The real difference between girls and boys

This morning my five-year-old announced that he would be learning “how to tell the difference between girls and boys”. Like any self-respecting liberal parent, I found myself torn between thinking “cool – he’s ready for a frank, open discussion” and “hmm, what crappy stereotypes will they be throwing his way today?” Just to get a feel for what would be happening, I asked him what they’d looked at already and was told “girl animals and boy animals – who have more feathers, like at the park”. I would have corrected him and explained that there are male and female animals who aren’t peacocks and peahens, but we were running late for school, so I let it pass. Besides, peacocks and peahens might provide a good metaphor for gender stereotyping, if and when I can be arsed to think about it more.

Upon picking him up from after-school club, I asked him what he’d learned.

It was boring. We didn’t do boys and girls. We just did babies.

So, I asked him, what’s the difference between a boy baby and a girl baby?

Girl babies have hair. Boy babies have bald heads.

Obviously this surprised me somewhat, what with it being total nonsense. So I probed further, wishing to know how he found this out. Who told him this?

No one. I just knew already.

He was clearly very proud of this, so I didn’t push it further. Still, I was puzzled. Surely I’d taught him a little bit more than this?

Sure, he’s made category errors before. For instance, when he was in Reception, a female classmate told him that his writing was “like a scribble”. This hurt him deeply, something demonstrated not least by the fact that for months afterwards, if anyone he liked was identified as a girl, he’d query it thus: “but she didn’t say I scribble!” Even so, it’s not as though he didn’t have some evidence that the difference wasn’t all down to handwriting critiques. Only two days previously he’d been asking me, out of the blue, “Mummy, what’s the difference between a willy and a vagina?” (unfortunately, he’d pronounced it “welly” and, seeing as we were in the process of getting ready to go out to a farm park and were indeed handling wellies, I almost told him that Peppa Pig and George didn’t need to wear vaginas to jump in muddy puddles. But then I realised what he’d asked and came up with the infinitely more crap response “oh, a willy sticks out whereas a vagina is a hole”. Yeah, I know).

So essentially, my son thinks male and female differences are defined not by genitals, but by whether or not a baby has hair. All in all, it’s not that bad. It’s better than Simon Baron-Cohen’s male brain / female brain nonsense. If we’re going to have an arbitrary gender binary, why not base it on whether or not your newborn bonce has hair? We could even colour-code it – pink stuff for the baldies, blue stuff for the hairies. The hairies would be obliged to like cars and war and all that kind of bollocks, whereas the baldies would have a real thing for dollies and unpaid domestic labour. I can totally see this working.

Anyhow, that’s my plan. A new understanding of sex difference, wholly based on a baby’s barnet. Although, just as he was about to go to sleep, my son did, dreamily, decide to toss in another couple of gems:

If you have a willy, you’re not allowed to draw it.


And if you have a vagina, you can’t point it at things.

Well, yes. I am convinced that this could become a well-known proverb, once we work out what it actually means. In the meantime, that’s something for us all, hairy or bald, to mull over.

This entry was posted in Anatomy, Female, Male, Sex Education, Talking to your kids about sex and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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