February 28, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Easier to use than the baby name wizard (which is cool) is the social security admin site:

My plan when I have kids is to look at this site and name them something NOT in the top 15. They're pretty names, but I remember all the Jennifers I grew up with (I'm a product of 1980) hating that they shared their name with everyone.

On an aside, I've noticed that boys tend to have more traditional "strong" names while girls names are more prone to be popular and trendy (you can use the site to track it). Why is it ok to give girls trendy names and not boys? Girls names come out of nowhere (or movies, per Madison and 1985) and shoot to the top of this list. Boys names? Nearly all biblical (so a couple thousand years old).

Posted by: running | February 28, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse


There are plenty of dresses that are comfortable and suited for everyday play. Many are cotton, comfortable like a T-shirt but more shaped, visually interesting, and garnished according to little girl tastes. My oldest wore dresses daily for 1 year by choice, my youngest from about age 2 - 5. My ordinary criteria other than their liking the style are: can be put on by the child herself (usually pull-on overhead); doesn't restrict movement; knee length; can be gotten dirty/played in with abandon; can be tossed in the laundry with all the other family clothes with no special treatment. Many mainstream playdresses for kids meet that slacker-mom standard. Sometimes even dresses that 'look' quite fancy or frilly still hold up to that standard --- since I buy secondhand, it's minimal investment and any dress that doesn't hold up to that treatment I just chalk up as 'not meant to be' in our household. I have on rare occasion bent the criteria for dresses my dd fell in love with --- for example a red velvet dry clean only dress for $5 to be worn on special occasions only (she wore it walking in our neighborhood 4th of July parade --- dry cleaning it each time it's worn costs as much as I paid for it ;-) ) And if she really loves it, I'll do dresses that need to be buttoned up in back by Mom or Dad, even as an everyday dress.

If your dd goes through a girly phase herself, you'll find dresses that aren't formal but everyday, or dresses that feel formal and fancy to her but can still be worn everyday. And actually that many girls don't wear their dresses much is an advantage --- I often got the feeling that my dd was the only girl out there who *wore her dresses out* (literally, after a year of frequent use). Those other girls would accumulate the appealing dresses, wear them once or twice, their moms would wash them so they get their shrinking done and stabilize in size, then I could buy them in beautiful shape for a pittance and my dd would literally wear them into the ground. Great deal!

Posted by: KB | February 28, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Interesting point cmac. I've never heard of anyone upset about water gun play, and those are gun-shaped toys (albeit usually bright colors)that are used to target someone else in order to get them wet. I wonder why there is less angst over water guns than other toy guns, or maybe there is.

Posted by: New Poster | February 28, 2007 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I just checked my name in the baby wizard site and it said no names starting with ... were in the top 1,000 names in any decade... yowza!

Posted by: s | February 28, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

DD does wear some of those cotton type dresses you talk about. But I also have several hand made cotton dresses with coordinating pinafores for church. She is literally the only girl wearing a pinafore. I think it is so sad that they have fallen out of favor. They look so sweet in them. I also buy a dry clean home kit and use that for in between washings verus taking it to the cleaners. You can find other dressier type that are machine washable. American Girl sells a number of those.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

How much does it matter, really? Some general gender tendencies exist, I think, innately, and are certainly reinforced by the environment. But how important is that in looking at any given individual child? Susie might be wearing her pretty pink dress and pouring tea for her teddies one day, and tearing up the playground in blue denim overalls the next. Mikey might be reenacting a battle one minute and play-acting a caring doctor comforting the wounded soldier the next, or requesting a cuddle from Mommy because he's scared of the thunder. It's all good. The trick, I think, is to love your kid for who they are - when they conform to gender stereotypes willingly and naturally, that's all good, and when they don't, that's fine too. If Susie likes her dolls and Mikey likes his trucks, or vice versa, let 'em have their dolls and their trucks - but listen to THEM and hear THEIR wants and preferences, don't try to force them to be something that they don't want to be. Whether you're pushing them towards gender stereotype conformity or away from it, it's the pushing that's the problem.

Posted by: Katja | February 28, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I remember as a first-grader I took a trip with my classmates to a local amusement park and ended up crying because the teachers wouldn't let me buy what I thought was the best toy -- a $1 rubber spider. I vowed next year I was going to go back and get that spider.

As luck would have it, we went back to the same park the next year, and I went looking for the toy. No spiders were being sold, so I got the next best thing, a rubber alligator.

No one approved. Fellow girl students wondered why I wanted it. I remember my mother turning it over and asking, partly amused and partly mystified, "How much did you pay for this mess?"

Relatives didn't approve. I caught on and began to annoy them. "Look, the alligator is dancing!" I'd say. I had many poses for the toy, and I wasn't exactly losing interest as quickly as everyone thought I should.

Eventually, as I began to take interest in other toys, someone sneaked the alligator into the trash. At least that's what I was told when I asked about it. I got over it, but I never understood the big deal.

I wasn't a girly girl but not a total tomboy either. Regardless, I think a child's treasured toy should stay just that, whether it's a girl's gun or a boy's doll. No, seeing my boy play with a doll or my girl with a gun would make me feel all warm inside. But it's not really about me, is it?

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | February 28, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

They are different. Prior to having my son, I believed gender was primarily socialized/environmental. My son has certainly changed that belief!

Despite rearing without "wartoys" or tv before age 5, he has delightfully wielded ordinary items as swords and guns (from about the time his little fingers could grasp.) While he enjoyed a period of running around with a chiffon scarf tied around his neck as cape, he has instinctively done all of those "boy" things. And he's being raised by two femmy lesbians. Chalk one up for nature.

Posted by: WImom | February 28, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse


Have you seen the children's picture book, _Hannah and the Seven Dresses_? It strikes me that you'd really like it, and maybe your dd might take a liking to it as well . . .

Thought of it because I was trying to think of the word 'crinoline', which I first read in that book . . . dd had the most beloved long-sleeved poufy green cotton dress with tiers of lace and a crinoline underneath, she adored it and wore it near constantly . . . our sitter told us it reminded her very much of the traditional dresses little girls wore in Mexico . . .

I hate dresses for myself, but I just can't help a fondness for the obvious joy my dd took in them . . .

Posted by: KB | February 28, 2007 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and I was one of those parents who didn't like guns, period. Real, play, or water guns - I didn't allow them. At age 8, my son gave the most stirring argument for why the gun ban should be lifted in the case of waterguns, that I finally gave in.

Posted by: WImom | February 28, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

"I can tell you, hands-down, no doubt about it, girls and boys are wired differently. It is a fact of life. It has been borne out repeatedly by out by science."

What science? Not the science and other courses I took in College.

I also do not believe that you have 10 children. You would be too tired to read this blog.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

People try to steer kids into gender specific roles instinctively.
I can't tell you how many times people tried to clean me up as a kid, but my brother, who WANTED to be cleaned up and coddled, only got help from my mom.
I liked dresses, but I didn't want to have to be still in them, and that made a problem for me.
I wanted to be elegant like my mom,but not at the cost of freedom, and she always seemed to be in a cage.
I do remember a LOT of social pressure to behave, never interrupt, and to be Audrey Hepburn's Roman Princess by 3.
I never got there and it hurt to be told I was always wrong.
I know I wasn't alone.
These studies are useless IMO, and your kids are individuals in real life. Be there with them and accept them for who they are, please.

Posted by: D | February 28, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

never read Hannah and her 7 dresses. I will try to get it from the library.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with play dresses? Nothing, as long as you're not: climbing trees, doing headstands or cartwheels, riding bicycles (skirts can get caught in the chain)

And leg motion? I always had trouble with that in a skirt or dress. It would get wrapped around my legs and actually hinder me. And then there was the constant refrain from my mother: "Jenny, keep your knees together."

Now I work in a laboratory. Aside from the fact that I grew up disliking dresses, I wear pants and closed shoes for safety's sake. I see a lot of women in skirts and sandals and I shudder at the thought of what could happen if they spilled something on themselves.

Nope, not for me. I'm very much a hardwired tomboy.

I do wonder a lot about perceived gender roles. Why is it OK for girls/women to wear jeans and not OK for boys/men to wear skirts and dresses? If a man says he wants to stay home with his kids while his wife works, why are we (why am I) surprised to hear that, when it wouldn't surprise me if his wife wanted to stay home? I could go on, but I won't.

Posted by: Jen | February 28, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse


As a tomboy and dress-hater myself, that was always my personal feeling about dresses. However, as I mentioned, my girls loved (knee-length) dresses and did all these activities in them, frequently, without incident (they wear shorts, tights or leggings underneath for the cartwheel/monkey-bar exposure). That was always our deal: the instant their dresses interfered with any such play activities was the instant I'd deem the dress unsuited for daily wear. But it was the very rare dress I had to off-limits for this reason. They loved their dresses and they loved their uninhibited outdoor play, at the same time. Partly, I think the dresses available now are much less restrictive and troublesome than the ones my Mom coaxed me into as a kid; partly, my girls seem to be a lot more physically graceful than I am . . . not that that takes much ;-) And they actually *want* to wear the dresses, which I most viscerally did not . . .

I think adult bikes, or adult women's curvy legs, makes the chain a much greater threat, even tapered pant legs can catch the chain --- but kids' bikes seem to have a more sequestered chain, and my girls have never once had trouble riding with knee-length dresses . . .

You describe aptly the way *I* feel in a dress, lol, but I don't project it onto my girls, and they obviously feel totally different and at home in them . . .

Jen wrote

>What's wrong with play dresses? Nothing, as long >as you're not: climbing trees, doing headstands >or cartwheels, riding bicycles (skirts can get >caught in the chain)
>And leg motion? I always had trouble with that in >a skirt or dress. It would get wrapped around my >legs and actually hinder me.

Posted by: KB | February 28, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

My daughter loves those t-shirt type dresses. I can barely get her in anything else. She rides her bike, does acrobatics, goes to the playground. She usually tells me that she doesn't have a problem climbing, sliding, etc. in a dress--and she's right she doesn't.

Posted by: New Poster | February 28, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I have seven kids and I am not too tired to read this blog.

I have six girls and one son. I was worried about him growing up in a house so dominated by females but he is fine. Very masculine and now that he is 12 into "gross" things. He taught my very girlie seven year old how to "fart with her armpit" yeah! We never gave him toy weapons but at the age of ten he became facinated with guns. My step-dad asked if he could get him a BB gun and teach him about gun safety and shooting. I said yes and it has been a good thing for them both-they bond, go shooting, have a special grandpa outing with the only grandson and my son has learned some very basic gun safety rules.

Several of my daughters are girlie, two are very feminine complete with bows, dresses and such. My older set of twins (girls) one is very girlie, bows, dresses, tight the whole deal and her twin sister is more tom boy with jeans and t-shirts. Thats fine, they are comfortable and happy. I think it is a combination of all the influencing factors that shape them into who they are.

To foamgnome-How did you find your guest blog experience yesterday on the On Balance blog? I read most of the entries and was happy it was for the most part good. I was afraid it was going to get nasty. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Posted by: magnificent7mom | February 28, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I was certainly more of a tomboy as a kid than a girly-girl. These tendencies were apparent from a very early age. The only use I seemed to have for dolls was to use them to bludgeon other kids over the head. By the age of 3 I was helping my dad rebuild car engines. Astronomy and dinosaurs were my two biggest interests as a kid. Oh, and collecting bugs and lizards to scare the other kids with. My brother and I would beat the you-know-what out of each other with swords, sticks, rocks... you name it, we tried to kill each other with it. Of course, being his big sister, I was fiercely protective of him. No one was allowed to beat him up except me ;)

My brother was actually the more sensitive and nurturing one out of the two of us. When he was 5 he took all of my dolls to play with (and used them for more gentle purposes than I ever had) and didn't give them up until he was about 10. He was much more openly emotional than me by far. We may have been hard-wired from birth to be a certain way, but I don't think it was for what are considered to be typical gender traits.

Posted by: Meri | February 28, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse


"Posted by: | February 28, 2007 02:18 PM",

I really do have ten children. 2 girlds, then 5 boys in a row, then 3 more girls. Don't care whether you believe it or not.

Regarding science, virtually every study that has explored gender differences over the past tweny-plus years has confirmed the idea that boys and girls are wired differently. It seems like WTOP radio and other news outlets are trumpeting another one almost ona weekly basis. If you are ignorant of all that, it is your problem, not mine.

I have often wondered how much the ones doing these studies are paid, just confirming the obvious over and over again.

Posted by: Ron | February 28, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

To Judith. If they dont like anything feminine, dont like to shop, like camping/outdoor sports equipment, and list auto mechanic as a future occupation, and look up to Ellen Degeneres then they might be......

Posted by: Karen | February 28, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I am all of those things except an auto mechanic although I can fix my own car and have been happily married for 10 years... what an incredibly odd thing to say/think...

Posted by: to Karen | February 28, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

There are psychological studies that show that people treat even new-born babies differently simply depending upon their gender.

Posted by: charlie | February 28, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

"To Judith. If they dont like anything feminine, dont like to shop, like camping/outdoor sports equipment, and list auto mechanic as a future occupation, and look up to Ellen Degeneres then they might be......"

......what? Intelligent? Unlikely to have credit card debt in the future? Someone with a good sense of humor? Interesting to spend time with?

Come on, end the suspense! Might be what????

Posted by: Sarah | February 28, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

momofmag7: I found it a very good experience. Although the post tended to offer me advice, I was more interested in hearing why people choose their own family size versus advice on how many children I should personally have. But there are always nasty critics on balance. You just pretty much have to ignore them. But given the number of on topic posts, it seemed to go well. I would love to hear from a parent of a large family write about their balancing acts at home and the office. How about you giving it a whirl?

Posted by: foamgnome | February 28, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comments on hard-wiring of much gender based behavior. I would tell disrespecting feminists to SHOVE IT on telling parents how to raise boys to be more girlish and girls to be more boyish. We would simply wind up with a bigger casting call for the "L-Word" TV show.

Posted by: J Molay | February 28, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I am an anthropologist, so you might think I would expound upon why it's all culture. Nurture over nature. But that's not true. The ways that children choose their toys, their methods of play and interaction, and even their conflict resolution methods (or lack thereof) are mostly biological. Yet they are not "hard wired," in the XY chromosome way you might think. It is almost entirely controlled by hormone levels (relative levels between androgens and estrogens). This is why some boys are more aggressive than others, why some girls are more or less likely to want to play with dolls or with trucks. It's not their sex (as in X or Y chromosome), but in their gender (highly regulated by hormone levels). Some studies have shown that these relative hormone levels control not only play behavior, but later sexual orientation. Young girls who reject dolls in favor of trucks, and respond to stress or conflict with more aggresiveness, later in life sometimes are attracted to other females, rather than males. The same may be true for male children, although I have not seen the research on that.

Posted by: Dr. Ken | February 28, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I do not believe that children are "hard-wired" to play with guns/dolls based on their gender. Many of these recent articles/comments focus on toys given to children, but this is a very minimal contribition to programming of gender roles in children. From the moment they are born, children are subjected to gender stereotyping that emerges in very small children, which people then seem to think is hard-wired. From infancy, little girls are called princesses and little boys have similarly gender based nicknames (slugger, buddy, etc.). Babies and children also view the gender roles all around them, which are all too often "traditional" roles. People may counter that that is not their situation, but children view this everywhere. How many of you consider the gender when you paint a nursery? The stereotypes are currently unavoidable in our society, and by the toddler years, it has been well absorbed.

Posted by: Come on | February 28, 2007 4:43 PM | Report abuse


We'll see how my 19 mo DD feels about dresses when she's old enough to choose for herself :) Good idea, about the leggings underneath.


True scientific studies have shown that individual variation is much more significant than gender differences. However, there is still a huge perception of a difference.

There was an article in Chemical and Engineering News a few months ago that was very interesting and to the point; it recounted the story of a transgender person who has published several scientific papers. After completing surgery to become a woman, this person overheard a couple of colleagues discussing a recent presentation she had given. They were discussing how her brother's work was much better than hers. Mind you, the "brother" and "sister" did not exist; they were discussing the work of this one person based solely on their perception of this person as male or female.

And if you're inclined to ignore that because the person was transgender, there were several women interviewed for the article. They have seen throughout their careers that their work is much more likely to get published in prestigious journals if they abbreviate their first name (J. Doe instead of Jane Doe).

These (admittedly anecdotal) cases point to a PERCEPTION, NOT a REALITY, of a difference in the quality of scientific work between men and women.

So please be aware, when you listen to those studies on WTOP, that an investigator's expectations can affect the way the results are interpreted.

Posted by: Jen | February 28, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

This discussion brought up so many memories of my own childhood. I had Barbies and My Little Ponies, but I also spent most of my time playing Manhunt and Ghosts in the Graveyard with the neighborhood boys, all of whom were jealous of my Voltron collection. When I was 6 I stopped believing in Santa when my grandparents insisted that he had left a She-Ra castle for me at their house; if Santa was real, he obviously would have brought me He-Man's. After all, it was at the top of my Christmas list, and my grandmother was the one who kept saying I should play with more girly toys.

As long as kids are happy, who cares what colors they prefer? I do worry about the current Princess craze though. When I asked my niece why Mulan was wearing the very outfit she'd hated in the movie (because it was uncomfortable and kept her from being active), she thought about, then guessed that Mulan had stopped being silly and realized that the Prince would like her better this way. Now that's scary.

Posted by: elsa | March 2, 2007 8:12 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing "hard-wired" about gender. I think there are many experiences parents have, especially when their children are young, that might lead them to believe that gender differences are somehow intrinsic. However, such an understanding does not give enough credit to the power socialization, the messages children receive from their environment (both subtle and overt).

From the minute children are born (and sometimes even before they arrive), gender messages are plentiful and clear. The first question asked when a child is born is "Is it a boy or girl" (Not, interestingly, "What did you name the baby?" or "Is it healthy?"). Further, studies have shown that people treat baby girls and baby boys differently, generally holding baby girls more gingerly, while engaging in more active activities with baby boys. Toddler girls are more likely to receive praise along the lines of "She's so sweet" or "She's such a cutie," whereas boys are usually praised with words like "Smart" or "Strong." If we think our children don't pick up on these cues, we are kidding ourselves big time.

It's time for us to relinquish stereotypes that limit the horizons for so many of our children. Tell your daughter she's brilliant and athletic. Tell your son he is sweet and don't ridicule him for crying. As they get older and understand more of the world, encourage them to examine their concsiousness and talk to them about how you have tried to expand your own perspectives on gender. Such discussions can open worlds.

Posted by: DC young adult | March 5, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

To: Wlmom -

Did your son have no contact with other human beings besides you and and your partner before the age of 5? Just the fact that he was denied "wartoys" and television does not mean he was immune to societal messages about gender, even messages you and your partner might have unknowingly transmitted to him. Socialization is a powerful, powerful force.

Posted by: DC young adult | March 5, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Sue, if no one gets drafted, then why do I have a Selective Service Registration number? Why is this number required on applications for college assistance for men but not for women? If women can serve in non-combat roles, why don't women have Selective Service Registration numbers for the non-draft?

Posted by: Ralph | March 6, 2007 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Ralph: I think currently there is not a draft in place but Selective Service Registration is a way that if Congress wanted to mandate a draft, we would have a list of young men to be drafted. The reason women are not forced to register is because Congress has not taken action to make women register. I don't think there is a lot of fear of a draft for men. It would take an awful lot to convince the public that a draft was necessary. Even in the dire circumstance, attack on US soil, a draft became a reality, I do not believe the public would be supportive a female draft. Even if women do not serve in combat roles, it would be hard pressed to convince the public that women should be drafted. I think it is just a perception issue more then the reality of women in combat. Also, since no one really expects us to need a draft, no one wants to push the envelope and make women register just to prove a point. It is one of the last hold overs of sexism in our society.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 8, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate your candor, but we should all agree that before a draft would ever occur, both towers of the world trade center would fall to the ground in a cloud of asbestos dust -- on the same morning. So the potential for a draft is as real as the next intelligence failure, and it's time for women to be included in Selective Service.

Posted by: Ralph | March 8, 2007 6:22 PM | Report abuse

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