When I was young, I played with all of the kids in the neighborhood, boys and girls. I tended to be most friendly with the boys; some of my closest friends growing up were boys that lived on my block. As I got into high school, I had friendships with girls mostly during the school day, in part because I went to an all girls school. But after school, I mostly gravitated towards a group of boys that I hung out with daily. Throughout all of this, my entire childhood, I never paid much attention to the fact that our gender might be different, or think twice about which gender I was spending time with. I believe for most children growing up, this is the case.
Looking back, I realize that during my childhood, the boys were easier to spend time with. I knew I could count on them when I was in trouble and they always made me laugh when I needed it. But I also had many girl friends. They were who I knew I could crush on the latest teen heartthrob or dig into my mom's makeup drawer with. It is too bad, that as we grow up, our society draws such a distinct line between 'men' and 'women.' It begins in the dating eras of our teen years, and only grows as we get older. It becomes increasingly more about who wants who and who wants what, and what our gender differences are. We often stop existing as people together, regardless of gender, and a distinct line often gets drawn. Sexuality, and sex, become a far greater focal point. We're told that men and women can't be friends without becoming attracted to each other, that the opposite sexes are so drastically different. I don't understand why it is or has to be this way.
As I've watched my daughter interact with groups of girls in her social settings, I also notice that as they've gotten older, jealousy, competitiveness and cattiness has increased. She tells me stories of who was upset because someone had the same shoes, or who did not sit with so and so at lunch. I can only wonder what kind of competition might take place among the boys. Who can hit the ball better, who isn't picked first for a game on the playground. You can see as an adult why nuzzling into a group opposite of your gender during your childhood might bring a little relief. The boys I hung out with growing up did not care what I was wearing, and just the same didn't place the same pressures on me that may take place between boys. I often felt more accepted and less judged when I was the only girl among my group. It's an issue that often follows us into adulthood and the workforce or moms groups. Who has the better job and whose children have better grades?
I wonder why we waste so much energy on this, and if we can nip it as children and raise our kids not to fall into it. Raising a confident, well-adjusted and secure child is no easy feat, believe me. Kids are exposed to a lot of things that are not in our control once they get to the school age. They can be subjected to so much that has little to do with them yet has a lifelong impact, from the information that they're told to the cues they are given, to how they are treated by others.
What I try to do is teach Gigi that she does not need to be part of every social clique she encounters, and to socialize with boys and girls equally. I try not to put a gender on her toys or activities -- dolls are not considered 'girly' any more than her playing softball is a 'boy' thing, and let her gravitate towards things naturally.
She and I spend time together shopping and she often cooks or does the same with her grandmother or aunts. But she spends an equal amount of time with her father and grandfather, changing light bulbs around the house or interacting with technology. I've also tried to each her that you don't have to be friends with everyone you meet, but you do need to be respectful, kind and treat them fairly. Now I'm not saying that she's always stuck to that rule, or that she hasn't fallen into an altercation stemming from the drama triggers. But by making it clear to her that it is not acceptable has gone a long way with teaching her tolerance and acceptance of others regardless. Equally, I explain to her that not every kid is going to like her, or want to play with her and this has very little to do with her or who she is. We pick our friends and social circles based on what we have in common as adults, and teaching her as a child to be comfortable with it has gone a long way already.
By putting less emphasis on her outer being and more on her inner one, I hope that she if she gauges herself in the world, she does so by her behavior and how she treats people versus her appearance, what she has or doesn't have, or what gender she is -- and I hope that she sees others in the same way. I believe teaching her to navigate and be comfortable with the natural, normal elements of socialization, that she doesn't always have to fit in, is also going a long way. I think these things have helped her greatly in finding and realizing her sense of herself among other kids as well as curb any competitiveness or jealousy she might feel. Jealousy and competitiveness often stems from a lack of feeling comfortable within ourselves, and this seems to have helped nip it with Gigi.
I can only wonder that if we send these messages to our kids, regardless of gender, we might curb the issues we all face later in life with gender and acceptance, be it our own or that of other people. We want our little girls -- and boys -- to know no limits to who and what they can be, feel good about who they are and where they are at, and accept others. I believe this is in big part the way.