cool daddy and pretty mommy

Rubber DucklingThe other day, I bought a new rubber ducky for my 4 year old son.

Son: Is the ducky a boy or girl?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think?

Son: I think… girl.

Me: Why do you think that?

Son [pointing at the corners of his eyes]: Because she has these…

Me: What? Eyelashes?

Son: Yes.

It’s a powerful thing – gender signifiers.  Clearly, during the last four years of his life, he’s seen enough clues to conclude that eyelashes = female.

The day after this conversation, I overheard Son make the following comment to his 2-month old brother in that voice that grown-ups use to talk to babies.  We were in the car driving home from Grandma’s house:

“Hi Danny!  Look out the window!  We’re going home now.  Wait ’til you see Daddy. He’s waiting at home. He’s much cooler than mommy.”

Naturally, as you may have guessed, I interjected:

Me: What?  Daddy is cooler than Mommy?

Son: Yes [very matter of factly].

Me: What makes Daddy cooler?

Son: He’s really good at sports.

Me: What about me?

Son: Well, you are prettier than daddy.  And you’re a good cooker and you’re good at driving a car.

Me: Is that it?

Son: You’re good at pretending to be a princess.

So it turns out I’m a princess, a cook, and a chauffeur rolled into one.

I’ve noticed that Son uses the word “cool” to describe boys and men and usually to signify “good”.  He would never say that his classmate Olivia is cool even though he likes her very much.  His definition of cool?  So far it seems pretty narrow: “Really good at sports.”  And apparently only boys are good at sports.

I’m fascinated by the process by which my kid is learning what he perceives to be gender differences.  He has already said things like “Boys are strong, but girls are not” and “Boys are super heroes but girls can’t be super heroes.”

Me: Is mommy strong?

Son: Yes.

Me: Is mommy a boy?
Son: No! You’re a girl!

Me: See? Girls are strong too.

Son: Yes, mommy.

IMAG1594His point about super heroes [or what he calls “adventure guys”]… that’s harder for me to disprove because there are not many examples of female super heroes.  He and his friends are totally taken by Captain America, Batman, Superman, Ironman, and Thor – they don’t even know Wonder Woman exists.

What do children learn from us about being boys and girls?  And how will their observations inform the kind of boy/man or girl/woman they become and how they treat each other?

Could the rubber ducky, with eyelashes and all, be a boy after all?

[The funny thing is… Daddy’s not particularly athletic.  He’s a huge football fan.  He played tennis in high school, plays golf time to time, and throws/kicks the ball around with Son once in awhile, but I wouldn’t describe him as “athletic” and neither would he.]

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