"I never wanted a girl", the woman sitting in front of me said tonight. "I really, really wanted a boy, cause you know, boys are so great". "Oh, yes, indeed, my husband wanted a boy very much too... Now we have a girl... I guess it's OK with me, but he really really wanted a boy".
As I watched the group of women talking about their pregnancies in one corner, and the group of men talking business in the other corner of the room, I had to ask myself just what kind of mentalities we still carry on into the future. Of course, many things have changed: men are now entering the kitchen, that forbidden territory their mothers inhabited. And occasionally the women are now able to tell them "bring this plate to the dining table, dear". But deep down inside, what do we think of each other? "Boys will always be boys," somebody once told me. "No matter what, when it comes down to gender, the truth is that one is born a boy or a girl, with certain features. A boy will always want the car, a girl will always go for the baby-doll". Will he or she? And is it the boy or the little girl who 'wants' the toy, or is it us, the parents, pushing the car onto the boy, and the pinkie thing onto the girl.
A few days ago I bought some Tylenol for my friend's baby. At the drug store, I was faced with a dilemma: do I buy the cherry-flavored Tylenol with a baby-girl on the box, or do I buy the blueberry-flavored one with a baby-boy on it? Guess what? I bought the 'girlish' one for a baby-girl... I just couldn't help it, I guess... Call it stereotype, call it a habit. The truth is, we routinely divide babies into gender. Each year, I bring a photo of a baby and show it to my students. I tell a third of them the baby is a girl, a third the baby is a boy and I do not provide a gender for the third group. Then I ask them to pick toys for the baby. And guess what! They always pick a doll for the girl and a car for the boy. The third group feels handicapped: they want to know what sex the baby is before they go on with the task. The Baby X experiment never ceases to amaze me; it puzzles my students and yes, it does provoke a vivid discussion. Truth be told, we go on reproducing the same gendered thinking in our everyday life choices and small talks.
And truth be told, the men still congregate in one corner, talking cars, business and sports. The girls are fluent in the language of the household, pregnancy and infant diseases. And why is it that almost all women find all babies 'beautiful', 'cute' and 'absolutely lovely'? It's almost as if there's an unspoken wall that, sooner or later, will divide the party into two genders. Of course, it is heterosexual men and women that fit this picture, but hey, there was no one challenging the gender categories at the party tonight... Maybe just me, an awkward fit, uninterested in the household talk, wishing the kids will stop screaming and not finding them that gorgeous after all...
Seavey, C.A., Katz, P.A., Zalk, S.R. (1975) "Baby X" Sex Roles, 1(2): 103-109