Fortune: Why won't little boys be as affectionate as girls

Fortune: Why won't little boys be as affectionate as girls

July 3rd, 2011 by Mary Fortune in Life Entertainment

I must warn you, this column contains obnoxious gender stereotypes that used to make me seethe and fume and growl and shoot lasers from my feminist eyeballs. Then I had kids. Sons, to be specific. And the last 11 years of raising sons have left me totally incapable of even pretending that gender stereotypes don't have a firm basis in fact.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. But I am not raising any exceptions. I am raising loud, smelly, grunting boys who think pink is gross and that my need to constantly talk to them and ask them questions and subject them to my annoying attention while they are trying to watch golf or SpongeBob is downright oppressive.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately because I suddenly no longer have any little boys at home. They've grown past the stage where I can coerce them into hugging me or shopping with me or listening to me because they are my helpless captives.

My girlfriends - especially my mom, who is my original best friend - are increasingly important to me as I navigate the realities of living, effectively, in a frat house.

We talk a lot, my girlfriends and I. We talk about everything. All the time. We talk about our feelings and our relationships and the choices we make and how they define our lives, and we talk about shoes and sometimes, when we're out of other stuff to talk about, we even talk about our jobs.

When I ask them how they are, my girlfriends never mumble the word "fine." They TELL ME how they are.

"Why do women need to hear everything said out loud?" a male friend once asked me. "Sometimes I think they care more about hearing stuff out loud than they care about whether or not the stuff is true."

Because we're women, OK? That's why. Why do men have such a strong aversion to explicitly stating what they're thinking and feeling? Because they're men, OK? That's why.

I often tell my sons that I love them. They're generally pretty tolerant of this, but they have a decidedly male approach in their responses these days. My youngest, Ben, who is 6, recently responded to "I love you so much" by touching my face and gazing steadily at me with his impossibly blue eyes and saying, "I do too, Mom."

You do too, Ben? You love you so much too? Good to know. Glad things are working out between you and yourself.

OK, OK, I know what he meant. But I really should do a huge favor for the women who will one day be part of his life by explaining to him that "I do too" and "Me too" and, oh heaven forbid, "Ditto," are not ideal responses to "I love you."

At a party my family recently attended, the small and stunningly adorable daughter of a friend crawled into my lap and curled up for a long stay.

She talked to me about her yellow hairband and how it coordinated with the stripes in her dress and about the spellings of her name and her friends' names and the letters of the alphabet that are harder to write than some other letters. She got up at one point and disappeared, but soon returned with her blanket and covered us up as she resumed chatting from her perch in my lap.

It all made me ridiculously, deliriously happy.

Meanwhile, my sons and the other boys at the party (including this little girl's older brother) were dragging a ladder over to a shed so they could clamber onto its decidedly rickety roof.Then they headed out for a hike, during which they found rocks that had the delightful quality of being easy to smash into smaller rocks when violently hurled and stomped with great force.

People, do not tell me gender stereotypes don't have a basis in reality. I fought the good fight. I gave my sons dolls. They used them as cargo and speed bumps for their toy dump trucks. I told them pink is NOT a girl color. They made noises with their armpits.

I tell my sons: Hey, I am a girl! I am an athlete! I am a breadwinner! I am fierce and smart and strong, and I don't really like pink, either! Stereotypes are bad!

But I also clearly see that as long as I insist on all this hugging and kissing and talking and "I love you so much" stuff, I have zero credibility with them on this topic. None.

So I'm done. I give up. And now I'm going to brunch to talk about this with my girlfriends.

Email Mary Fortune at mkfortune@comcast.net.