The other day I told my five year old boy a secret. I told him it would keep him safe and help him the rest of his life. He sidled up to me and put his ear to my face. I whispered “never, ever, ever, ever, hit a girl.” I made him repeat it. I made him memorize it. Later I asked him “what’s the secret” and he echoed back “never, ever, ever, ever, hit a girl.”
There’s a girl in my son’s class, and I think she likes him. At five, it’s hard to tell, but when a girl annoys a boy to the point of frustration, and occasionally hits him, it’s a good sign of her liking him (even older girls—when I was in seventh grade, a girl signaled her infatuation by pulling my chair out as I was sitting down). My boy, in his frustration and in retribution for being hit, treated this girl like he does his younger brother: he hit her. The teacher immediately gave him a time-out. After school, when I asked if the girl was also punished, he said no. That’s when I told him the secret.
Boys are not innately gifted with the knowledge not to hit girls. Practically everything that we consider to be civil behavior is learned. The womb and DNA only go so far, and the rest is gained through careful observation and imitation.
Children who grow up in violent households tend to be violent adults. Growing up in a home with constant fighting, arguments, shouting, occasional violence, foul language, and drinking tends to produce adults who fight, argue, should, get violent, and use foul language. I am a firm believer in exceptions. Some children decide that they’ve had enough, vow to live better, and do. Typically these kids have seen other families who don’t fight, argue, shout, hit each other, and cuss. Perhaps a friend whose home is a peaceful, quiet refuge, to which the kid escapes as often as possible. It’s quite easy to understand why a child would vow to become more like the Cleavers than the Bluths*.
My point is that a child who grows up in what we’d consider squalor, violence and pain with no reference to anything else, has no idea that her life isn’t normal, or that there’s a better life for her. This is most apparent in other countries, where there’s limited access to outside influence. Girls growing up in certain cultures see their mothers and sisters physically beaten, denigrated, sexually mutilated as youngsters, and sometimes forced to have sex against their wills. They know it’s not a pleasant life, but they don’t usually have anything to compare it to, so they just hope their husband will be one of the kind ones. Boys in that culture learn that hitting girls is okay, even expected, and “no” is not an acceptable answer when sex is demanded from a girl.
Why should I teach my boy to never, ever hit a girl? Because boys and girls are different—biologically, anatomically, and physiologically different. They have different bone structures (who has more ribs?**), different joint construction, different internal organs, and different external organs. Female humans produce hormones which inhibit facial hair growth after puberty, while males have facial hair (with some genetic variations). Girls are generally physically weaker than boys. Some girls can whip a boy’s tail, but I’m speaking in generalities within the genome.
I hate the term “gender roles”. Today’s culture wants me to leave my boy alone to figure out his “gender identity” by himself. Absolute rubbish. There are two massive problems with the “leave them alone” approach.
First problem: little kids have no idea what it means to be a little boy or a little girl, but they know all about how it feels to be one. They can’t figure out the meaning by themselves because their minds aren’t fully developed. If I let my preschooler walk down a busy street by himself in heavy traffic, while I watched him “figure it out”, I’d (rightly) be arrested for neglect and endangerment, and the authorities would (rightly) question my ability and capacity as a parent. Yet, in the YOLO have-it-your-way modern culture, we can’t call it neglect to leave a child to figure out his own body, feelings and biological roles.
Pop culture actually applauds parents who allow their children to choose their own gender, and treats children who say they are boys trapped in girls’ bodies, or girls trapped in boys’ as some kind of hero. They cite cases where two-year old girls want to be boys. The American Psychiatric Association is being pressured to remove the word “disorder” from “gender identity disorder in children” in the all-powerful Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrist’s Necronomicon. They want it changed to “gender incongruence” (sounds like something that requires a diaper to me).
A two-year old can’t tell a stuffed animal from a real one; it’s insanity to hand them such life-altering decisions. If Sally says she’s a boy, we could say, that’s nice, honey, and continue treating her like a girl and go on with life. But the culture wants us to focus on that statement, and hand-wring over it, and analyze it, and make it the epicenter of Sally’s life (some parents make the mistake of trying to convince Sally she’s a girl, which is like trying to convince her that her stuffed dog is just cloth and stuffing). The culture wants us to coo and coddle and encourage the hidden “he” inside the “she”, and it’s utter foolishness.
Then they blame “other people” when Sally ends up a maladjusted adult. It’s not “other people” who are bigoted and small-minded. It’s the parent who hyper-focuses on a falsehood. Teaching Sally that it is okay to be a boy inside a girl’s body is teaching a lie. Sally is, in fact, a girl, and she needs to understand that first. And boys are boys. If we teach our children that they get to choose their own “gender role” (it’s really a totally meaningless term), then we are teaching them that nothing is what it seems, that up can be down, that boy can be girl, that no can be yes. Teaching kids lies leads to messed up adults.
Teaching five-year old Billy that some boys are really girls trapped inside a boy’s body confuses him, and makes him question everything else he sees. When Billy’s fifteen, what will it mean if a girl says “no”, because what if she really wants to have sex but she’s just acting on her “gender role”. The girl’s parents should have taught her that sex is natural, pleasurable, and should be pursued, he reasons, so Billy will just continue to force it upon her, for her own good. How many times has that happened? And we wonder why rape is becoming a national sport among young people, to the point where we can’t even define it anymore. These boys really don’t think they did anything wrong, and the girls are just as confused.
Pop culture also applauds parents who encourage their toddlers to break gender roles. When a three year old is encouraged to come “out” as gay it’s seen as “brave”. In fact, there’s no reliable way to predict if a young child is gay. Jumping to conclusions because little Johnny plays with a doll or little Jane splashes in mud puddles is futile and stressful. Later in life, gay and lesbian adults all seem to remember “as far back as I can recall” they were homosexual (why would they think otherwise). Yet when we attempt to teach our little boys and girls that they are, truly, little boys and little girls, and what that means, we are trashed for teaching “gender stereotypes” and being “heteronormative”.
I hate the word “heteronormative”. It implies that men and women lack clear biological roles within the human species—that those roles are just a matter of opinion. It’s not opinion. It’s biology. Men and women are built to be attracted to each other, to be sexually stimulated by each other, and to mate, with the end result of producing and rearing children. There’s no “normal” about it, it’s simply biology. We don’t call flowers “beenormative” presuming that some flowers prefer to have no bees, or some bees prefer not to visit flowers. Flowers and bees are mutually beneficial to each other’s existence. “Heteronormative” is a ridiculous term.
When I teach my five year old that he’s a boy, and how that makes him different from a girl, I’m not teaching him bias against adults men who prefer other men. He will learn they’re out there soon enough. My child is not a threat to a homosexual man’s lifestyle, and he doesn’t have to know about those topics until he can handle them without confusion. Talking to a preschooler or kindergartener about adult topics like anal sex is child abuse. They simply can’t process that information.
Second problem with letting kids figure out their own gender: it leaves them without structure and purpose. Little kids need to learn their purpose through structure and observation. My son doesn’t care what jobs mommy and daddy do, if I cook and wash the dishes, and if my wife fixes their toys (in our home, that’s how it is). They don’t see their mommy as being a man because she is handy around the house, or see me as a woman because I cook. They learn how mommy and daddy treat each other, the affection we have, and the structure of our family.
I can’t tell my son that our family is just one way to live, with no right or wrong, and that families who have two mommies or two daddies are also just ways to live, because he’s not old enough to make those judgments. That’s exactly what the Human Rights Campaign (and LGBT advocacy group) wants me to teach in the books they promote. This isn’t teaching tolerance, it’s sowing confusion in a young mind. My son needs to learn his special place in the world, and how to relate to others. He needs to learn it from me and from his mother.
I am not saying that other kinds families are bad, or that they are to be feared or hated. I am saying that our family is the foundation of my son’s world. I am saying that I will teach him to be a man of integrity and purpose. I will teach him to stand up for those weaker than himself, to help others who are in need, to love others like he loves himself, and to place others first, above himself. In our family, we do that by placing God above all.
There are rules in my house. No means “no”, not “maybe” or “keep asking”. Three little words can end an argument (great parenting tip): “asked and answered”. Rules like don’t hit your brother, don’t take stuff that isn’t yours, build character, which can be applied to so many areas of our boys’ lives when they are older. Treating girls with dignity, being polite, well-mannered, and respectful with their elders, working hard in their jobs without complaining, these are the values we seek to instill. We don’t want confused children growing up into defiant punks or sullen purposeless drifters searching for any kind of acceptance from anyone. Knowing who they are, as boys, is central to their character. It’s not teaching gender stereotypes.
I don’t care if my son plays with dolls, or with tanks and mud pies. I don’t care if he likes pink or blue. Those are external things. I care that he knows who he is, and not some mush about his “gender identity” like there’s some seed in his brain causing him to have a real gender different from his biological sex. That’s just hogwash. You can tell me stories of boys who claim to be girls, and want to wear dresses and act like girls all you want, and tell me “it hasn’t happened to you”. Fair enough. It hasn’t. But if it did, I would not vary the structure and teaching in our home.
That teaching is based on three very firm and true foundations.
First foundation: God does not make mistakes. A God who makes mistakes by definition isn’t God. If God isn’t God, then why have God at all? Besides, a God who makes mistakes would be almost guaranteed to end the universe at some point (Oops! I didn’t mean to change the gravitational constant. What’s that? You say all matter has now disintegrated? Oh well, my bad). It follows that if God does not make mistakes, then me being a man, and my boys being boys is not a mistake. They have the physical makeup of boys, and they are, biologically, male. Not a mistake. God didn’t put a female into a male’s body. Never happened.
Second foundation: all of God’s creation was proclaimed as “good” by God. God made us to be good. We each have a purpose, and our purpose must be in line with how he created us. If God created us as males, we have a purpose to live as males, not as females. Living outside of God’s purpose is defined as error. Another word for error is sin. The world is full of sin. There’s so much sin in the world that we can’t avoid it, and we are therefore sinners. Being sinners, we are apart from God’s purpose.
Third foundation: by knowing God’s purpose, and realizing we are sinners, we are called to be reconciled with God. There’s only one way the Bible gives to do that: through His son. Either we believe that God has a Son, Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life as a deity on earth, died for our sins, and rose again to defeat death itself, or we don’t believe it. By believing, we can accept God’s forgiveness and fulfill His purpose. By not believing, we stay in sin.
This is what we teach our boys. That they are special, made in God’s image, made to be good by a loving, caring, good God***. That they are boys because God made them boys. That they can grow up to be men, and fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.
The secret I told my five year old “never, ever, ever, ever, hit a girl” is just one step in his journey to know God’s purpose for his life. He wasn’t born with that knowledge, none of us were. We have to teach it to him. All parents should teach their kids such secrets.
P.S. I’m not a trained psychologist. In college, that’s the one class I actually failed: my experiment was to see what happens when I never show up for class except for the midterm and final, and then use the dot-pattern method to complete the scan-tron answer sheet. No, I haven’t done or read long studies that explore the depths of the debate of nature vs. nurture. No, I haven’t interviewed Ph.D.’s as sources for this blog post. If you expected that kind of dissertation, click here and find it yourself.
*The Bluths are the dysfunctional family in the TV show “Arrested Development”
**Trick question: men and women have the same number of ribs, although God said he used Adam’s rib to make Eve, when he did, he made Eve with the same number of ribs Adam had left. I can’t really say, because I wasn’t there. In any case, for the anatomists among us, I should clarify that the question is rhetorical. [This is an update to the original post based on reader comments about that question]
***Feel free to ask me “how can a good God create people who do such evil?” or “how can a good God create babies who are born with dreaded diseases, or physical issues, or stillborn?” I’d love to answer such questions, and I’m not afraid of them. Neither is God.