What's gender got to do with it?

Boy or girl - doesn't matter, right?  Right!  And wrong.  The gender of a baby matters in ways that have nothing to do with value judgments or personal preference.  One of the most common things people ask me whether I would prefer a boy or a girl.  I suppose there are some people that freely answer this question one way or the other, but not me.  I can't.  And I won't, even if I could.

There was a time when I knew that I wanted a girl.  Three girls, actually.  Hope, Faith, and ... Love? Peace?  EarthMoonSunshine?  I forget.  This was yeeeears ago...circa 5th grade.  Circa Jennifer Love Hewitt, Party of Five, and apparently some kind of hippie influence.  Now I can honestly say that I don't have a "preference."  I have fears.  And concerns.  And I also dream about the fun little things that come with raising a boy or a girl.

The fact is, having a boy or girl does not matter to ME, but it does matter.  I studied gender long enough to know that boys and girls grow up differently and probably have some innate differences as well.  By the time children are 8-10 months old they have started developing a gender identity.  They learn that they are male or female in the same way they learn that the sky is blue.  From the moment they are born, in fact probably before that, we start to treat them differently.  Boys are more likely to be complemented for being "smart," "strong," or doing a good job.  Girls are more likely to get compliments about their looks- their cute shoes, pretty hair, or sweet smile.  (Here is a great blog about this very conundrum.) 

I've heard parents say that they tried to raise their kids "gender neutral," but each time it became impossible.  That makes sense to me.  Studies have shown that boys and girls tend to be naturally attracted to more "male" or "female" activities, toys, and behaviors.  Not true in every case, of course, just tendencies.  And we can't necessarily control that.  We can't control the messages kids get from other adults and kids.  And then we have our own limitations.  I have probably complimented little girls' clothing and hair 1.8 million times without thinking anything of it.  We do these things!  We all live in a gendered world.

And I know the world will not be a fair and balanced place for my children.  These fears go beyond gender too.  Chances are we not resolve sexism, homophobia, poverty, and the hundreds of our other social blemishes before my kids are grown.  But this doesn't make me "wish" for a boy any more than a girl.  It's not like that.

There is a fascinating and wonderful scene in the movie, The Family Stone, that my family watches every Christmas.  Sarah Jessica Parker's character tries to make a point about how it's a tough world out there, and even tougher if you are gay, and so doesn't every parent hope for a "normal" child?  Diane Keaton is the mother of the five Stone children, one of whom is gay.  She and the father, Craig T. Nelson, have such a fantastic response.  They remind me of my parents and of Jake's.

This video should start at the 3:15 mark - if you want to see the whole train wreck from the top, go to YouTube. I love this movie!


I think that all any parent hopes for is that their child will have the courage he or she will need to face life's inevitable unfairness.  I hope that I will find the way to pass that on to my kids.  Whether they are boy, girl, alien or superhero.