The birthday invitation said, "girls only." Even though the birthday girl was close friends with Bud. How to explain then that his sister was invited to the birthday party but not him? So we offered sushi as compensation, but he was still disappointed. As apparently the birthday girl told him (I'll add "gloatingly!") he would be. And when I RSVP'd for Sis, I told her mom as much. A week later, though, the girl changed her mind and invited Bud. And they all had a marvelous time at the party.
But this boy-girl thing is becoming more and more of an issue. We knew that two lesbians raising a son would have it's challenges and we've tried to allay some of the difficulties. As such, we're particularly sensitive to gender issues We've always encouraged the kids to choose their own friends not based on gender but on similarity of interests; we've always let them choose their own toys, be it pink tutus (Bud) or Star Wars action figures (Sis). But their friends are becoming increasingly gender-stratified, as is their world. Gymnastics classes are separated by gender. Scouts are girl or boy. And birthday parties. And sleepovers. Bud, like Sis, would like to have a sleepover with his friends. But his friends are all girls. And I know that it will never happen. Out of habit, I understand; boys and girls don't sleepover. But why? Surely it's rather innocent at 7 or 8?
It got me thinking. Where does this enforced gender separation come from? Do girls and boys themselves want the separation? Sometimes, I think they absolutely do. And developmentally and educationally, there are reasons behind gender segregation, I'm sure (as a feminist, I absolutely recognize the importance of female-only spaces, and by extension male. But don't get me started on our school's new "Father's Club" meant as a counterbalance to the PTA, which is not in essence women only, so why the need for dads to be different? I think it speaks to the comfort--or dis--of the genders communicating and working together.). But I'm speaking beyond simple classes and playdates, about the instillation of the belief, through the ways we treat them (as opposed to the words we intone), that boys and girls have little commonality.
But are parents somehow culpable, too? We tell boys and girls for years that they are different--pink and blue, tutus and action figures, ballet and football. They must internalize this difference and really believe that they are somehow fundamentally different from the other gender. Even when we pay lip service to girls can do what boys do--but why would they believe us? And then, from second grade until junior high, we segregate them in after school activities and playdates, until with hormones raging, they seek each other again, with their heads filled with years of myths, assumptions, stereotypes, but little practical experience, etc of the "Other." No wonder there is so much teenage agita over relationships and sex. Or even adult discomfort--men from Mars, women from Venus; men like football, women like lipstick; men are silent, women talk incessantly; men have Fathers' Club and women have the PTA.
Surely we are all mature enough to recognize these essentialisms as inherently false? How do these stereotypes really serve us? And doesn't the separation of boys and girls do more harm than good?
It's a bit of a leap, but Nicholas Kristoff notes, in Half the Sky, that in countries where the genders are most segregated, namely Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, etc, there are the least rights for women and most violence, even terrorism, from men. It makes me look at even our relatively innocuous gender segregation differently.
And my kids will be inviting their friends--not just a gender--to their birthday party.