Boys vs. Girls: Arguing Gender Equality in the Goodwill Line

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So we’re at the checkout line in the Goodwill this weekend and I’m chatting with a couple people behind me and somehow we get on the topic of girl versus boy children. (Oh right, they told me they raised four boys and I said, “I think I’d shoot myself,” and they said, “we considered it,” and then we laughed.) Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my little man, but he drives me around the bend sometimes.

Boy and Girl Hummel FigurinesWe chatted about the differences between boys and girls, the way a girl at five seems so oddly capable of just doing a task (even a complicated one, like putting socks on without first throwing them across the room a few times, or sitting in a chair without tipping it backwards or otherwise flailing around). The lady behind the counter agreed, having mothered five boys. Then this blonde woman behind us, who we didn’t exactly invite into our little discussion I might add, gets all condescending and pipes up: “You know, I don’t think it’s a boy/girl thing. It’s just a person thing. It’s just an individual personality difference -- it has nothing to do with being male or female. I raised a boy who is so sensitive and gentle. It’s just a human difference.”

She’s impressed with herself.

I’m less impressed, and I feel like saying, “Look, bitch, don’t play the gender equality social justice card with me. I’ve read more Judith Butler and bell hooks and studied more queer and feminist theory than your sorry ass could fathom, so if you really want to throw down some identity politics right here in the Goodwill check-out line, I’m in, you out-of-touch wannabe intellectual shit-head. Otherwise, shut the hell up and let me and the toothless worker lady banter in peace.”

But I kept that inside.

For the good of all mankind, I’m perfecting that skill.

Just to clarify, I haven’t read that much queer or feminist theory. But I’ve read enough to intellectually bitch-slap somebody dumb enough to think the Goodwill store is a good time to question gender construction. Plus, when people treat me like an empty vessel into which they shall altruistically pour their enlightened parenting skills, I get defensive and self-righteous with an overwhelming urge to retaliate irrationally. (That’s what happens when you’re mature and well-adjusted.)

But really the bottom line is this: theory is theory and real life is real life. I want to believe that there is no difference between male and female, that my son and daughter function in exactly the same way with the same instinct, mental approach, etc. But when you have a son suddenly chewing his pretzels into the shape of a gun, you begin to wonder. I mean I can’t blatantly deny what’s in front of me. That would be wrong. There are 12-step groups for that kind of behavior.

Of course I agree that there are no across-the-board, unwavering gender identities inherent in either sex, nor do I believe that there is a “right” way to be a “man” or a “woman.” Rocket went through a phase where he loved to wear Ava’s princess dresses -- he’d parade around proudly in pink ruffles, a hard hat and cowboy boots. Loved it. And I took the same women’s studies class that Captain Justice took, you know, the one where the professor explains that gender roles are social constructs of the male hierarchy with no basis in reality and there’s no such thing as mother’s intuition (that one kinda hurt my feelings) and there are no inherent differences between the sexes. And I believed that for a long time. But then I got married (um, different blog post) and I had kids. And I’m not sure I believe that anymore.

Because in my experience, there is a HUGE STARTLING difference between Ava and Rocket, even though I tried to give them gender neutral toys and raise them the same way. And while it could be just personality differences, my experience seems to be shared with lots of other parents, who have experienced similar phenomena in their families. I do however have a huge problem with the idea of excusing rude or thoughtless or physically rough behavior because “boys will be boys” or overly dramatic, silly behavior because “girls will be girls.” Lame. Not cool. Period.

Anyway, I’m sure there are exceptions -- boys who don’t place their penises in funnels or collapse on the floor in hysterics when the dog passes gas. I’m sure there’s one who has more than a 12-second attention span when it comes to tasks he’s not interested in. And I’m sure there are girls who aren’t generally organized, “on task” or helpful with siblings. I just don’t have one of those kids, and there appear to be lots of other mothers who don’t have one either, and it’s fun to chat about it.

It’s fun to be human with other humans, to commiserate and laugh for a moment even if it isn’t politically correct or right or progressive. Sometimes I just want to be real, with other real people. I don't want to be enlightened or deep. I just want to laugh about my life, exactly as it is. Right or wrong. Maybe I am furthering the male hegemony. Maybe I am dead wrong and holding onto archaic 1950s ideas. But I'll tell you one thing I don't doubt, and that is that the toothless lady behind the Goodwill counter, making 8 bucks an hour trying to support her grandkids, probably isn't too interested in engaging in theoretical discourse surrounding the nature of gender identity. She, like me, probably just enjoyed a good laugh.

Photo Credit: jasonpratt.

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