Over the weekend, I got a highly entertaining and informative glimpse into typical – not stereotypical – gender differences. Watching my two-year-old niece and closing-in-on two-year-old godson interact provided a lot of laughs. But it also gave me some writing-ready sociological insights, starting with the stuffed animals I bought them.
For Douglas, it was a large blue brontosaurus. For Maggie, it was a giant plush Pegasus that I probably should have resisted. Then again, watching her ride her “pony” was pretty adorable.
My godson, finding himself amidst a whole array of fascinating new toys, was less impressed with his gift. I don’t think he noticed it once, in fact.
Maggie did, however. She loves dinosaurs and dragons, and zeroed in on the blue brontosaurus with lit-up eyes. Not wanting her to get attached when there had only been one of the critters at Toys’R’Us – hence the reason I didn’t buy her one – I got down beside her.
“That’s Douglas’ dinosaur,” I explained, then watched her follow said owner around the room for the next thirty seconds trying to hand him his property.
He, meanwhile, toddled around the room as well, adorably oblivious to her entreaties until she finally decided he didn’t want it at all and took the dinosaur behind her mother’s chair.
About an hour later, she wanted to try on my knee-high boots, which ended up easily going up to her thighs. Delighted with her new apparel, she naturally went to share that joy with her new friend.
“Douglas!” she shouted in glee. “Douglas! Look at my shoes!”
Douglas, however, was absorbed in the task of rearranging magnetic letters and numbers on the refrigerator. I don’t think he ever noticed her shoes. Moreover, whenever she would try to give him a hug, he was very quick to tell her “No.” Yet when she wasn’t around anymore, he kept plaintively asking for “Miggie.”
Watching all of that, I couldn’t help but consider how very different these two babies were.
Oh, they both like dinosaurs and jumping on padded mats in the kitchen and having a playmate available. But Maggie was far more interactive in that play, while Douglas was far more introspective. He was task-oriented, and she was relationship-oriented.
As his mom put it about the boots interaction (or attempted interaction), “It starts early.”
And it does, doesn’t it? PC or not, we men and women do tend to exhibit sometimes complimentary, sometimes conflicting tendencies and traits. For one thing, for better and worse, women are much more apt to be risk-adverse, nurturing and expressive in their emotions than men.
That’s not to say that men and women, boys and girls are always like that. There are women who are exceptionally competitive. And men who do, in fact, like shoes. Personality (nature) and upbringing (nurture) most definitely play parts in how we develop into distinctive individuals, no matter our gender.
Writers need to be aware of that reality in order to create engaging characters. But they also need to understand typical male and female gender differences in order to create believable characters. Not stereotypical. Just typical enough to seem authentic.
Otherwise, we have instances where readers can’t help but sense that something is off about a novel, even if they can’t quite figure out what that something is.
So if you’re going to write, have fun! People watch! Study the toddlers in your life right alongside the adults. That way, you can figure out what makes each of us tick, typical gender differences and all.