I've just returned from Gymboree with the Bambina. My experiences there, at our library, in our park, at museums, and anywhere children and their parents congregate, lead me to wonder (as the mother of a girl) just what kind of men these boys are going to grow up to be.
I know it's a little bit of a reach to extrapolate the behavior of 2-5 year-olds out to manhood, but go with me here and help me out if you can. The only way I can describe most of these little boys is "off the chain," as in wild as all hell. They are beyond rowdy, moving toward insane, and the moms (unfortunately, it's still mostly moms with them) are completely oblivious or apathetic to the destruction they leave in their wake.
I know some people think "well, that's how little boys are, you know." But the truth is that I DO know some really lovely little boys whose parents teach them to be careful around smaller kids, who tell them that no, it's not okay to throw the building blocks at other kids, and that using the toy hammer on another child is not okay. And the further truth is that The Bambina would be one of those kids throwing the blocks and randomly clocking other kids if I didn't teach her not to. So the gender thing only goes so far.
What seems to me to be the issue (and I may be pulling this out of my butt here) is less of a biological gender thing and more of a straight-up socialization thing; to wit, a complete unwillingness on the part of the mothers to 'sissify' their boys. It's like teaching the boy to play gently with smaller kids is somehow going to suck the masculinity out of him or something. They seem to derive a weird pleasure in watching their boys basically go destructo on a museum playroom's toys and fixtures, and if the boy happens to hit another kid in the process, the mom will just say, "Oh, I'm so sorry; these things happen with boys, don't they?" And I'm watching this happen and thinking, "NO! These things do NOT just happen! Accidents happen, kids run into each other, they are oblivious to the presence of other kids, smaller or larger; that happens. But hitting and essentially tearing up shared community property without any parental intervention doesn't 'just happen;' it's learned, selfish, antisocial behavior under the guise of "being boys."
At Gymboree, one little boy was a complete terror. He walked up to Bambina and just grabbed her hair and pulled it. I ran and pulled his hand off her and said, "that wasn't nice." His mom apologized to me, but didn't make him apologize to Bambina. The next class, I was keeping my eye on him, but obviously not enough, because he did it again. This after he had made another boy cry by pushing him off one of the climby things. At that point his mom took him home because we were all keeping our kids away from him. The third class I was ready to say something if he even got near Bambina. I was just going to be real low-key and say, "I think it's best if we just keep them separated for today, if you don't mind." Well, Bambina went running off to go sit on a bouncy thing, he ran over and shoved her off it so hard that I heard the smack. That was IT. I yelled, "Whoa! No hitting! Say you're sorry right now!" Luckily, Bambina was more confused than upset, just looking at him like, "what is wrong with you?" So as I sat with her and said, "that boy wasn't very nice; hitting is wrong. Are you okay. etc etc" the mom just packed him up to take him home again. She looked back at me and mouthed the word "sorry" with a smile, and I just looked at her blankly. This, again, after he had not only hit another little boy, but her response had been, "that wasn't nice; go give him a hug sorry." The little kid was terrified! Can you imagine someone smacking you and then his mom forcing you to receive a hug from him?! It was unbelievable. And she, like so many moms before her in my experience, just brushed it off like "oh, he's just big for his age and he's so physical, but he really doesn't mean it."
Lady, if your TWO year old consistently just walks up to kids and smacks, pushes, hits and elbows them, you have a massive, major problem on your hands. I know plenty of two year-olds, and NONE of them get away with unprovoked aggression toward other kids. And, this is where I'm going to sound all post-feminist, but I honestly think it's absolutely unforgivable for a boy to hit a girl at any age. If my son ever hit a girl, he'd maybe live to regret it. Maybe. That is one of those lines that just should never be crossed. Obviously, you don't want him hitting anyone, but a big boy walking up to a 20-something pound girl and clocking her, with no consequences, is beyond unbelievable.
So--as I generally posit at this part of my rants--what's my point? I guess it's this: as the mother of a girl, I don't understand the raising of boys. But I have to assume that the principles are the same: no hitting, share, be gentle with smaller kids, take care of other people's property, take turns, use your inside voice, say you're sorry when you hurt someone, and learn by my teaching that actions have consequences. You can't tell me that that is an emasculating childrearing philosophy; but you CAN tell me that it's just easier for you to not bother and then blame it on being a boy.