published Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Fortune: Why won’t little boys be as affectionate as girls

by Mary Fortune

I must warn you, this column contains obnoxious gender stereotypes that used to make me seethe and fume and growl and shoot lasers from my feminist eyeballs. Then I had kids. Sons, to be specific. And the last 11 years of raising sons have left me totally incapable of even pretending that gender stereotypes don’t have a firm basis in fact.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. But I am not raising any exceptions. I am raising loud, smelly, grunting boys who think pink is gross and that my need to constantly talk to them and ask them questions and subject them to my annoying attention while they are trying to watch golf or SpongeBob is downright oppressive.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately because I suddenly no longer have any little boys at home. They’ve grown past the stage where I can coerce them into hugging me or shopping with me or listening to me because they are my helpless captives.

My girlfriends — especially my mom, who is my original best friend — are increasingly important to me as I navigate the realities of living, effectively, in a frat house.

We talk a lot, my girlfriends and I. We talk about everything. All the time. We talk about our feelings and our relationships and the choices we make and how they define our lives, and we talk about shoes and sometimes, when we’re out of other stuff to talk about, we even talk about our jobs.

When I ask them how they are, my girlfriends never mumble the word “fine.” They TELL ME how they are.

“Why do women need to hear everything said out loud?” a male friend once asked me. “Sometimes I think they care more about hearing stuff out loud than they care about whether or not the stuff is true.”

Because we’re women, OK? That’s why. Why do men have such a strong aversion to explicitly stating what they’re thinking and feeling? Because they’re men, OK? That’s why.

I often tell my sons that I love them. They’re generally pretty tolerant of this, but they have a decidedly male approach in their responses these days. My youngest, Ben, who is 6, recently responded to “I love you so much” by touching my face and gazing steadily at me with his impossibly blue eyes and saying, “I do too, Mom.”

You do too, Ben? You love you so much too? Good to know. Glad things are working out between you and yourself.

OK, OK, I know what he meant. But I really should do a huge favor for the women who will one day be part of his life by explaining to him that “I do too” and “Me too” and, oh heaven forbid, “Ditto,” are not ideal responses to “I love you.”

At a party my family recently attended, the small and stunningly adorable daughter of a friend crawled into my lap and curled up for a long stay.

She talked to me about her yellow hairband and how it coordinated with the stripes in her dress and about the spellings of her name and her friends’ names and the letters of the alphabet that are harder to write than some other letters. She got up at one point and disappeared, but soon returned with her blanket and covered us up as she resumed chatting from her perch in my lap.

It all made me ridiculously, deliriously happy.

Meanwhile, my sons and the other boys at the party (including this little girl’s older brother) were dragging a ladder over to a shed so they could clamber onto its decidedly rickety roof.Then they headed out for a hike, during which they found rocks that had the delightful quality of being easy to smash into smaller rocks when violently hurled and stomped with great force.

People, do not tell me gender stereotypes don’t have a basis in reality. I fought the good fight. I gave my sons dolls. They used them as cargo and speed bumps for their toy dump trucks. I told them pink is NOT a girl color. They made noises with their armpits.

I tell my sons: Hey, I am a girl! I am an athlete! I am a breadwinner! I am fierce and smart and strong, and I don’t really like pink, either! Stereotypes are bad!

But I also clearly see that as long as I insist on all this hugging and kissing and talking and “I love you so much” stuff, I have zero credibility with them on this topic. None.

So I’m done. I give up. And now I’m going to brunch to talk about this with my girlfriends.

Email Mary Fortune at

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rolando said...

Very, very well put Mrs. Fortune...yes, I said Mrs. Rather presumptuous of me, I know, but you were the victim of that Politically Correct BS about boys and girls being the same.

You now know they are not, and never have been. Welcome to the real world.

Men never did think men and women, boys and girls are the same, for what that is worth. We just let you go on thinking that, knowing you would learn. Forcing boys -- or girls -- into something they are not is not good for them, regardless of what the shrinks say about it.

Sounds to me like your new life with your sons is just beginning. You have a world of experience waiting for you. Don't try too hard to be one of them...they know you aren't but love you just the same.

What is this about the "I love you" thing? Either we love you or we don't. You should already know. Please stop doubting us. When the times are right, we will tell you in those very many more.

I told my daughters about boys who say, "I love you", at the drop of a hat. I also told my son about girls who say the same.

July 3, 2011 at 4:45 p.m.
momofboys2 said...

Thank you Mary Fortune for making me laugh!!! I have 2 boys and these stories of how funny boys are made me laugh until tears ran down my face. As the oldest of 2 girls I had no clue what to do with the wonderful baby boys I gave birth to. They are dear and clever and sweet and ornery and energetic and sometimes... gross. I am glad to know I am not alone in the world of boys and someone else knows how I feel.

July 10, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.
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