Not Quite What I Expected

Wilson Diehl

Wilson Diehl
Seattle, Washington, USA
March 09
You can find more of Wilson Diehl's work on Babble, Salon, and her blog, She's also published some poems in some places and made a short film called "How to Go on a Man Date." She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Iowa and teaches writing at Hugo House in Seattle.


Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 17, 2011 9:52AM

Not All Gender Stereotypes Are Evil

Rate: 6 Flag

When I imagined having kids, I always and not-at-all-secretly wanted to have a girl. I emotionally prepared myself for sons well before I started having babies—before I’d started having sex, come to think of it (late (nerdy) bloomer!)—because I’d minored in Women’s Studies in college and figured I was destined for sons, and I didn’t want the inevitable boys to feel the sting of knowing their mom had once had a strong preference for an offspring she could go shopping with.

While the idea of a gaggle of sisters filled me with glee (even if they turned out not to be shoppers), I was fine with having a boy in addition to a daughter. It’s interesting and educational to watch gender differences play out under your very own roof as your daughter picks up a baby doll dressed in pink and cradles it in her arms and your son picks up a baby doll dressed in blue and cradles it in his arms. Just kidding! I know that boys would sooner poke our their eyes with the appendage of a Transformer than play with a doll! No boy plays with dolls! Only girls play with dolls! All girls! Every single girl on the planet!

This is all to say I’ve grown frustrated with some gender stuff floating around my mom’s group lately. Now that the kids are old enough to express their opinions and preferences, it’s become evident that the boys love trucks and trains and buses and balls and something else that I always forget—oh, yes, lots and lots of anonymous sex.

“Are girls like this?” the moms of boys marvel as their sons fight over who gets to ride on the molded plastic choo choo. Let’s see… Trucks, check. Trains and buses, check. Balls, check. Anonymous sex? Time will tell.

I realize it’s a matter of degree—my daughter is not obsessed with balls or modes of transportation, she merely likes pointing them out when she sees them. And I would not for a second argue that we aren’t born with inherent gender differences. I’m just saying, isn’t it more interesting to marvel over the ways our children don’t conform to type? Like when your toddler son picks up a doll and doesn’t throw it across the room or your daughter picks up a Transformer and says, “More than meets the eye! Robots in disguise!” My daughter, incidentally, would never do this. If she were presented with a Transformer, she would try to feed it wa-wa from her cupped hands and possibly suggest a snack and/or a nap.

But who cares about that?! My girl loves her some train and some bus. She seems to particularly appreciate the two-part articulated buses, which inspire her to call out, “Bus! Choo-choo!” which, in my humble, demonstrates a strong understanding of how big a bus should and should not be before it is relegated to the tracks.

Gender stuff is tricky. I love that my daughter loves spotting buses, and I love that she offers water to every creature she meets—real or imaginary, animate or carbon-free. (A few weeks ago she looked up in the evening sky and cried out, “Moon!” and then proceeded to hold up her sippy cup of milk so the moon could partake. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life, and let me tell you, I’ve seen some cute shit. To wit—at the moment she's upstairs in her crib supposed to be napping but instead she's alternating between singing and saying, "Aye-yi-yi!")

I hope that my girl will grow up feeling like she can do whatever she wants, irrespective of her gender. And I hope that she will grow up liking lots of the same girly stuff as me.

Yesterday I had to return some shoes to the mall, so I packed the baby and her entourage of stuffed animals into the car and off we went. I was determined to make it in and out before she pitched any kind of bored fit—zooooom to the cash register, zooooom back out the door. But as we headed out into the first warm, yummy rays of sun we’ve had for a million and one days, the baby started to cry and pointed back toward the mall. “More!”

More what?

“More shoe.”

Ahhhh… That’s my girl.

More shoe. Yes, baby. More shoe for sure. A life together full of more shoe.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Wilson, I know that there are inherent gender differences, it is not all socialization. I know that because my daughter and she's my only child, went to a pre-school in Cambridge MA where feminism raged.

The moms were mostly way younger than I and they were horrified that the boys played Rockets and the girls pretended to be cats. There was virutally no overlap. As one who was in the feminist movement in the 60's and was a late in life parent, I was just fascinated by what we had gotten wrong.

So all to say I agree. One thing here is that I missed how the boy is so old and the baby is a girl. But it's morning in Europe and before coffee. Rated
I love to think about this, but I don't think it is okay, at least not where boys are concerned. Studies show that boys are held less, touched less, and nurtured less than girls, even by parents who are smart and aware of the different ways we socialize our children. That's because it is deeply ingrained in us that boys should be tough, and girls should be dainty. Boys are toughened up from birth. There's nothing "natural" about boys that dictates they should solve their problems with fighting, or bottle up their emotions rather than confide, etc. Nor is there anything inherent about girls that mandates they be nice, passive, and submissive. So, I disagree with you: Gender stereotypes, to the extent they limit people, are bad.
I think we used to try to mitigate gender differences by saying they were a product of nurture, and we did it because boy-dominant (sort of the default gender, then) traits were over-valued. When girl-traits began to be scrutinized for equal value, it started to be ok to see gender-based differences.
I've found that yes, most girls like dolls, and most guys go through a trucks phase. That's all well and good, as long as they aren't pressured to go one direction or another. The trends themselves aren't bad but holding someone to them is when the trouble starts.