Yesterday, our family was invited to a birthday party for a friend of Daniel's at a local park. It was a boisterous affair, with 8 or 9 kids - mostly boys and a few girls - plus a few parents, one set of grandparents, snacks, a Star Wars-themed cake and a water fight with foam squirt toys (since the high temperature yesterday hit about 90, that water fight was a good call!) It got pretty rowdy, especially during the water fight, with kids spraying each other and us parents standing in the shade a safe distance away.
At one point, someone commented that birthday parties for girls are typically much quieter and calmer, with invitees lining up politely to hand over gifts, unlike the mayhem we were witnessing before us. Don't I know it, agreed one particularly large and jolly woman, I've been a Cub Scout leader for many years. I know what groups of boys are like. They have all those merit badges, you know. Can you imagine a group of boys sitting down in a room to do arts and crafts? She guffawed loudly, and everyone in the group laughed and shook their heads knowingly, because no, of course they couldn't imagine it.
I said nothing, but the thought of these hypothetical Cub Scouts stayed with me all afternoon. I know that groups of boys tend to be rowdy, but what of it? Does that mean they would all automatically reject the idea of participating in something artistic? It seemed like a rather close-minded assumption, I thought. And by the way, it came as no surprise to me to learn after the party that this woman, this Cub Scout leader, was the mother of the singularly loudest, most obnoxious kid at the birthday party. (Seriously, there were a few times when someone just needed to tell him to shut the hell up.)
How many boys act wild and rowdy just to fit in, I wondered? How many Cub Scouts are out there longing to earn a merit badge for Arts and Crafts or what-have-you but are afraid to because they know they would be made fun of for doing it? How many Picassos and Rembrandts and Bernsteins has the world lost or overlooked because of this mindset that boys will be boys will be boys, which we all know means anything but the Arts and Crafts merit badge in Cub Scouts.
We often discuss the consequences of our complex expectations for girls, but there's another side to this. We need to make it clear to boys that they need not be all snips and snails and puppy-dog tails, that moments of expression and creativity (both quiet and loud!) are just as acceptable as chasing each other with water squirters and yelling poop-face!, if not even more so.
This is not to say that loud and rambunctious birthday parties aren't a lot of fun. My kids had a great time at the party, eating cake and getting soaked with water on a hot day. (They were also ecstatic that the foam water pumps were party favors to take home, and spent a good part of today playing with them out in the yard.) But afterwards I made a point of talking to each of them, Daniel especially, about how proud I was that they both had fun and behaved themselves, not grabbing at the gifts and yelling inappropriately when we sat down for cake, and playing nicely with the water toys. It occurred to me that Daniel could very easily get the impression from occasions like this that boys are supposed to be wild and aggressive and totally dominant in every way, because there were a couple of boys at this party who were exactly like that and seemed to get all of the attention (and I'm not talking about the birthday kid here, by the way. He was plenty excited, but behaved just fine.)
I wonder what the Cub Scout mother would have thought about a boy making a quilt, a quilt like this one:
You can see how proud he is. Is this something to be ashamed of? Or something to be proud of?
I think you know my answer to that question.
Now, I suppose I shouldn't come down so hard on this person that I barely know. I'm sure her offhand comment was meant to be harmless, a mere observation of the goings-on and a remark on her own experience dealing with groups of boys.I have no idea what her talents are, what she does professionally or in her spare time (other than Cub Scouts, apparently). And for that matter, I have no idea what one has to do to earn a merit badge in Arts and Crafts for the Cub Scouts (though I'm too lazy to google it and I bet someone out there will blast me for this in comments); for all I know it's something totally lame like making a macramé belt that would have been out of style before even I was born...but then again, maybe not. Maybe it's something really cool like, I don't know, designing your very own quilt like my six-year-old son did, or learning how to knit your own wool hat (very handy in Wisconsin) or painting a mural at a community center. I really don't know, so feel free to enlighten me.
All my life I've been sensitive and resistant to expectations placed on me and others, especially based on gender. (Remember my stint as Paul Revere?) Perhaps we've made some progress since I was a kid, but it sure seems like we have a long way to go.