Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Boys and Girls

Recently, I was invited to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party. The girl was turning 5, and I felt it was only right to get her a toy. Now, as the mother of two boys, I have absolutely NO experience with five-year-old girl toys outside of what I played with when I was 5. And I don’t remember being 5.

See, boys are easy. Buy them a truck, any truck, Tonka is good, and they’re happy for hours. But the “girl toy” section at Toys R Us was absolutely intimidating. There are whole SERIES of toys – Barbie (of course), My Little Pony, Polly Pocket, Littlest Pet Shop, something to do with fruit, Easy-Bake, Cabbage Patch Kids, pink, pink, and pink, and pink – and I was seized with this fear that if I bought a toy from a collection that this girl didn’t already have, then I would be causing further toy-clutter, and maybe she wouldn’t like it. But, BUT, if I got her a toy from a collection she already likes and plays with, maybe she would already HAVE that toy, and then what?! At this point, I decided that this is why G-d invented gift receipts, and I committed to a smallish Polly Pocket toy. I hope she liked it.

My point here, in case you haven’t figured it out, is that boys and girls are different. I don’t care what anybody says. Boys and girls are different, men and women are different, and this conversation is over. I don’t buy for a second the “socialization” aspect, that if you raise a girl and a boy in a vacuum, and let the boy wear pink skirts and barrettes in his long hair, and make the girl wear a three-piece suit and play with trucks, that somehow they will not show the same gender distinctions that my boys show compared with my friends’ girls. (I’m speaking in generalizations here. I fully respect that some women/girls identify more with “boy” things, and vice versa, but stay with me, I’m getting somewhere important.)

I’ll give you an example. My 18-month-old son loves trucks more than anything, except trains. He loves trains more than trucks. He started pointing out every truck we passed on the road long before I ever started pointing them out to him. I bought my sons a toy stroller and baby doll, which they both fully enjoy pushing around, but they do not play with the baby doll and stroller the way their female friends play with the baby doll and stroller. They carry the doll around by its neck and like to throw it. Sometimes one pushes the stroller while the other pushes a walker, and they race. There was the time my older son decided to “nurse” the doll, but that’s not his usual play method. He did have a pink blankie for a very long time – it was his favorite of all (six) of his blankies. So I don’t necessarily feel that I’ve limited them to only “boy” colors or “boy” clothes or “boy” toys. But the day I watched my 18-month-old playing with a little doll carriage from a Polly Pocket set, pushing it around on the floor and making the “brrrrrr” noise that he uses for trucks, well, I was convinced that boys and girls are just DIFFERENT.

I say all this to make the broader point that men and women are also different. This is important. Men and women are different. They have different needs, different interests, and different roles to play. I’m not for a second saying that men and women are not EQUAL. They’re just DIFFERENT.

In the United States today, we have this complex that if men and women are to prove that they are equal (or, more accurately, if women want to prove that they are equal to men), then that means they have to do all the same things. Men should be able to stay home with baby, women should be able to be CEOs and governors and presidents, men should play field hockey and women should play football, men should sew and cook and do laundry and women should be out there trimming trees and fixing roofs.

But this creates a big problem, because women and men are not the same. Did I mention that? Women can’t do all the things that men can, and men can’t do all the things women can. It’s just a fact of life. And the result is that women are expected to do all the “women” things and the “men” things, like have babies and care for them while at the same time working 70-hour weeks. I’m sorry, but it just can’t be done. So if the woman gives up her 70-hour weeks as a high-powered lawyer so that she can stay home and raise a strong, successful child, then she has somehow given in to the misogyny of the ‘50s. But if a woman goes back to her 70-hour weeks as a high-powered lawyer when her baby is six weeks old (or chooses not to have a child so as to focus on her career), then she is somehow a failure as a woman or a mother.

She can’t win. And by extension, men can’t win, either, because they’re expected to be home to care for the kids but also to bring home the brisket. My husband, for example, would like nothing more than to be home to cook dinner for the kids and help put them to bed. But his job, which is by far the larger portion of our combined income, requires him to work fairly long hours, and he is rarely home in time for the kids’ bedtime. The upside is that he doesn’t have to be in to work until around 10:00, so he is able to get the kids ready in the morning and make them breakfast, which many men don’t get to do. So it’s not a total lose-lose.

Judaism recognizes and celebrates the differences between men and women. From the perspective of the feminist outsider, women in traditional Judaism appear somehow inferior. They are “forced” to cover their bodies and hair. They aren’t “allowed” to read Torah or lead prayer services. They have to sit separately, behind a wall or curtain. They’re not educated in Torah study.

But what no one mentions is how traditional Judaism actually views the role of women. In no way does traditional Judaism subjugate women. Women are considered to be more spiritual than men. Men are viewed as having more difficulty controlling their baser instincts and therefore need more structure and more laws in order to get closer to Hashem (G-d). Women, on the other hand, are considered to already have the spirituality to connect to Hashem without being dictated to.

What it boils down to, then, is that women and men are equal but different. Women and men have different roles to play. Just as the head of HR and the IT Director have different roles to play in the company, but one is not inferior to the other, women and men have different responsibilities in life, in marriage, and in the practice of Jewish law, but neither is inferior to the other.

In defining and accepting different roles, we make it far less stressful to decide to play those roles, to take pride in them, and to perform them well. When the IT Director isn’t also trying to draw up the Employee Contract, he has more time to spend being the best IT Director he can be. And when the head of HR doesn’t also have to worry about setting up the new printers, she can be a much more effective HR manager. The same goes for women and men.

I'm not saying that men shouldn't assist in childcare and housekeeping responsibilities, and I'm not saying that women shouldn't work outside the home. Don't get me wrong. I'd be denying my own personal way of life if I said either of those things. But it's my responsibility to light the candles and make the challah, and it's my husband's responsibility to say the daily prayers. I don't want to have to do both! Who has the time?!


The Newmans said...

Great post, as always! You never did say how Tali's party was :)

Anonymous said...

I remember my niece's reaction to a beautiful baby doll someone gave her for her birthday. She was playing with her presents in the next room and when I went to get her for the birthday cake, I found her jumping up and down on the doll singing in a MOST cheerful voice, "I'm jumpin' on the baby, jumpin' on the baby!"

For the record, she's an only child and is now in college and so far seems as normal as anyone else in our family...