I am the mother of a boy. I grew up with a sister, but no brothers. I had plenty of experience babysitting and teaching boys before this boy of mine came into being, but it is fair to say that the world of little boys was foreign to me.
In many respects, my son is a great deal like me. In him I recognize my way of thinking, my approach to problem solving, my compulsion for organization. At the same time, I see in him things that are all together different from me: he likes weaponry and destruction; loud noises thrill him; we are never far away from a stick or a rock that must be retained for unnamed future games.
He often attributes these differences to the fact that I am a girl. I can't say that he's wrong. In fact, he's quite interested in the differences between boys and girls and we have interesting conversations about such issues. In his second grade class of 15 children, there are 10 boys and 5 girls. When we discuss his school day each afternoon, reflections on gender nearly always appear. He announced today that the girls all have tidy desks, whereas some of the boys are, in his words "so messy I wonder how they find anything" obviously, my young man isn't in this category). He's not surprised by this difference and in fact seems to expect it.
The teacher uses a number system to encourage good behavior: your first infraction is a 1, then a 2, on 3 you need to take a break from the classroom and sit in the "thinking chair." A few days ago he mentioned that a number of boys earned a 2 that day. "What about the girls?" I asked. He looked at me like I was insane and explained, "Girls don't get on numbers."
I allowed that maybe a girl would get in trouble some day. He paused and asked, "Did you get in trouble in school?"
"No," I answered.
"Exactly," he responded.
Sometimes I worry that he takes such a stark view of gender roles. But then I remember the comfort that structure and set expectations bring to children. I remind myself that I'm a good feminist and surely I'm showing him the multi-faceted world of gender roles.