I was raised a tomboy feminist. If I have a boy, I want to raise a feminist boy; likewise if I have a girl. And I find I'm facing head-on the inherently different treatments of boyhood and girlhood in our society and especially language.
I'm not talking about expectations on the clothes they wear (though if you ask me if I know the gender of the baby and link it to the question of what color or style of things to buy, I will point out that any child I have will spend time in both legless sleepers and t-shirts and overalls, and my favorite colors for baby clothes and accessories are blue, red, purple, orange, green, and rainbow, regardless of gender).
I'm talking about societal permissiveness.
Permission to have fun, to want and play with toys, to get dirty, to break things, to mess up and recover from it. "Boys will be boys" -- they have that permission reinforced until an eventual age when they will be expected to "grow up" -- except that a "boyish grin" will still be looked on fondly.
What about a "girlish grin"? Does that even mean anything?
If I have a girl I want her to grow up grinning easily, to know it and be unashamed about it if she wants and enjoys high-tech toys or running around outside -- and if I have a boy I want the same for him except I also want him to openly anticipate that female friends might like the same things (and that male friends might not, and that's ok too), and I don't want him to believe that the permission to express those aspects of his character is inherently due to his gender and genitalia.
Nor would I want a son of mine to believe that "girls can't" play sports or goof around with action figures, go fishing or mess about in a mudhole, or that "guys can't" dance, play dress-up, play with babies or cook or do anything that they want to do, for that matter, and enjoy those things and still be ok, as guys.
We were visiting friends recently whose 3-year-old son has been fond of pink partly because his best friend, a girl, really likes pink, but who's realizing it's not considered a thing for boys. He watched me folding my laundry to re-pack and noted that I didn't have any pink clothes. I replied that I like pink but I don't wear it as often as I did when I was younger. "I guess girls often like pink," he said. "A lot of people like pink," I answered, my heart breaking a little for this little boy facing what may be the first in a long line of episodes of making his desires and affinities conform to gender expectations.
So if you say something around me like "Boys will be boys" and see me wince, this is why. Kids will be kids, I would rather say. Both boys and girls need time when they are expected to be responsible, and time when they are expected to play. Those expectations have a serious impact on what we become as adults, too - what we permit ourselves to want (or realize we want) and do.
And regarding "boys and their toys," as I recently reminded Brian, I'm the one who has the iPhone in this relationship. I'm sure I sounded like I was just teasing when I said that. While inside, I was thinking, "Please don't say such sexist things around my baby."
Because I think things like that mess with kids' heads, I really do. And with all of us, in ways we don't even realize. I can't stop my kids from hearing such things, I know, but I will tell different stories, and provide different messages, like a counterspell, and I would appreciate it if those around me would think about doing the same. For all the kids in your life, including each other.