Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hardest to Raise? Boys? Girls? Dead-End Debate Continues

My mother-in-law swears she'd never have had four kids if she'd had the two boys first instead of two girls. Other parents swear it's the girls who require more time and energy. Last week I shepherded around my two daughters plus several nieces - and got more than a few sympathetic glances. One woman looked relieved knowing they weren't all sisters.


Paula Spencer resurrected the debate over at CNN.com ( "Is it harder to raise boys or girls?").

Hey, I enjoy discussions of gender as much if not more than the average parent. My dissertation involved gender discrimination. I earned a certificate in Women's Studies in college. As a researcher I always checked for gender differences in my analyses. There was no question over whether I would find out the gender of my unborn children.

You could say as a social psychologist who often worked on gender-related research, I'm clued in to this topic in a big way. I've also birthed two girls and a boy and have witnessed gender differences, both real and imagined, up close. Yes, boys are generally more physically active. Girls generally more verbal. We all get that. Social psychologist have been documenting these gender differences since before Billie Jean beat Bobby Riggs.


But frankly, I'm tired of of this talk about boys being little demons, or girls, drama queens. How about individual differences? Surely personality and other non-gender related traits account for a lot more grey hairs and sleepless nights. The other thing about group differences, they apply to the group. Not individuals. Overall, boys exhibit a bit more aggression. Not necessarily your son or the boy next door.

Anyhow, we get too trapped in gender stereotypes. I know, it's hard not to see our children as boys or girls. And it starts right away. My old advisor, Lee Jussim over at The Social Perception Lab at Rutgers once dressed his baby boy in either pink or blue and wouldn't you know it, the color choice influenced people's reports and reactions to the little fellow. Not hard to imagine. But I'd hate to think I've limited my children by perceiving them in terms of their gender. But I've also allowed them to fully explore their own gender. There's some evidence children who are more aware of gender stereotypes and gender roles exhibit more cross-gender behavior later in life. Barbie's not looking so bad now, eh?

Gender's here to stay. But it doesn't have to be the Boogey Man or rather, Boogey Person.


You can say one child has been easier than another. Go right ahead. But please don't pin it on gender. As a feminist, a social psychologist, and a mother of two girls and a boy, I don't want to hear about how your "son" or "daughter" wears you down.

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