Hello my old OS friends. It's been far too long. How are you?
Today I wrote a blog post about observing the differences between my boy and my girl. In the comments, I said that I believe that boys and girls are wired differently. This lead to somewhat of a discussion on Twitter about the truth of gender differences, nature v. nurture and stuff like that.
Because it's incredibly difficult to have discussions in 140 characters, I wanted to move the conversation to here. So I invite you to check out the post and my comment that followed and let me know what you think? Am I crazy to say that boys and girls are wired differently? Have you found this to be true?
Remember this is meant to be a conversation, not an attack on gender, feminism or anything like that.
I'll start...a few years ago I saw a news report about a school who was trying to use stool type chairs instead of standard ones. The thing that caught my attention was how they said these stools helped boys because boys are largely unable to stop figiting. I remembered this when at 4 1/2, I noticed the Bean was unable to sit still. I would be hanging out with him on his bed chatting about the day and he would be turning upside down, putting his feet up and generally moving around during the conversation. I have found the exact opposite with my daughter.
I think it is difficult to say that it's an essential brain difference. In part because, as our neurologist explained it, different neuron combinations form and fire in a baby's brain based on stimuli from the world and parents (especially parents). So if you go into it thinking "my baby is a girl" or "my baby is a boy" you automatically start behaving differently to your child and their brains adapt to that stimuli and those expectations (side note, I've said it before and I'll say it again, the best thing to come out of the whole brain damage thing was getting to see the two MRI's of how much Smudge's brain lit up in the first six weeks of his life. SO COOL).
I've also read that we perceive differences between men and women as much greater than we perceive differences between two men or two women, even if the size of the difference is the same.
I find the science on this whole thing to be suspect anyway. Historically, scientists spent more than 100 years trying to prove women were naturally less intelligent because their brains were smaller. This was, of course, a faulty hypothesis, but unfortunately scientific hypothesis are made by scientists who also live in society. This doesn't mean there can't be valid science on the subject, but it always leads me to ask why the hypothesis was made. Why prove that boys and girls are wired differently? To what end? And what does that mean for the boys or girls or third or fourth gender category folks who don't fit this paradigm?
The Tinyness is a girl, she is fidgety and jumps on beds and climbs on top of everything and must run around and cannot sit still for more that 45 seconds. She plays with dolls but they are as likely to be demons killing each other as to be sisters who put each other to bed by singing songs. Some people and kids adhere more closely to gender norms than others and confirmation biases ensure that those are the people and instances we are more likely to remember on average.
I don't know. I think it's probably completely impossible to know for sure. I do know that male fetuses miscarry at higher rates, infant mortality is higher for boys, and boys have higher rates of learning disabilities. So clearly there's SOME innate difference, but what effect those differences have on behavior is a mystery.
McGlory...From your comment I realize that my phrase "boys and girls are wired differently" is a bit misleading towards my actual meaning. I'm not a scientist so I haven't studied the actual wiring of boys and girls. I mean it more figuratively but now see how my wording works against that.
All kids are individuals. And there are many kids like Tinyness who go against "norms". I've noticed a marked difference between my kids as people, but they also tend to fall along those lines. Based on the microcosm of my friends' kids, the same seems to be true.
There is no way to really know how much influence we have upon this. Tried as I might to raise my son as a little fanboy loving nerdling, he's choosing to go his own way. Did painting my daughter's room pink help craft her identity?
All I know is from my own experiences, my daughter has razor sharp focus and attention to detail, while my son (as I've mentioned) is a human wrecking ball.
"Why prove that boys and girls are wired differently? To what end?"
In part, I think it has to do with our generation’s constant need to reassure ourselves that we’re not “bad” parents. A lot of us came to parenting informed by childhood "Free to be You and Me" and 1990’s PC sensibilities. So our first instinct is to blame ourselves when our boys go all Lord of the Flies and our girls swaddle their toy hammers in baby blankets and covet all things pink. By deciding it's because of biological differences, we let ourselves off the hook.
Of course, that’s a “hook” we aren’t really on in the first place. There’s a world of nurture beyond us parents. My kids discovered their most binary-gendered differences from friends at preschool with older siblings. A lot of the Star Wars/pink love has more to do with them being social creatures, adapting to what their friends like.
My kids do tend to behave according to stereotypical binary-gender roles. But, like McG said, there’s a lot going on with how we interpret what we’re seeing. For example, The Boy loves math, Little Girl loves reading. But The Boy consistently scores a few points higher on his standardized reading tests than on math, and Little Girl’s got some mad math skillz, too. I think a lot of their differences can be attributed to temperament. And to the difference between Aspergers and neurotypical.
And that raises another point…why are more boys than girls diagnosed with autism, Aspergers, and ADHD? That’s worth studying, I think. Is there a real biological reason for why boys are more susceptible? Or do girls with these disorders simply present differently? (I read this in the NYT recently: “Girls with [Aspergers], one theory went, were overlooked because their shyness was tolerated more and ‘mother hen’ friends might shield them from the worst social isolation.” Intriguing.)
I just picked up an interesting book on the topic: Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps--and What We Can Do About it. Unfortunately, I haven't even cracked the cover yet.
But, I think cautiousness is owed in the area. When we make broad statements: how does it make kids who don't fit the norms feel? My understanding (but I don't have a source) is that society can be pretty tough for the the girls "who don't sit still" because they aren't living up to their proscribed gender norms. Why not just note "some kids prefer to sit still more than others" and not worry about which of them has a penis? And I get annoyed when people talk about sweet, caring girls who like to play with dolls because my boy (who doesn't sit still well) is a doll expert and is an excellent caretaker of his dolls. I don't want him to hear that it is something he isn't supposed to do. Preschool is at an age where kids are sorting out differences between people but I don't want him thinking that those differences are absolutes.
I think about the matter personally because I recently read (source) that three-year-old girls with older brothers have better spatial skills than those without. I had rock star math skills, but never figured out how to convert them to 3-D. I've spent time wondering recently if I had been the younger child, more exposed to Legos and blocks, how my spatial skills would have been different.
So, basically I'm willing to acknowledge that there are difference but I don't see how we would ever know what is what when we (both parents--even when we try not to--and society at large) treat them differently from before they are even born. Like FP, I am interested in research in differences, but it's got to be a real challenge from researcher to sort them out.
Well said Daria.
For the record, the Bean proudly wears nail polish--which I fully endorse.
I just got back from the sweetest production on "Talking with students about sexual orientation and gender identity" presented by a range of students from 6th-11th grades. Can I just say that I am so hopeful that all of the coercive genderization stuff will someday be behind us? (Please nobody burst my bubble tonight. All the professional, confident middle schoolers talking about how gender and sexuality are individual, not something for stereotypes or labels! I melt!)
That said, I think it's more interesting to understand what drives adult interest in the significance of gender as something that determines personal qualities, when it's a matter of everyone's experience that there is as much range within as between genders on important human characteristics (intelligence, sensitivity, bravery, assholery, gabbiness, etc.) Wow - now I was just motivated to go look and see what was happening over at I Blame the Patriarchy.
Here's my thought of the tired moment: everyone encounters gender in a new way at different life stages. For the people learning to be human, it's a new set of rules that they get good at, like they get good at language and putting on clothes. For the people who are more practiced at being human, it's about finding loopholes and opportunities - the social advancement through golf games or mommyblogging. I think it's mostly like any other grouping - religion, ethnic origin, alma mater - an important social construct that's what you make of it.
Another thing to consider - kids are pattern recognizing machines and over-apply rules when they think they have figured them out. For those of you who have made it to the language explostion stage of toddlerhood, consider the grammar "rules" that kids will not only use but correct you on ("its sheepS, Mommy, not sheep", "I read-ed a book to my doll, Daddy!").
It wouldn't surprise me if some of the pre-school exaggeration of socially constructed feminine/masculine behavior (girls like pink and wear dresses/boys like blue and like trucks) is part of the kid tendency to over-apply rules they pick up from media and adult cues. I have seen LOTS of dress-loving girls in kindergarten turn into hard-core "tomboys" by middle school.
Or do girls with these disorders simply present differently?
Personally, my bias is towards this one. I think the correlation between genders and specific learning disabilities, neurological differences, etc are overestimated, because I think we measure in a biased way. The tendency is to measure (unintentionally, I believe) or assess with a diagnosis already in mind. But because they are overestimated, we expect to see more of them and then diagnosing more of them becomes easier, the numbers go up etc. etc. etc.
It's like a mobius strip.
If I learned anything at all in my meanderings through higher education, it is that correlation is not causation, and proof by induction isn't proof at all, but prediction.
This sounds more like a personality thing than a gender difference to me. My daughter is only 16 months, but so far she plays in pretty much he same way my son did. Neither of them have been too into toys - mostly they just want to throw Cds and channel changers around in the toddler stage. Both of them seem to have way too much energy. The only real difference I've noticed is that my daughter likes "stuffies" and my son never paid any attention to them.