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Well, this is a question that has been gnawing me since I got married. I am an only child and I grew up with my aunts(my mom’s sisters) and went to a girls-only school. I had few men friends in college but that was not good enough for me to look deep in to the male psyche.

Ever since I got married, I discovered that hubby and self are yin and yang, not in the nice complementing each other way! We have the exact opposite reaction to any situation. He is calm, composed, balanced, never gets overly excited, a bit of a cynic and thinks with his head. I am easily excitable, swing from happy to sad before one can snap their fingers and think with my heart. Really how different are men and women? Are all men and women this different?

With this in mind, I observe children at play. The four year olds I work with show clear segregation in terms of gender. They even want to stand in two separate lines, “the boys line” and the “girls line”, while they go to the play ground. I asked them why they want separate lines, the girls said, “The boys don’t use walking feet. Once he pushed me down and I got a boo-boo on my knee”, the boys just said, “No”, that’s all nothing more.

I mean, there is a difference even in the style in which they answer. The girls have an elaborate answer, they run and we don’t like to run, so we will have our own line, thanks. The boys use very limited words, don’t explain all their actions, their attitude was like, “Isn’t it obvious, why do you even ask?”.

Observing more, the boys played with toy trucks, each one holding a truck, ramming the trucks head on, repetitively. They played with blocks, each one holding a block, ramming them head on, repetitively. They played with (toy)garden equipments like shovels, rakes, lawn mowers, each one holding one piece of toy, ramming them and yes they did it repetitively. While playing dress-up(“No Ms.A, only girls dress up. We are wearing a costume.” was the response I got from a gentleman when I asked if they want to play dress up!) they picked fire fighter hats, spider man masks, police man uniforms and rammed their heads, of course, repetitively! They didn’t want anything to do with the so-called “girl toys”

The girls loved to read books, played in the sand, danced to music, dressed up as princesses/cooks/nurses, didn’t mind playing with “boy toys”, wanted to paint and do more art work in class.

There is more, the boys preferred repetition, the girls preferred variety. The boys wanted more out door activities, the girls wanted more in door activities. Girls preferred girls only groups, the boys didn’t mind a girl in their group as long as she was equally rough and tough. When there was a problem the girls voiced their complaint to an authority figure, where as boys dealt with it by them selves…and the list goes on.

Such deep preferences and segregation in terms of behavior at such an early age? It makes me wonder about the reasons influencing this. First comes the biological differences, the second culprit is gender typing by parents and the third culprit is peer acceptance.

As a sense of self develops, gender awareness also develops in a child. Apart from a few biological differences, which are mostly hormonal or genetic, there are no notable differences in terms of a boy’s brain or a girl’s brain or in the way boys and girls develop till they are 18 months.

Around 18 months, the child learns the concept of self and visualizes its role in the society through it maleness or femaleness. Irrespective of whether the parents believe in gender segregation or gender equality, they promote gender typing. The degree might be different, but it is present in all families. Sometimes parents are very cautious not to fall in to gender stereotypes, they might get an easy bake oven for their son or a construction set for their daughter. By telling that it is okay for a boy to play with girl toy, is a type of gender typing in a convoluted way! Research indicates that fathers are more likely to gender type than mothers! Can you believe it? Apparently fathers consciously or unconsciously interact with boys through rough play and are more sensitive to girls. An adult in this house, who shall not be named at this time, once commented that he will teach the girls sports like tennis, basket ball, cricket and bring them up as boys. Understand the subliminal gender typecasting folks?! Plight of boys is even worse. They are very strongly gender typed than girls. At least girls have a level of freedom in their choice of dresses, games and playmates. Imagine how much the parents will be freaking out, the father more than the mother according to researches, if the boy dresses in pink, plays with dolls and only with girls and likes wearing his mommies jewellery?!

As the child grows, gender gets more and more defined by interacting with peers and other adults. This basically seals the issue once and for all. At this point of time even if there is a little bit of femaleness in a boy (the other way around is accepted, it considered tomboy-ish-ness) he gives it up or masks it. A child is quick to take up gender labels for the sake of peer acceptance.

Phew, now what does this means for us parents? Even if you believe that men and women are equal, your child will definitely learn about gender inequality, may be a little later, but it is something we cannot avoid.

If you want to raise a rough and tough girl or a sensitive boy, don’t push it on the child. Be sensitive to what the child wants. Once in a while it is okay if your boy plays with dolls. It does not mean anything. And if your girl is too girl-ish, just go along with it.

If your three year old boy makes a sexist comment, don’t freak out. It does not mean that you are a bad parent. Children learn from lots of places beside home – TV, school, friends, other adults. Correct him and be a role model. The child is merely going through a phase. He will eventually learn.