The first time it hit me that he and boys his age were different from the girls in some intrinsic way was when my daughter was born and I wheeled her stroller into his preschool class of 3 and 4 year olds. The girls literally flocked to the stroller, standing in a circle around us, excited to see the baby. The boys in the room didn’t seem to notice I was there. This happened many times. Now that my daughter is 2, she always points excitedly when she sees a baby (although she has zero interest in dolls). My son never did that. By the same token, I don’t think my daughter has noticed anything about cars other than that they come in different colors.
Then, this Sunday when we were talking on Skype with my parents my daughter quietly rummaged though the storage room and brought out paper bowls, plastic cutlery, and cups. She arranged them in a circle, a complete place setting for each invisible guest, and announced she had made a picnic. We were all delighted, and my mom commented that I really had an all-boy boy and an all-girl girl. Me??? The feminist who hates gender stereotypes?
I know I may be setting a far more gendered example for my kids than I realize. For example I do all the cooking at home, and my daughter has no doubt noticed this. But on the other hand she spends plenty of time with her dad so I don’t know why she’d necessarily model my behavior any more than his. Come to think of it, she does model his behavior all the time, at least in her interest in electronic devices. (He can’t wait to show her how to write her own code.) Anyway, I think my kids’ interests in vehicles and picnic-making come from their own intrinsic selves, not from the behaviors we model or our stated expectations. Nothing was ever stopping my son from setting up pretend picnics, but he’s never done it.
My last question is why any of this should matter when it comes to religious teachings. We’re told over and over to overcome the natural man or woman. We have plenty of natural tendencies that require taming or training to become more and more like our Heavenly Parents. So why should religion let biology be its guide in making prescriptions about gender roles? Shouldn’t we all learn to nurture? Shouldn’t we all be able to manage the responsibility of being a provider? Aren’t godly characteristics things both genders should equally strive for? I’m having a hard time thinking of a godly characteristic that’s gender-specific, which tells me when it comes to the important stuff gender is irrelevant.
Anyway, what is my point? My point is that in my unscientific study of little kids I have known, I have noticed some patterns. Some things that are more true of the girls than of the boys and vice versa. My other point is that this isn’t a very useful observation. Because when you meet someone, you can’t assume you know anything about them because you know their gender. Not their interests, talents, sexuality, strengths, or anything else. Correlation is not causation, as the saying goes.