From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.
This week I'm looking at two of the recent series of books about parenting from a father's perspective. If the female version of these are "momoirs," does that make these "dadiaries?"
Of the two, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, by Michael Lewis, is the more recent and the more hyped. Lewis is the author of one of the better books I've ever read (Liar's Poker, about the excesses of Wall Street in the 1980s) and so I had high hopes for this book. And it has some really funny moments. But basically, it reads like the slapped together collection of Slate columns that it is. In it we learn that parenting can be absurd, exhausting and messy, but that "If you want to feel the way you're meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work. it's only in caring for a thing that you become attached it."
I'd actually be interested in reading a book by Lewis in which he uses his journalistic talents to look at the contested territory of parenting in the 21st century, because he does nail some issues: "For now, there's an unsettling absence of universal, or even local, standards of behavior. Within a few miles of my house I can find perfectly sane men and women who regard me as a Neanderthal who should do more to help my poor wife with the kids, and just shut up about it. But I can also find other perfectly sane men and women who view me as a Truly Modern Man and marvel aloud at my ability to be both breadwinner and domestic dervish -- doer of an approximately 31.5 percent of all parenting. The absence of standards is the social equivalent of the absence of an acknowledged fair price for a good in a marketplace. At best, it leads to haggling; at worst, to market failure."
Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table by Cameron Stracher doesn't try to describe modern fatherhood in general. Rather, it's the story of one man who decided to be home for dinner, 5 nights a week, for one school year, and how it changed his life. And yes, it looks like it started out as a blog.
In order to do this, Stracher started working from home a few days a week, and eventually wound up quitting one of his two jobs, and thus having more time to coach his kid's teams, and generally be part of their lives. Stracher acknowledges that everything he does would be unremarkable almost anywhere but in the suburbs of New York City, but he also doesn't downplay the difficulty in changing patterns of behavior when he works a two-hour train ride from home, he's expected to travel regularly for work, and all of the kid-focused activities are scheduled for at-home-parents.
The other major theme of the book is Stracher's desire to cook "real" (e.g. grown up) food for his family, and his frustration when his kids turn up their nose at it again and again. He writes with passion about the pleasure of feeding people you love, and how easy it is to put undue weight on it. (I know that one of the reasons I make waffles and muffins so often is they're pretty much the only things I can make that the kids will appreciate the effort.) He's not the elegant writer that Lewis is, but I think I enjoyed this book more.
I understand that A-list bloggers are used to getting all sorts of schwag to review, but I'm far from that, so I was pretty surprised last month to check my inbox and discover that Nintendo was sending me a DS Lite and games to review. It's part of their campaign to market the DS to women, which also includes a promo where people who rent a high end purse can receive the use of DS at the same time.
I emailed the marketer back to say that I'd give it a try, but that their games would need to knock my socks off to justify the space in my purse. Given that I can already play a number of games on my iPod touch, why would I want to carry something else around? And indeed, none of the games they sent with it were as addictive to me as trism.
There's no question that if you're serious about playing games, the DS is still a better machine. For one thing, its battery life far exceeds the iPod's (which frankly stinks in game playing mode). And it has two screens, and more than one button, which gives you a lot more options for controlling a game. And it's cheaper, and less breakable, and has a user-replaceable battery. But for having something handy when I'm bored on the metro, or get stuck waiting on line somewhere, the iPod does just fine.
It also didn't help their case that the selection of programs they sent was largely based on the assumption that women don't actually want to play video games.* So, they sent a yoga trainer (confusing controls for selecting programs, and no audio directions), a weight loss coach with a pedometer (great concept, clunky implementation), a crossword program (fine except that you had to solve a bunch of easy ones to get to the ones that were interesting), Brain Age 2 (clever), Carnival Games (a hit with my son), and a puzzle solving game (MillionHeir, which was pretty good). And none of these shows off the capacity of the system half as well as the Pokemon game that my son has been busily playing since the minute I handed over the system.**
So, I'm dubious about this marketing push, even as I think they've got a pretty good product. I just don't see a lot of grown ups playing with a DS. Am I missing something? Any of you play with one of these?
*This article quotes someone from Nintendo as saying that half of the DS systems sold last year belong to women. Sorry, but I can only believe that if: a) "women" is defined to mean "female, regardless of age" or b) "belong" is defined to mean "purchased by" regardless of the primary user. I know some women who play computer games,*** but 50 percent just isn't plausible to me.
** D has been asking for a DS for a long time, and we told him that we wouldn't buy him one, but he could save up for one. And he's been dutifully saving his allowance for over a year. So once I tried the system enough to write a fair review, I let him buy it from me for half price. He knows that we still retain the right to put the system in time out if he misbehaves.
***For some interesting discussion on gender differences in online games, see Geeky Mom.
Here's what I've been working on this week:
This is pretty different from the usual way these numbers are presented, which is based on families rather than workers. (Remember, if half of the families with children have an at-home spouse and the other half is dual income, only 1/3 of the workers will have an at-home spouse.)
For what it's worth, the furthest back I was able to come up with roughly comparable numbers for is 1975, when 41.5 percent of the workforce were parents, and 35 percent of the working parents had an at-home spouse.
I'd love some feedback on these graphs -- what interests you? Surprises you? Is the second one too many slices to be easily interpreted?
Update: I'm responding in the comments. But I also want to register my fury that Microsoft in Excel 2007 has made it impossible to apply patterns to different slices on a pie chart so that you can tell them apart when you print them in black and white.
Update 2: Ok, here's one that shows part-time vs. full-time.
For all that I think Sarah Palin would be a terrible president, I do think her nomination puts another dent in the glass ceiling. Specifically, while there are a few hardliners still arguing that women shouldn't be in positions of authority, there's no doubt that the world has changed when Phyllis Schlafly is going around saying that Palin's experience as a mother will make her a better vice president. I really do think that the next woman who runs will find it a little bit easier as a result.
Martin Manley comments on the historical nature of this election:
"On the other hand, Clinton, together with Obama and McCain, may have just killed the white male ticket. As a country, we are having our 56th presidential election, meaning that about 200 people in American history have had the honor of running for President or Vice President at the head of a major party ticket (some have run more than once, some years there have been more than two major parties). So far as I know, all but one of these candidates has been a white man (the exception is Geraldine Ferraro in 1984). With the nomination of Palin, neither party has fielded a white male ticket. Indeed, thanks to the contestants in this year's election and the odd way the US selects Vice Presidents, a white male ticket may now be politically untenable.
Some reactions to Sarah Palin for VP.
First, I have to say that my dad suggested that McCain would pick Palin over a month ago. I thought he was nuts.
Second, this choice clearly succeeded in changing the political conversation from being about Obama's speech.
Third, I don't know if it will make any difference to the election. In general, very few people vote based on the VP choice. It will make the Christian right more eager to get up on a wet November morning, but might scare some folks on the fence who worry that McCain's VP might actually wind up in the Oval Office in the next four years. It might win some Hillary voters, but will piss off others who see it as meaning that McCain thinks they're stupid (or that she's a younger and less qualified woman getting what they fought for).
Fourth, I don't think she's qualified to be President. But I'm not sure she's that much less qualified than, say, Mitt Romney. He was Governor of Massachusetts for 4 years; she's been Governor of Alaska for 2 years. He's got more business experience; she's got more local government experience. And even the people who like Romney's politics think he's plastic, while by all accounts she's quite real and is very popular in her state.
It's been a while since I did a Tuesday book review, and I realized that I never commented on the Daring Book for Girls. It's a nice book, with a mixture of traditional girls' activities (double dutch, cats cradle, slumber parties), not so traditional activities (karate, campfires), practical skills (first aid, changing a tire, basic money management) and straight-up feminism (bios of women scientists and spies and a bunch of queens). If I had a daughter, I'd give it to her with much less reservation than I have in giving my sons the companion Dangerous book.
In fact, I mostly left the Daring book wishing that Miriam and Andi had gotten to do the book for boys as well as for girls. Fundamentally, if the Daring book is a throwback to the 70s, the Dangerous book is a throwback much further, perhaps to Teddy Roosevelt's youth. And it seems a lot more useful for my sons to know how to change a tire or balance a checkbook than to make their own bow and arrows.
Blogging while I watch the election results come in from New Hampshire. Clinton's still leading Obama with a bit under 1/3 of the results in so far. If she wins, it will be really interesting to see the analyses of why the polling over the last few days was so far off.
The Steinem piece on Hillary has been getting a lot of play today. I think she's completely right that Hillary has been the object of a great deal of sexism -- from the constant refrain that she's "shrill" and "strident" to the obsession with her appearance and the damned if you do, damned if you don't coverage of her emotions.
That said, I do think the campaign has highlighted the degree to which sexism continues to permeate the environment, at a time when overt racism has become clearly unacceptable, at least in high-level politics. Obama's been the subject of some nasty anti-Muslim comments (even though he's Christian), but other than the people who keep calling him "articulate",* there's been very little racism in the campaign so far. (But I still think racism probably does more to hold people back on the US overall than sexism. Some other day, I need to blog about the Pew findings on race, gender and intergenerational mobility)
[CNN just said that their exit polling is showing more support for Clinton from women in NH than they saw in IA. If so, I think that may well be driven by the blatant sexism of the news coverage of the past few days -- from the headlines, I thought that she had burst into tears and been unable to continue, rather than having a hitch in her voice.]
But I think Steinem's overstating the degree to which sexism is driving the results so far, as opposed to people's real enthusiasm for Obama. Yes, it's improbable that a woman with Obama's bio could be a serious candidate for president. But it's also totally improbably that he's a serious candidate for president. And it's not fair, but that's part of his appeal.
I also think that when Steinem includes "powerful fathers" along with "sex, race, money.. and paper degrees" in the things that shouldn't be driving our choices, it's more than a bit disingenuous for her not to include "famous husbands" in the litany.
* "Articulate" is a compliment when you're talking about a teenager, or someone you're interviewing for their first job. When applied to an adult who has been elected to political office, it's either damning with faint praise or code for "he doesn't sound black."
[AP and CNN are calling New Hampshire for Clinton. Judging by my disappointment, I'm officially off the fence.]
I'm fascinated by the almost non-existence of a gender gap among Iowa caucus goers. According to these CNN numbers, Obama was supported by 35 percent of both men and women. Clinton drew 30 percent of women voters, 23 percent of men. Meanwhile, there was a huge age gap, with Obama supported by 57 percent of the youngest voters, but only 18 percent of the oldest.
I can't find the stats online, but during the caucus-night coverage, I heard statistics that suggested there was also a huge age gradient if you look only at women. I've heard explanations for this ranging from "young voters aren't nostalgic about the Clinton presidency" to "young women don't approve of standing-by-your-man". But I think this is much more a comment on what feminism is today.
Whether it's because we've been told all our life that women could do anything, or because we've seen for ourselves that having women in positions of power doesn't change everything (e.g. Margaret Thatcher, Condi Rice), my sense is that young women (Gen X and Y) are much less likely than our mothers (Boomers and older) to think that feminism means we should automatically support a female candidate.
(see also Jody at Raising WEG on her family's different takes on Hillary.)
I spent this evening at a meeting for GWEN -- Get Women Elected Now. It's a local group with the goal of supporting progressive female candidates in Northern Virginia. It's obviously somewhat inspired by EMILY's List, but aiming to build personal connections as well as raise money. One of the founders is Libby Garvey, and she's very clearly thinking about the gendered paths to political involvement that I wrote about two years ago when she wrote for delegate.
It was quite an interesting group of people, including several current and former elected officials. Two men, the rest women. I'd guess that most of the people there were in their 50s or older, although there were a few younger members. Garvey mentioned that someone had emailed her asking about child care at the meeting (which was not provided). There was clearly a hunger for ways to be involved that didn't involve writing checks, and that were more substantive than stuffing envelopes or making calls.
I volunteered to update their website for them. As T said when I told him, "of course you did."
Are any of you Emily's List members? Did you used to be?
I keep getting letters and emails from Emily's List, asking me to rejoin. I'm still very sympathetic to their overall mission, but am disinclined to sign up at the moment.
First, I feel like I no longer need a group like Emily's List in order to identify candidates in other states who are worthy of my support. Since I've never lived in what could be called a swing state -- and rarely even lived in a district with a competitive Congressional race -- I liked the idea of being able to make a difference in a race that might matter. I still like the idea, but am more likely to send money to a candidate who someone I trust blogs about than to one endorsed by Emily's List.
Second, I feel like they've so totally drunk the Hillary kool-aid as to lose credibility for me. I'm not a Hillary-hater, and I'll vote for her with enthusiasm if she's the nominee, but she's not my first choice candidate. And when they run a major feature on Myths about Hillary Clinton and say "Hillary has repeatedly said that if she had all the facts when she voted for the initial authorization for the war... she would not have voted in favor of the Iraq resolution," my response is to think that maybe if she had read the national intelligence
estimate, she would have had more of the facts.
I think I'm putting my money into the Women's Campaign Forum instead.
I'm giving a talk tomorrow night at a networking event about women and the nonprofit sector, particularly some studies that have found that a) women are the majority of workers in nonprofits but b) women still earn less than men. Most of the attendees are likely to be in their early to mid 20s, without kids.
I'll talk about how women are less likely to negotiate, more likely to expect (wrongly) that hard work will be noticed and rewarded even if they don't. But I also want to talk about the work-family stuff that I cover here. I'm going to say that I think women are more likely to choose jobs based on satisfaction, less on an expectation that they'll be supporting a family. And that by accepting less money, they're also reducing their bargaining power in relationships down the road. And I also want to mention the roles of unpaid internships and student loans in affecting the options that are open to you.
Any suggestions? Good stories that I can use? Advice that you wish someone had told you?
I'm interested in the various blog posts about The Dangerous Book for Boys. The ones I've read seem to be divided by the ones like Moxie that are enthusiastic about the neat things that are included in it -- how to tie knots and build fires and do coin tricks and use codes -- and the ones like Jody and Phantom Scribbler who can't get past their frustration at the title.
I admit that I got a review copy of the book, but never wrote about it precisely because I fell so squarely between the camps that I couldn't figure out what to say. It does have a lot of interesting stuff in it (along with some things that I can't imagine my boys ever being interested in -- grammar and rugby rules and historical lists of baseball MVPs). And it does annoy me that it's being marketed just for boys. And if it's true that the companion book focuses on daisy chains and sewing, that's pretty sad/funny.
For what it's worth, my sons are a bit young for the book, but they expressed only mild interest. My husband scanned through it a bit, and then wanted to know how they could have a chapter of great battles in history and not include Agincourt. The guy inspecting our old house for the buyers was fascinated by it.
I generally agree with Jody and Phantom Scribbler that words matter. And yet... I read my brother's Boys' Life, and when he stopped getting it, I asked for a subscription for myself and read it for years. (I mostly wanted to find out what happened in the Tripods story, although I read the whole magazine as long as it was there.) The "boys" part of the title never bothered me in the least. Maybe it would have been more of an issue if my brother had actually been into scouting, but he didn't. (We lived in New York City. I'm not sure how he wound up with the subscription in the first place, to be honest.) The organization is exclusionary, but words are free to all.
I guess my feelings about the book are actually quite comparable to my thoughts about the Boy Scouts. I really dislike several things about the organization. But I may still sign the boys up when they get to the right age, if they're interested. And I'm probably going to keep this book.
Not in the print edition, but online, the Prospect has added a response by Linda Hirshman. While she is, as usual, gratuitously obnoxious toward anyone she disagrees with, she does make a point that I think is on target:
"even if by some miracle male employers could be persuaded to enact the reforms discussed, without a real change in women's attitudes about the family most of the effect would be to make it easier for women to continue to bear their excessive share of an unjust household. And allow the women to think they chose it!"
In their discussion of a recent conference on Rethinking Gender Egalitarianism, Laura at 11d and Harry at Crooked Timber responded to a similar point made at the conference -- that things like paid parental leave are an obstacle to gender egalitarianism, because they are disproportionately taken by mothers rather than fathers. Laura and Harry argue that parenting is not a "shit job" (as Hirshman clearly believes), but rather a source of great fulfillment for many people and that if barriers are removed, men will voluntarily take on more domestic responsibilities and joys.
I don't think parenting is a shit job, or one that makes your brain rot. But I also think that it's almost certainly true that absent a massive societal shift or highly prescriptive government policy, family friendly policies probably would increase the gender gap. Because, as Rhona Mahoney explains, every choice you make changes the hand that you have when you make the next set of decisions. And unless we get to the point that working fewer hours or taking time off from work has zero career cost (which seems unlikely anytime soon), it's always going to make sense for the person who has already stepped off the fast track to be the one to accommodate the other's career. And because of both biology (pregnancy and breastfeeding) and gender ideology, the one taking that first step off is far more likely to be a woman.
Mahoney also makes the interesting suggestion that this is a tipping point phenomenon; e.g that if SAHDs were more common, more men would make that choice. And on that note, I have to point out the Colbert report piece on SAHDs. (And a look behind the scenes.)
In his 1975 introduction to Warm Worlds and Otherwise, by James Tiptree, Jr. Robert Silverberg hypothesized about the reclusive author, who was the subject of widespread speculation in the sci-fi world. In what has become the most famous passage, Silverberg wrote:
"It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing. I don't think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male."
The passage is famous, of course, because behind the name of James Tiptree, Jr., the author was indeed a woman, as became widely known a few years later.
This week's book is a biography of that woman: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julie Phillips. I'm usually not terribly interested in writers' biographies, which are usually far less interesting than their writing, but this is an exception. Sheldon's life was every bit as fascinating as her writing -- including a childhood that included safaris to Africa, an elopement with the man who sat next to her at her debut, a stint in the WACs and one in the CIA, a PhD in the psychology of perception --- and Phillips does a fine job of taking the reader through it all.
Much to my surprise, I finished the book far more sympathetic to Silverberg's mistake than I started it. Phillips argues, convincingly, that Tiptree was far more than a pseudonym to Sheldon, but a full-fledged persona. She quotes Sheldon as believing that there were two sexes -- men and mothers -- and she was neither. As Tiptree she wrote with a confident voice that she couldn't claim on her own, and she also engaged in long correspondences with other sci-fi writers and fans (including Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ). When she was finally unmasked, she came somewhat unmoored, and struggled to find her writing voice again.
It is often hard to see clearly how gender roles and constraints affected individual women by reading their biographies. Most women either lived within the expectations of their times, rarely bumping up against the limits, or were the extraordinary exceptions who don't seem to have noticed that there were any limits. What makes Sheldon fascinating is that she seems to have spent her life crossing the limits and then getting cold feet, trying to conform but bursting out. In an early chapter on her boarding school experience, Phillips writes:
"Alice had the bad luck to be extremely pretty. If she hadn't been, she might have given up the popularity contest. She might have studied harder, prepared for a career, and not cared what people thought. She and the other awkward, bright girls might have been friends. Instead she cared about appearances, practiced femininity and flirtation, and got addicted to the reward for being a pretty girl."
This pattern seems to have stayed with her for much of her life. But forty years later, being Tiptree let her escape all that.
This was one of the Times notable books of the year. It's also one of my picks for the best books I read in 2006.
"Ms. Hirshman, your complaint, strangely enough, makes me think of Henry Higgins' lament, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?” You refuse to consider that it may be differences in women's and men's brains (differences which evolved over eons--look into evolutionary psychology or sociobiology sometime) that account for some of their differences in behavior."
I have a pretty solid knee-jerk antagonistic reaction to sociobiological arguments. After a moment, I realized I was doing almost exactly what I had accused Hirshman of -- dismissing the argument because some (many? most?) of the people who make it are conservative anti-feminists.
I do think the science behind sociobiology is extraordinarily weak. The fossil and artifact record tells us very little about how our ancestors organized their lives. It's a field where people seem to miraculously find confirmation of whatever they believed going in. You find people arguing that women are biologicially wired to care more about housecleaning because they've got keener senses and people arguing that women are biologically wired not to notice how bad poopy diapers smell. And Newt Gingrich arguing that men are biologically wired to wallow in the mud and hunt giraffes.
I also don't think that you need to rely on sociobiology to explain gender differences in behavior. For example, Rhonda Mahony does a perfectly good job of explaining how pregnancy, breastfeeding, and maternity leave can give mothers a "head start" in attachment to babies, which leads to decisions that perpetuate the inbalance.
In yesterday's post, Deborah Tannen reviewed a new book, The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine. She concludes her review: " But given the character -- and rancor -- of our dichotomous approach to the influences of biology and culture, readers likely will be fascinated or angered, convinced or skeptical, according to the positions they have staked out already."
While I'm skeptical of sociobiology, I do believe, as I've said before, that estrogen and testosterone do affect our brains as well as our bodies. I'll see if I can get the book out of the library.
Today's book is Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash, by Liz Perle. Perle's personal story is a zinger -- she quit her job and moved to Singapore with her four-year-old son, only to be told by her husband that he wanted a divorce. She writes about her learning, the hard way, that marrying wealth doesn't really buy you security, and the freedom she found in learning that she could survive her worst nightmare. When she remarries, and her new husband asks if it's a problem for her that he isn't financially secure, she has the insight to answer that she likes to feel taken care of, and that she's spent a long time associating that with money. That's a nice, hard won, distinction.
Unfortunately, only a small part of Money, A Memoir, is actualy a memoir. Mostly it's a mushy pop-psychology book about how women are still looking for Prince Charming to rescue them from having to make tough financial choices. There are some nice lines -- I liked Chelle Campbell's definition of the "emotional middle class" as "somebody who feels she still needs to strive to make ends meet but who has a lot of nice things so she feels she can't really complain too much" -- but not much substance.
Perle is also oddly judgmental in some places. When she hears that a former slow-track father of her acquaintance has taken an editor in chief position, where he travels a lot, she is "crestfallen," rather than glad that he's had the opportunity to focus on his family and now is trying something else. At the same time, she is highly critical of an artist who was reluctant to take a regular job when he and his wife had a baby, accepting at face value his wife's complaint that he was "irresponsible" for the same characteristics she had previously valued.
Perle writes well, and the book is a quick read. But it left me unsatisfied. I'd rather have heard more about Perle's own story -- even if she didn't open her check register, as Sandra Tsing Loh suggests.
At the MotherTalk event I attended, Andi read her essay from this book, "Learning to Write," which is about how her daughter used writing to express her anger with -- and her separation from -- Andi. I asked her why she included it, since it's not obviously about gender, and she said that it was because she found the issue of enmeshment and separation was a running theme in the essays about mothering daughters, while it was not in the ones about mothering sons. As she explains in her response to Meredith at Boston Mommy, Andi found that mothers couldn't help identifying with their daughters, and revisiting "the ghosts of their girlhoods." (Do fathers of sons go through the same struggles?)
I am the mother of two sons. I adore them to pieces, but I do sometimes feel a pang for the daughter that I'm never going to have. These books (I wrote about It's A Boy back in November) made me think about what it is that I think would be different with a daughter. It's not the traditionally girly stuff that I'm sad about missing (although I'll admit to coveting the little girls' dresses in the stores).
I think maybe I'm wistful about not getting to teach a girl that she can do anything she dreams of. Oh, I'll certainly teach my boys that they can do anything they dream of, but it's not the same. I guess, like many of the writers in the collection, I had thoughts of raising a daughter without the hangups and insecurities I have. (Also, I think society today is by far harsher on boys who aren't conventionally masculine than it is on girls who aren't conventionally feminine, so I'll worry about my sons even as I encourage them to follow their hearts.)
This sounds silly, but I'm also getting a sinking feeling that my boys may not be willing to sit still for all the books that I've dreamed of reading to them. I know, they're young yet, but... D is pretty much uninterested in any chapter books that don't involve pirates or rocketships. I'm going to be thoroughly disappointed if I don't get to read Charlotte's Web, A Wrinkle in Time, and the Little House books to my kids. Do boys read Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret? Based on what I'm hearing in the blogosphere, my odds would be better if I had girls.
So, yesterday was Equal Pay Day, the day when the average woman's wages catch up with what the average man earned the previous year. Evelyn Murphy is promoting a new organization, the WAGE project, to combat wage inequality. The web site looks interesting.
I have to admit that I took Murphy's book, Getting Even, out of the library, and only made it about half way through it. Drawing mostly on court records, she discusses the various ways that gender discrimination is alive and kicking. From blue collar workers whose gear was soaked in urine, to the Sears saleswomen systematically kept out of the high commission departments, to investment bankers facing the old boys' network, she records case after case. It's depressing reading.
Without minimizing the role of discrimination in keeping women's earnings down, I think Murphy goes too far in dismissing the role of self-selection and work-family issues. Yes, the workers from which the 77 cents on the dollar figure comes are all full-time workers. But male full-time workers work, on average, more hours than female full-time workers. And -- as we've discussed here before -- women feel freer, for better or worse, to choose jobs for reasons other than making the most money possible.
For terrific discussion of these issues, see:
Today is International Women's Day, as well as Blog Against Sexism Day. I started to write a post about what I mean when I call myself a feminist, but thought it was getting too wordy and not saying anything particularly interesting. Instead I'm just going to share two links.
Neither one is explicitly about sexism or feminism, but they made me think of the old bumper sticker, Feminism is the Radical Belief that Women are People. I've always assumed that the word "radical" in that was sarcastic, but reading these posts made me think about the ways in which the world would be different if we really did act as if everyone we encountered was fully human, as valuable as our loved ones.
When I took the intro to women's studies class in college, Betty Friedan was hardly mentioned. To the extent that she was discussed, she was mostly dismissed for focusing exclusively on the needs of straight, white, middle-class women. To some degree, the problem was that she had succeeded so well -- to my generation of younhg women, the idea that anyone would take satisfaction in gleaming floors was pretty much incomprehensible, so her insights seemed obvious.
And yet, here I am, in 2006, writing on a semi-regular basis about who vacuums the floor and picks up the dirty socks. In some ways the world has been radically transformed since in 1963; in other ways, not so much.
Last month, Sandy at the imponderabilia of actual life wondered whether yesterday's "housewives" are the same as today's "SAH-moms." I do think, for better or worse, the feminist revolution made it harder for women to take pride in a well-kept house. But, in a world where children's success can't be taken for granted, regardless of their parents' situation, investing time and effort in childrearing makes more sense.
The problem, however, is that childrearing is much less predictable than housecleaning. Housecleaning is sometimes tiring, often boring, always repetitive. But you can pretty much guarantee that if you put in the effort, you'll get the results. There's something satisfying about knowing that. (I can't be the only one who scrubs the stove or the tub when angry or frustrated.) Childrearing is ultimately not predictable in the same way.
Today's book is Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female In The US Army, by Kayla Williams. This insta-memoir is Williams' account of her year serving in Iraq as an Arabic-speaking military intelligence soldier.
I first heard of the book through a fairly negative review from Debra Dickerson on Salon. Their site pass system is broken tonight, so I can't look it up to quote it, but Dickerson basically says that Williams is whiny and compares the book unfavorably with Anthony Swofford's Jarhead. Yes, Jarhead is a better written book, brutal, elegant and hallucinatory by turns. Swofford has serious literary ambitions -- he attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop -- and has the advantage of writing 10 years after his military service. Twenty years from now, I'll guess that people will still be reading Jarhead, while they'll have long forgotten Love My Rifle.
But that doesn't mean that Love My Rifle More Than You isn't worth reading. Williams' prose isn't memorable, but it's servicable, and she shares experiences that are worth hearing about. She writes about the constant sexual harrassment and a near-rape by one of her fellow soldiers, about the ambiguity of the Army's relationship with the Iraqi people, about her quest for vegetarian MREs, and about how some female soldiers use their gender to get out of unpleasant tasks. She writes about her brief involvement with interrogation of prisoners. There's material in the book to discomfit both supporters and opponents of using women in combat roles, and both should read the book.
Yes, the book is whiny at times. Williams sounds surprised that her armpits and groin chafe in the desert heat, that her commanding officers sometimes give her stupid orders that risk her life. She doesn't seem to have read Catch-22, let alone Jarhead. (By contrast, Swofford never is surprised by any degree of official stupidity.) But ultimately the book reads like Williams is sitting down and telling you what it was like. And I was happy to spend a few hours in her company.
In a comment last week, Jen wrote:
"There are so many things you can do to fight the domestic glass ceiling beyond requiring all other women to share your life choices!... Like not judging your women friends when their houses are filthy, or at least vowing that we won't teach our daughters this female-specific shame."
Amanda at Pandagon and Hugo Schwyzer also wrote about how women are judged for the state of their house(hold)s in a way that men aren't. I had a "click" moment reading these posts -- for all the time that I spend thinking and reading about feminism, it hadn't really registered on me that society really doesn't judge men for having a dirty house.
A personal story to illustrate: When my parents came to visit after D was born, my mom noticed that our stove top was absolutely filthy. I had been exhausted and sick for much of the last trimester of my pregnancy, and am not sure I could have reached the back of the stove even if I had had the energy to try to clean it. T had been picking up much of the domestic slack (on top of his paid job), but cleaning the burners wasn't even on his mental list. So without saying a word, my mom found a scouring pad and started scrubbing away. I was simultaneously grateful and absolutely mortified. T wasn't in the least embarassed.
It's important to remember that one of the main "weapons" in the drive to push women out of paid employment following World War II was rising domestic standards. All those wonderful labor-saving devices wound up saving much less labor, because expectations for cleanliness rose. When you had to boil water and wash clothes by hand, people got a clean pair of pants every Sunday. With the invention of automatic washers, people started expecting to have clean pants every day.
Perhaps the problem with hiring housecleaners isn't that there's something immoral about expecting someone else to clean up after you (as some have suggested), but that it helps perpetuate the expectation that houses should be kept at a level of cleanliness that's possible only if it's a significant part of someone's job to maintain it.
Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but I think unreasonably high standards contribute to social isolation. I know an awful lot of people who never have anyone over, because they don't think they can do so without cleaning their house until it looks like something out of Home Beautiful. And that's a real shame.
Hirshman is explicitly critical of what she dubs "choice feminism." She writes:
"Thereafter, however, liberal feminists abandoned the judgmental starting point of the movement in favor of offering women 'choices.' The choice talk spilled over from people trying to avoid saying 'abortion,' and it provided an irresistible solution to feminists trying to duck the mommy wars. A woman could work, stay home, have 10 children or one, marry or stay single. It all counted as 'feminist' as long as she chose it."
Well, what's the alternative? I think the opposite of "choice feminism" has to be "litmus test feminism," under which there's a set of prescribed answers for all women. Change your name when you get married = bad. Stay at home with your kids = bad. Bake apple pies = bad.
I don't know how I'd rate -- I think I'd get points because both T. and I hyphenated our last names when we married, but I might lose points because we're married at all, and even more because we met when I was 18. I don't know if I gain or lose points in Hirshman's scorecard for being in a reverse traditional family. (Good because it reverses the usual expectations, or bad because there's a stay at home parent who is financially dependent? Would it be ok to be a stay-at-home mom if your partner is also female? What if you're independently wealthy?) And like Bobbi Harlow, I shave my legs to the knees.
But the problem with litmus test feminism isn't that some of us might not get gold stars. After all, being a certified card-carrying feminist and $2 will get you a ride on the NYC subway. The problem is that if you convince the world that "being a feminist means X," (say, climbing the corporate ladder) the vast majority of people doing Y (e.g. staying home) won't suddenly start doing X, but will decide that it must mean that they're not feminists.
In a comment at Literary Mama, Hirshman gets on her high horse and writes:
"I think -- and can defend the opinion -- that perpetuating hierarchy with women on the bottom by psychological,ideological, economic or any other means is immoral whether it occurs in the family or in the pages of the New York Times."
I agree. But demeaning the choices that real live women make is another means of perpetuating hierarchy. (Hirshman also takes a ugly swipe at Miriam Peskowitz and the choices that she's made, as well as making a bizarre crack about "the weird space the internet creates.")
The bottom line is that I think feminism is about asking questions, and yes, sometimes those questions may make people uncomfortable or even defensive. But it's not about telling women what their answers are supposed to be.
This is part of her blog book tour, in which different bloggers have been writing about the book each day this month. It's been great fun seeing everyone's different perspectives on the book, from Tertia writing about parenting boy-girl twins to Dawn, who asked Andi some good questions about balancing writing and parenting. (Go to Andi's blog for links to everyone who is participating.)
I'm going to start by stealing a question from Shannon, of Peter's Cross Station, who asked "When I first heard about the project, it sounded like yet another opportunity to make stereotyped claims about gender in children. How have you been able to avoid falling into that old rut?" Andi replied:
"Well, as I said in my original call for submissions, my whole idea with this book was to refute the gender stereotypes about boys and girls, and to explore whether or not those stereotypes really exist in actual boys and girls through essays by thoughtful writers. For the BOY book, I was specifically looking for pieces that questioned the cultural assumptions we have about boys -- whether the essayists ultimately embraced the stereotypes or rejected them was not as important to me as whether or not the writers wrestled with them in the first place. So the BOY book has pieces about a mother being surprised by a son's love, since what she experienced with her son ran counter to her expectations of what a boy would be like; about a transsexual mother grappling with how to raise her son in the face of everyone's attitude that her mere presence tips the scale in the direction of him being gay; about a woman nurturing her son's desire for soft, pretty things, even though a part of her wants to protect him from the harsh, messy world that will surely not be so kind; about boys who defy stereotypes, boys who fit them, and the way mothers adjust their expectations to fit the reality of who their sons are."
There was much in these essays that found me nodding my head in recognition. I think my favorite essay was "Becoming a Boy" in which Robin Bradford writes about how her son led her to discover the joy of "boyish" things that she had never done as a girl or woman. Somewhat to my surprise, the essay that left me looking sheepishly around the metro rubbing tears from my eyes was "The Day He Was Taller" by Jacquelyn Mitchard, which is about her son outgrowing all his clothes and buying himself a suit.
The book is organized into four thematic sections, and I'm afraid I found the first one, about what Andi calls "boy shock" or "prenatal gender apprehension," the hardest to relate to. In response to a question from Sandra, Andi writes:
"[T]he concerns of writers in It's a Boy were about the otherness of the male gender: What the heck do you do with a boy? Some of the writers in It's a Girl ask a similar question about raising their daughters, but what prompts that question is not the fear of an unknown gender, but of knowing it all too well."
When I was pregnant with D, we didn't find out what gender the baby would be until he was born, and I truly didn't have a preference. I was under no illusion that I would understand a girl any better than a boy, or be able to provide any more guidance through the treacherous shoals of junior high school. I may not be able to provide useful advice on whether to report a bully to the teacher or to fight back, but I can't help with ingratiating oneself with the popular clique of girls either. I sucked at being a teenage girl when I was one; I'm pretty sure I'd suck at being one now if I were pulled back a la Peggy Sue.
It somewhat bothered me that so many of the authors were ambivalent about having sons, and none of them were univocally happy about it. I asked Andi if she thought this might be because the project was about "women writers on raising sons," and she answered;
"I did worry that perhaps the book would be tilted too much towards the "overly articulate feminist intellectual pondering gender" because it would be written by, well, overly articulate feminist intellectuals who were concerned about issues of gender. But that's kind of who I wanted exploring the subject -- women writers.... And I think even the pieces about being apprehensive about the prospect of having a boy are ultimately about the writers coming to see how their own expectations are flawed, and how they love their child, regardless of gender... I definitely don't think writers value boys less. It's about questioning the cultural assumptions we have about boys and girls and men and women. And questioning things, teasing them apart to find some kind of personal truth, is what writers do."
Given that, I was suprised to read in Andi's own essay, "It's a Boy!" this statement:
"We want our daughters to do everything our sons do, yet as mothers ourselves, we know the difficulties and the hard choices they will have to make when they grow up and choose to mother-- the career options that dwindle; the daily balancing act that exhausts; the kinds of things our sons will never face, even as they become parents ourselves."
I wish those difficulties on my sons, because the alternative isn't easy choices, but no choices. Society has done a much better job of giving both girls and women the option of following either traditionally masculine or traditionally feminine paths than it has as opening up choices for boys and men.
In a comment on my last post on gender differences in children, Darleen urged me to read As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, by John Colapinto. I had heard good things about the book before, but I hadn't read it, so I added it to my list.
The book is about David Reimer, the man who was one of the most famous medical "cases" ever, a touchstone in the debates about gender identity and the roles of biology and culture. As an 8-month-old baby boy, his penis was totally destroyed in a freak circumcision accident. (Lesson one of the book: don't let anyone circumcise your kids with an electrocautery machine.) Following the advice of Dr. John Money, a respected psychologist, the Reimers had the baby castrated and a rudimentary vagina created surgically and raised her as a girl, "Brenda." Brenda would have been a subject of scientific interest in any case, but the fact that she had an identical twin brother, Brian, turned her into close to the holy grail for researchers, an experimental case with a control. Dr. Money featured her in dozens of articles, arguing that her successful transformation into a normal girl was proof that nurture, not nature, was the dominant factor in determining gender identity.
Unfortunately for Dr. Money's argument, John Colapinto shows that Brenda was a desperately unhappy little girl who rejected all traditionally girl-ish pursuits, in spite of her parents' frantic efforts to make her conform to her new gender identity. She resisted all attempts to convince her to have the plastic surgery needed to complete her genital transformation, and as soon as she learned her true story, insisted on changing her name and living as a boy. He eventually had surgery to recreate male genitals, as well as a double mastectomy to remove the breasts that he had grown from taking female hormones. While David had a period of deep depression as a young man,
today at the time the book was written, he is appeared to be content in his life, happily married and a father through adoption. [Edited to reflect the fact that he later committed suicide, as Fred informed me in his comment.]
The other major strand in the book is Colapinto's damning portrait of Dr. Money. He makes a convincing case that Money consistently ignored the growing evidence that Brenda's sex transformation was a disaster, because it was contradictory to his theory, continuing to cite the case as a success long past the point when such a claim was reasonable. Moreover, he suggests that Money's treatment of Brenda was essentially sexual abuse, as he pushed the young girl to discuss her fantasies and even role play sexual situations with her brother. (Because Money totally refused to cooperate with the writing of the book, there is no attempt to portray his side of the story.)
So, it's a fascinating human-interest story, and Colapinto does a good journalistic job of laying it out for the reader. But where does it leave us in the endless nature-nurture debate? While I enjoyed reading the book, at times I yearned for a more acute scientific guide, someone who would probe further into the contradictions of what we mean by gender, who didn't take Brenda's willingness to throw a punch and her desire to pee standing up as proof positive that she was meant to be male.
The one piece of solid scientific ground is that Money's pure nurturist hypothesis seems to have been pretty much totally discredited, in part because of the case of David Reimer. The more we learn about fetal brain development and its sensitivity to a variety of environmental influences, the less reasonable it becomes to think that powerful hormones like estrogen and testosterone would have such fundamental effects on other aspects of fetal development, but none on the brain.
But I think it's fair to say that we simply don't have a theory of gender identity that really makes sense of -- and listens to with respect -- the experiences of both David Reimer and biologically normal transsexuals like Jennifer Boylan. We don't even have a language to talk about gender identity that doesn't fall back on such caricatures as ascribing all concern about appearance and relationships to femininity and all interest in mechanics and competition to masculinity. And without such a language, we spend a lot of time talking past each other.
Anyone who spends any time at a playground will discover that even at a very young age, gender differences start to show up between boys and girls in how they play. I've written before about how -- in spite of the non-traditional gender roles in my family -- my sons are both into traditional "boy things" like trucks and trains.
I also think that adults often notice behaviors that reinforce their preconceptions more than the ones that challenge them; we've gotten some odd looks from other parents when we point out what a spitfire some of the girls in D's preschool class are. I've commented before on how different personalities D and N are. It must be very easy it is for parents of opposite gender kids to assume that the differences between their children are due to gender differences. (And as families get smaller on average, fewer have multiple kids of each gender.)
It's clear that societal and cultural factors contribute a great deal to both gender differences and the perception of them. Jo(e) wrote recently about the shoes that girls wear, which limit their ability to climb and run. Mieke picked up on this theme, quoting a friend's description of how other adults interacted with her daughters:
"They would talk about Rachel and Sarah's clothes or their hair or call them "cute" and almost always, ask Rachel and Sarah if they had boyfriends (as I said this started at three). It was kind of a default question that adults had when they didn’t know what else to say to the girls. When the girls said no, the adults seemed stumped by what else to talk about, if they said yes, they would ask all about the boy."
But it also seems that there are some differences that can't be so easily dismissed as cultural. There seems to be a broad consensus that boys tend to talk later and to be potty-trained later. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism and related disorders as well as with ADHD. (I recognize that there are cultural factors involved in how these disorders are manifested as well as in what behaviors get boys v. girls referred to a psychologist.)
Dawn and her very thoughtful commenters at This Woman's Work had a wonderful discussion a few weeks ago about children, gender identity, and transgenderism. Like Dawn, my fundamental goal is to allow my children to pursue their interests and enjoy their desires whether or not they conform with traditional gender roles. That means buying D "lipstick" when he asked for it after seeing one of his classmates with it (although I wimped out and bought chapstick rather than lip gloss -- he was thrilled with it anyway), but it also means letting him play endless games about shooting "bad robots" (robots because we told him he couldn't shoot people). And yes, I probably struggle more with the latter than with the former.
But I also agree with Dawn that
"I don't have a problem with a boy playing like a girl or even wanting to be a girl. But I start feeling challenged when a boy says that he feels he is a girl because of these girlish interests."
This past year, the principal at the local elementary school split the 4th graders by gender for their reading period. Her argument was that the boys were more interested in nonfiction (e.g. books about cars, animals and sports) while the girls were more interested in fiction. Such programs -- which are increasingly common -- make me intensely uncomfortable. I worry about the boy who wants to read stories, or the girl who loves baseball. But the truth is, the regular way was clearly failing the boys -- the previous year, something like 30 percent of the boys passed their reading tests, compared to 80 percent of the girls. That's not acceptable.
Today's book is Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs, by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers. It's an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) discussion of what's wrong with all the claims that men and women are fundamentally different -- at work, at home, as partners, as parents. They take on everyone from Carol Gilligan to John Gray, and argue that the media has totally oversold the claims for gender differences, and that these beliefs about gender differences become self-fulfilling prophecies. They quote Sarah Blaffer Hrdy -- a biologist whose research is often cited in support of such claims -- as saying:
"What begins as a scientist's cautious speculation moves rapidly into a headline in USA Today and from there becomes received wisdom that directs public policy and influences girls' career choices."
I generally agree with Barnett and Rivers', so I've been trying to figure out why I can't summon up more enthusiasm about the book. I think there are two problems. First, the book is mostly about what's wrong with other people's studies and how they're represented in the mass media rather than presenting any new information. There's only so many different ways you can say "very small non-representative sample" and "generalization" and they quickly run through all of them. The book is thus more useful as a reference to look up the flaws in a specific argument than as a book you'd want to sit down and read all the way through.
Second, I think Barnett and Rivers' go too far in denying the reality of differences between how men and women behave. At times I felt like they were allowing their ideological stance to blind them to the evidence in front of their noses.
This is particularly frustrating because I don't think their main thesis depends on such a claim. In fact, in other parts of the book, they do make several arguments that don't deny that there are such differences:
I think these arguments are much more persuasive than trying to argue that there are no differences beween men and women.
I haven't gotten totally confused by the end of daylight savings time -- I know it's not Tuesday. But I don't think I'm likely to have time for a book review on Election Day. So, special this week, we have "Tuesday Book Review, now on Sunday!"
The book is She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Finley Boylan. It's a memoir of her life as a maile-to-female transsexual, her attempts to overcome the feeling that she was supposed to be female and of the incredibly loving response of her wife and friends to her transition.
This is not a book I would have picked up just from browsing the bookstore shelves, but a friend recommended it, and I'm so glad she did. It's very well written -- Boylan has written several novels -- and a touching love story.
I admit, when Boylan tries to describe why she needed to make the transition, I still feel like I'm blind and she's trying to describe color to me. She writes about, as a young man, asking women what it felt like to have breasts, and how baffled they were by the question. I share that bafflement. She's clearly proud of how much she looks feminine, her skills at dressing and wearing makeup, but there are lots of genetic women who don't look feminine and even as teenagers weren't especially concerned with their appearance. But any argument I can make, she has already raised, which is disarming.
Boylan writes that she felt she was supposed to be a woman even as a child, but thought that everyone would reject her if she made the transition. So he lives as a man, and marries and has children. And in spite of his loving family, and his successful career, and hobbies he loves, he eventually decides that being a man isn't something he can live with, and so makes the transition to living as a woman. And the tragedy of it is that having waited so long, his decision affects -- and hurts -- more people than it would have if he had done it at 25. And the blessing of it is that her wife and children and mother and colleagues and friends respond with love and acceptance. (Her sister cuts off contact.)
There's one passage from the book that struck me as the heart of the story. It's after James (later Jenny) has visited a therapist, who tells him that he's a transsexual and encourages him to live as a woman, noting that it will be easier as he's young and unmarried. But that's not what he wants:
"I wanted to learn how to accept who I wasn't.
"What I felt was, beling a man might be the second best life I can life, but the best life I can live will mean only loss and grief. So what I wanted was to learn how to be happy with this second best life... I still believed that it was a life full of blessings. People can't have everything they want, I thought. it is your fate to accept a life being someone other than yourself.
"I don't think this is so crazy, even now. If I could have pulled this off, I would have."
I don't understand how a life as rich and full of blessings as Boylan describes her life pre-transtion could be unbearable, even if it is "second best," but I'm totally convinced by her writing that she found it so, that she would not have put herself and her loved ones through the difficulty of her transition unless she found it impossible to continue otherwise. I do wonder about what would have happened to Boylan if he had been born 100 years earlier. If he lived at a time when transsexuality wasn't generally recognized and sex change operations were an impossibility, would he have drunk himself to death while insisting that he was happy? Or would he have been happy, living his life as a man?
In that infamous article on the "Opt-Out Revolution," Lisa Belkin argues that --on average -- women are less ambitious than men, less interested in the conventional measures of success -- money, power, titles -- and suggests that it may be due to biological differences between men and women.
This conclusion is firmly rejected by Anna Fels, author of Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives. She makes a classic liberal feminist argument: ambition is not seen as a "feminine" quality, especially in the mainstream white middle-class definition of femininity; many women censor their own ambitions and choose not to compete with men as a result; and society penalizes women who are overtly ambitious and competitive. This argument should be familiar to anyone who has read Susan Faludi's Backlash or taken an introduction to Women's Studies class.
What's new and interesting in this book is Fels' emphasis on recognition as a fundamental human need. She has a very specific definition in mind here:
"Recognition means being valued by others for qualities that we experience and value in ourselves; it involves appreciation by another person that feels accurate and meaningful to the recipient. Because recognition affirms a person's individual experience or accomplishment, it is different from other forms of attention."
Fels' description of how women simultaneously hunger for this sort of recognition and deny that they desire it (and are uncomfortable when they receive it) rang very true to me. For example, she cites repeated examples of women running for elected office -- perhaps the ultimate action of seeking public recognition -- who frame their activitism as just another form of caregiving. However, she sometimes pushes this argument to the edge of absurdity. Reading this book, one might think that the biggest danger of divorce to homemakers is the loss of the recognition provided by their ex-husbands rather than the financial threat or that the biggest advantage of the "old boys network" is the recognition it provides rather than the doors to power it opens.
Fels is about as negative about full-time parenting as anything I've read since The Feminine Mystique. She writes that a body of literature "document[s] the large component of child care that consists of demanding, low-control, repetitive tasks. This aspect of child care undoubtedly accounts for the fact that virtually everyone who can afford some kind of child care has it. It is the reason that full-time parenting, frequently praised as the most important and meaningful job in the world, is not one that men are lining up to do." Further, she argues that few people receive recognition for their parenting skills, because children are notoriously self-centered (Fels says "comically oblivious") and no one else is paying attention to what you're doing.
Fels argues that -- except for the very stressful years of the late 20s and early 30s when both careers and young children are highly demanding -- working mothers are happier and more satisfied with their lives, their marriages, and their sense of self than at-home mothers. Her basic recommendations are for more government support for child care, more paternal care, and for women who are unhappy at work to seek out better jobs rather than to give up on paid employment entirely. She is concerned that women who "opt-out" will be buying temporary relief at the cost of long-term depression.
When I was in college, I read a book called X: A Fabulous Children's Story, which is about a child raised so that no one at all knows if X is a boy or a girl, so X does all the boy games and all the girl games and lives happily ever after. This is the classic position of equality feminism, which denies that there are any innate differences between boys and girls.
Obviously, my husband the SAHD and I aren't terribly big into gender roles, so we're often a bit embarassed by how much our older son is into typical boy things -- trucks and cars and trains and airplanes and construction equipment. (The younger one is too little to express such preferences.) We're still not convinced that there are little trucks somewhere on the Y chromosome, though, as we haven't raised our children in a vacuum -- they're exposed to books and television and other kids on the playground. (One of my friends likes to tell the story of how her son's preference for pink went away after exactly one day of school.)
If you watch closely on a playground, you can see gender roles being created. Of course there are exceptions, but it seems that mothers are more likely to chase after little girls saying "be careful," while letting their boys explore more freely. David Reed suggests that mothers are more likely to hover than father -- and if men are more likely to spend times with their sons than with their daughters, this reinforces the pattern.
At our encouragement, my mother bought my son a doll, which he occasionally undresses and redresses, but mostly ignores. But he often plays with the trucks as if they were dolls, taking them to the "tractor dentist" who cleans their shovels, and having them go to visit their friends.
I'll be watching to see what happens as he gets older, and what his younger brother's interests turn out to be.