I Am Nine Years Old*

I just had the January 2017 National Geographic delivered to my house.  It is a special issue on “Gender Revolution” which examines our entrenched and evolving biases towards males and females.  Page 30 is titled “I Am Nine Years Old: Children Across the World Tell Us How Gender Affects Their Lives.” A cultural cross section of nine year olds from 80 households across 4 continents are asked seven questions pertaining to gender because “Children at this age are unquestionably taking account of their own possibilities-and the limits gender places on them.”  I was intrigued by the questionnaire because my son turned nine on December 12.  He can be a soulful little kid sometimes so this morning after he made us pancakes (I woke up to him whispering a question of how much flour and baking powder is needed and after I jotted down the recipe he measured, mixed and fried up the pancakes) I asked if it would be okay to ask him seven questions.  Here are the seven questions posed in National Geographic and my son’s answers:

1)What’s the best thing about being a boy?

70% of the time boys are more athletic than girls.  We’re very athletic.

2)What’s the worst thing about being a boy?

People make fun of us if we wear girly clothes like dresses, lip gloss, nail polish.

3)How might your life be different if you were a girl instead of a boy?

I wouldn’t be made fun of for girly stuff like dresses, nail polish, lip gloss or dolls.

4)What do you want to be when you grow up?

An engineer or geologist because I like learning about minerals and the value of gems.  An engineer because I like building stuff and creating stuff.

5)What is something that makes you sad?

Grumpy and harsh parents. People bullying me – but it also makes me very angry.

(Me in my head:  Ouch.)

6)What makes you happy?

Family is number one.

(Me in my head:  Thank God.  I haven’t messed you up too much yet.)

7)If you could change something in your life or in the world, what would it be?

Better care of the environment.  Invent new stuff that will keep the environment clean like electric cars, solar panels, electric scooters or bikes.  Keep people from using that stuff in spray cans that wrecks the atmosphere.


Just for fun I decided to ask my three and a half year old the same questions.

1)What’s the best thing about being a girl?

Sliding on a crazy slide.

2)What’s the worst thing about being a girl?

Going on a creepy slide with ghosts and zombies.

3)How might your life be different if you were a boy instead of a girl?

I would be grown up.

4)What do you want to be when you grow up?

A princess.

5)What is something that makes you sad?

Parents.

(Double Ouch. I sense a theme here.)

6)What makes you happy?

Happy parents.

(Okay.  I get it.)

7)If you could change something in your life or in the world, what would it be?

I could change into a butterfly.


After these insightful answers from my nine and 3 1/2 year old I’m led to believe they will buffer society’s expectations only as well as the padding of love and support I and their Dad offer them.  My daughter believes ghosts and zombies won’t torment her specifically because she’s a girl.  Rather, they are scary for girls and boys alike because childhood, whatever setting or context, is a shared experience.  Parents will passively or assertively influence the choices that are offered whether it be dolls, guns, domesticity or education because we’re not perfect specimens of parental nurturing.  We are constantly taking the temperature of gender equality and pushing our offspring to categorize themselves in the roles on offer-preferably highest in the hierarchy.

When my son went to daycare, I was blown away by the partitioning of interests among the majority of boys and girls.  Up until that point, I thought gender neutrality was possible.  I was wrong.  The girls liked dolls and playing house and the boys spent inordinate amounts of time vrooming.  They occasionally dabbled in other spheres:  my son would play the baby when the girls played house.  He sometimes wore dresses and frequently wore my Mardi Gras beads and gaudy faux diamond bracelets.  Eventually, the three year old girls asserted only girls could wear jewellery.  The boys didn’t care and I could point out several male rappers that blinged while they swaggered.  It seemed there was a gender partition of interests but tastes were imposed.  Unlike the body paint and finery of men in tribal cultures, many men and boys have few options to add striking color to their mundane palette.  No wonder mossy oak camouflage is so popular among white males in patriarchal communities.  Is the camouflage nature of their fashion an unconscious nod to their stylistic suppression?

My parents told me and my sister we were amazing when we forgot and we forgot frequently from the ages of 13-23. We were reminded enough to make us believe that we were capable of anything.  I’m not a perfect parent and I’m sure I’ll stumble along to get it right just like my parents did but I’m also pretty sure my kids will never doubt I and their Dad are their biggest fans.  The balance will be found in recognizing and supporting their gender differences while giving them freedom to explore and find comfort in whomever they need to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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