Thursday, May 20, 2010


I recently read in a self-named “scientific” magazine that the stereotypes assigned to boys and girls (and subsequently assigned to men and women), are “dangerous” and culturally determined. While not concluding that girls should necessarily begin to break things and play with trucks and boys should nurture Barbie dolls and wear dresses, that was clearly the bias.

I won’t bore you with the qualifiers and disqualifiers throughout the eight pages of the story, but suffice it to say, it was full of words like, may, might, suggests, possible, seem to, appear to and likely to.

Well. If that doesn’t clear things up for us, I don’t know what will.

Join me as we pop in to yet another research room where the differences between boys and girls are being studied.

Meet Mack, Shaq and Zac, the three boys being studied by Dr. Billi, (yes, with an “i”) the somewhat gender-ambiguous man with the clipboard.

Dr. Billi shows them a short video of himself playing tea time dress-up with his sisters when he was a young boy. At the conclusion of the video, Dr. Billi stands up tall and says, “See boys? Real men like the softer side of life too.”

Next he shows them a video of his wife, Dr. Billy, (yes, with a “y”) when she was a little girl. She was screaming and laughing while beating the snot out of her older brothers so that she could play with their plastic soldiers and Tonka trucks. At the conclusion of that video, Dr. Billi says, “See boys? Real women like to beat up guys too and make them pay for trying to put them into some sort of pink box for the rest of their lives.”

Dr. Billy walks into the room, thick smoke massaging her face and billowing out from her hair, carrying a heavy box of trucks and dolls. With a non-gender-specific but nonetheless manly grunt, she drops the box to the floor and kicks it over, splaying the trucks and dolls. She spits in the palm of her hand then puts out her cigar in it, crushing the butt into a muddy looking ball of brown leaves and ash. She takes a shop rag out of the pocket of her dress, wipes her hand clean with it, then with unerring accuracy, tosses it twenty feet into a tiny mesh wastebasket.

In a voice that sounds way too much like Marilyn Monroe’s, she rather quietly says, “Okay boys, which toys would you like to play with?”

Mack, Shaq and Zac scramble for the biggest, baddest trucks they can find, scooping them up and then running to a corner of the room. With metronome-like timing, they begin pounding them on the floor and in unison begin chanting, “We like trucks. We like trucks. We like trucks.”

Drs. Billi and Billy both shake their heads. Dr. Billi checks the box on the form on his clipboard that indicates, “Culturally spoiled. Considered armed and dangerous.”

Now meet Patty, Maddie and Hattie, three girls in a second research room.

Dr. Billy walks in, makes some small talk for about 45 minutes, then shows the girls the same two videos. After each, they engage in more conversation.

Finally, Dr. Billi walks in with the box of toys, and gently places it on the floor. With ballet-like grace he empties the contents.

Dr. Billy says to the girls, “Okay Patty, Maddie and Hattie, remember what we discussed about glass ceilings and mean people. Now which toys would you like to play with?”

The girls look at each other, whisper something that neither Dr. Billi nor Dr. Billy can hear, then pick up the prettiest dolls they can find, gently holding them to their hearts and walk over to the quiet corner of the room. They look up at the doctors, and with barely audible voices they say, “Shhhhhh. Don’t wake them up. But we like dolls. We like dolls. We like dolls.”

Again, Drs. Billy and Billi shake their heads. Dr. Billy checks the box on the form on her clipboard that indicates, “Societally tainted. Unarmed but dangerous.”

So here’s what I suggest. Instead of trying to get girls to play with trucks or guys to play with dolls, let’s encourage them both to play with ideas and possibilities.

Whether you put boys in blue boxes or pink boxes, they’re still boxes. And the same goes for girls. Because the boxes are someone else’s bias. The solution?

Get rid of the boxes. You might be surprised at the pleasant results.

1 comment:

  1. You're right. Boxes are almost always about somebody elses bias. Get rid of the boxes.
    Instead, let's puit them in balloons.