We (or more specifically, Nicholas) are enrolled in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which sends one book a month. The last two have been sibling photo books.
“Big Sister, Little Sister” came first. I rolled my eyes a bit at the sight of the tutu/princess dress-clad girls, but yanno. Okay. It’s a cute book. In its pages, the girls (perfectly coutured and exquisitely matched throughout) zip up in one coat, play violin, give each other a boost, and wear high heels together—basically the picture of What A Girl Is Supposed To Be: well-behaved, empathetic, supportive, nurturing. My kids adored it—so thoroughly that within a week it had the ripped, bent look of every other book in our library.
Then came “Big Brother, Little Brother”, which you know is going to be an animal of another kind altogether based upon this cover.
On the first page, they’re eating worms. (Right. Your boys do that every day, don’t they?) Then they stick fish in each other’s faces and try to kiss a tropical bird. There’s a token moment or two in which the boys comfort each other—and the two pages devoted to adoption choke me up. Even so, I look at these books and I wonder: whose boys, and whose girls, are these kids? Because they don’t look like any kid I know!
I grew up with three sisters, and let me tell you, we did not have the gorgeous Kodak moments portrayed in the “sisters” book. No, we had pinching, hitting, screaming catfights. All.The.Time. When we did play, it was outside, jumping off hay bales or climbing on trucks and tractors down in the third driveway. Our play houses were in dusty attics around the farm: the milk barn, the machine shop, the abandoned grain storage above the two-story cinderblock garage. With the wasps.
But mostly, we fought. Especially when we were the ages of these girls (2 up to about 8).
Fast forward to the present. I have two boys and a girl.
Okay, I know that wasn’t fair. How about this one?
She likes baby dolls, but she also likes trucks and trains and bicycles and wallowing in the mud at the edge of the creek. And my boys? So far, Nicholas is more a “boy’s boy” (except he sleeps with a baby doll). But at six, Alex is a well-balanced child who enjoys art even more than baseball, and on par with riding his bicycle. He’s brainy; he loves reading and writing, school and playing the piano.
I guess the thing that bothers me is the “never the two shall meet” way boys and girls are packaged inAmerica. Let me explain.
Have you ever tried shopping for boys’ clothes? Go to the children’s department and the girls’ clothes—most of them adorable, except for what I call “attitude” clothes (“Little Miss Perfect,” “I’m the queen,” etc.)—stretch out of sight. And hidden on about three racks are the boys clothes, in muted hunters’ colors. If you don’t want a sports or occasional hunting reference, you might as well not waste the gas to go to the store. Meanwhile, girls are presented with an array of spangles, colors, layers, butterflies and crowns, one top for one pair of pants, no mixing and matching here! And have you ever noticed that nobody makes short-sleeved shirts for girls? Only wrist-length or sleeveless. What message is that supposed to be sending? That girls don’t go outside in mid-temperature weather?
I’m not one of those people who denies the difference between genders. But I think it’s a little weird how advertising shoves boys into one box and girls into another, completely ignoring the reality that human beings are complex and beautifully messy in packaging. It’s like girls are supposed to be prissy, clean little angels who are only interested in dolls and princesses—but woe to anyone who suggests that these associations continue into adulthood! Is it just me, or is this a mixed message?