Then she turned two. The automobiles and blocks became buried in the toy chest beneath the baby dolls, stuffed animals, and tutus. She began to request books that had female central characters, eager to point out that the main girl on each page was named "Elana". And, she began to choose her own clothing.
It began with a pink sleeveless dress from Target. She picked it out herself. The dress was nothing fancy, just cotton with a white flower on the front, and seemed fairly comfortable (yet, slightly inappropriate for the cool San Francisco summers). However, it must have contained something magical that only a toddler can detect, because she wore that very dress every day for two and a half months; only agreeing to take it off at night to be washed with the day's laundry. After realizing that she had the power of choice, she began to wear only pink (preferably light pink) dresses and pants, absolutely no t-shirts. Other colors were only tolerated if they were accompanying the pink central theme of the outfit.
With daughter #2, I didn't fight exposing her to traditional gender clothing and toys. Although I did offer her cars and balls, I also let her wear more pink and purple. Maisy was exposed very early to the enchanted land of Disney princesses, Barbies, and body glitter. She already owns one sweater with Ariel embroidered on the front, and two pairs of pajamas with various other Disney characters. Now, with Maisy just three months shy of turning two, she is beginning to relate to the female characters in books, shows a strong preference for dolls versus trucks, and has a highly developed penchant toward the color "pulpul" (purple).
According to many child psychologists nature happened. Since the wide spread usage of MRI's and PET scans, researchers have found more than 100 differences between the male and female brains, in areas from sight (girl babies can better perceive pattern, texture, and color), to smell (females have a higher defined sense of smell), and to touch (the most sensitive baby boy is less sensitive than the least sensitive girl). Brain scans have also shown that the section of the brain, the ventral prefrontal cortex, which helps in the recognition of emotions and relationships, is larger in women than men.
Physically, males tend to be larger, not only in body size, but brain size too. Even though boys and girls, in general, start crawling and walking at the same time, boys move around much more (wiggling, jittering, and running up and down the halls), and are more likely than their female counterparts to end up in the emergency room. (This might also be due to boys expressing fear, and less of it, at a later age than girls. Boys tend to disregard the warnings of their parents, while tend girls to obey their mothers when they holler "Sally, do not climb to the top of that rock wall and dangle your torso off the ledge!")
Girl infants reach verbal milestones earlier than boys. Not just their first words, but also eye contact and understanding. By 16 months of age the average girl has as many as 100 words in her repertoire, while the 16-month old boy only has about 30. Even as infants girls are better listeners. They are more likely to become engaged in your facial expressions and maintain eye contact while talking.
However, the differences between the sexes increase as we age. As much as nature pre-programs babies towards a certain sex, socialization definitely adds to the differences.
In 1975 Phyllis Katz conducted her famous "Baby X" study. In her study, adult participants were introduced to 3-month-old Baby X, who they were told was either a girl or a boy. When they were handed "Mary", the adults cuddled her, spoke softly and gave her dolls. When handed "Johnny", they were more playful and offered him footballs.
Overtime, girls learn to be polite, while boys learn to be honest. Campbell Leaper, of the University of California, and ABC News conducted a casual lemonade study wherein they used salt instead of sugar to make the juice. After tasting the drink, boys gave frank answers, such as "Blech! This tastes terrible." The girls, on the other hand, answered politely: "Mmm. Thank you, this is delicious."
The blunt assertiveness of males and the over-politeness of females can become detriments later in life- both socially and in the work force. So, as any overly self conscious and involved parent asks: Can we do anything to alleviate this? Child development specialist Susan Witt offers these tips:
- Allow your girls to struggle- don't jump right in and give help at the first sign of trouble. This encourages them to take risks, as well as instills self confidence.
- Give your daughters choices and allow them to make decisions. Girls who know how to form opinions about their own wardrobe, food, and toys are more likely assert herself later in life.
- Encourage politeness in boys- that means manners and proper social behavior. Have the same social expectations for a son as you would have for a daughter.
|(Photo courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung)|
Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, a child psychologist, maintains that parents need not worry if their preschool age daughter is only interested in baby dolls and princesses, or if their son has a one-track mind for trucks; the crucial part is that they are presented with different choices and not limited to their traditional gender based toys. Access to a variety of play can be found in settings outside the home- daycare, preschool, and friend's houses.
So, I guess that I won't be so concerned that my own little imps would rather play Toddlers and Tiaras than soccer. Yesterday Ted gave each daughter one of his practice tennis balls, which were half pink! They were each very excited and eager to bounce them around the house for the first five minutes. However, when that novelty wore off, Maisy tried to feed her ball milk in a pretend bottle, and Elana just handed it to me and said, "I don't need this anymore."