No one would ever accuse my nephew, Mason, of being a picky eater. When asked what he wanted for his birthday dinner, he replied, “Sushi and crab legs.” He’s four…So it came as a surprise when my sister-in-law, Jamie, was recently met with an unwavering refusal in response to her lunchtime suggestion. This is how it went:
Jamie, “Mason, do you want a grill cheese?”
Jamie, “Why? They’re delicious.”
Jamie, “I think you’ll really like it.”
Mason, “NO! I don’t want girl cheese – I’m a boy!”
I love when kids mishear things! Molly has been asking to watch TD since she started talking. I have zero plans for correcting this – is that terrible? (And I won’t get into how often we ask about TD in this house. Let’s just say I’m not “proud.”) I just so enjoy the sweet silliness of hearing these mistakes come out of such innocent and serious faces.
While Mason may have heard the menu item wrong, there is one thing he did get right – he is a boy. And with this acute awareness comes staunch loyalty to everything boy. This allegiance to his gender group does have its benefits. It gives him a sense of self, a sense of belonging and a feeling of connectedness to all other members. However, with this strong affiliation and attachment to his own group comes an unwillingness to open himself up to experiences associated with the opposite sex.
There was no way Mason was going to eat a girl cheese. Those are for girls! Well at least it sure sounds like they are…. I find it so interesting to see where he draws the line. This is the same child who, a minute ago, raced around my neighborhood on Molly’s princess bike, proud and self-assured. I’m sure those days are numbered though, for as Mason continues to create his concept of what it means to be a boy he will become more discriminating when choosing activities in which to be involved.
The same process is true for all children. Kids develop an understanding that they are a particular gender. Then they begin to believe that they should be involved with all things related to their gender and not with the other gender. Once they develop this way of thinking about their world it’s as if a line has been drawn in the sand. I’m a boy. I can’t have anything to do with girls at all. I will be drawn to, engage with, learn from and remember information related to things I deem to be “for me.” If I believe something to be “not for me,” I will avoid it or forget about it.
I know it’s a typical path of development, but it makes me sad to think that these two close cousins may find less common ground as they get older. I sure hope that’s not the case, and I do think there are things we can do to prevent kids from isolating themselves from one another. By increasing contact between boys and girls and providing them opportunities to have positive experiences with one another, we can mitigate a lot of negative consequences of gender segregation. So perhaps with a little encouragement and positive reinforcement, Mason and Molly will eat girl cheese and watch TD together for years to come – without gender getting the way.