TBR: It’s A Girl!

Today’s book is It’s A Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters, edited by Andrea Buchanan.  I’m one of the last stops on this month’s blog book tour.

At the MotherTalk event I attended, Andi read her essay from this book, "Learning to Write," which is about how her daughter used writing to express her anger with — and her separation from — Andi.  I asked her why she included it, since it’s not obviously about gender, and she said that it was because she found the issue of enmeshment and separation was a running theme in the essays about mothering daughters, while it was not in the ones about mothering sons.  As she explains in her response to Meredith at Boston Mommy, Andi found that mothers couldn’t help identifying with their daughters, and revisiting "the ghosts of their girlhoods."  (Do fathers of sons go through the same struggles?)


I am the mother of two sons.   I adore them to pieces, but I do sometimes feel a pang for the daughter that I’m never going to have.   These books  (I wrote about It’s A Boy back in November) made me think about what it is that I think would be different with a daughter.  It’s not the traditionally girly stuff that I’m sad about missing (although I’ll admit to coveting the little girls’ dresses in the stores).

I think maybe I’m wistful about not getting to teach a girl that she can do anything she dreams of.  Oh, I’ll certainly teach my boys that they can do anything they dream of, but it’s not the same.  I guess, like many of the writers in the collection, I had thoughts of raising a daughter without the hangups and insecurities I have.  (Also, I think society today is by far harsher on boys who aren’t conventionally masculine than it is on girls who aren’t conventionally feminine, so I’ll worry about my sons even as I encourage them to follow their hearts.)

This sounds silly, but I’m also getting a sinking feeling that my boys may not be willing to sit still for all the books that I’ve dreamed of reading to them.  I know, they’re young yet, but… D is pretty much uninterested in any chapter books that don’t involve pirates or rocketships.  I’m going to be thoroughly disappointed if I don’t get to read Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, and the Little House books to my kids.  Do boys read Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret? Based on what I’m hearing in the blogosphere, my odds would be better if I had girls.

21 Responses to “TBR: It’s A Girl!”

  1. dave s Says:

    And there is some good reason not to try for a girl? Our third is a girl, we adore our two sons and our daughter has brought a whole new world into our house. Pink, yes, and spangles, and My Little Pony. And she will sit still for stories the boys won’t stand for. It’s all good.
    College will be expensive, though.

  2. Wayne Says:

    (Do fathers of sons go through the same struggles?)
    Of course!

  3. Hope Says:

    I read Charlotte’s Web (as well as Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan) to my boys. They read A Wrinkle In Time and Harriet the Spy on their own. Some of it’s in the marketing: just as we enjoyed books with boys, they’ll enjoy the books with girls, if the story’s good enough. And reading to them is a great way to get them to try books they otherwise might not, or that are just out of their range. My favorite quote, from my favorite children’s author: “I think children who are hugged, and children who are held on laps–nice, yummy laps–will always associate reading with the bodies of their parents…. When you not only hear a treasured story, but also are pressed against the most wonderful person in the world, a connection is made that cannot be severed.” –Maurice Sendak
    There are, however, limits. With great reluctance, I passed on my Little House books to my nieces.
    As for trying again — I do have a cousin with three boys and a new girl. She might be slightly insane. As my husband put it, when we talked about having a child together “A daughter might be nice — but what if it were another BOY?”
    I recommend time with nieces as the best way to feed a girl fix.

  4. Jody Says:

    Well, obviously Wilder doesn’t have that uber-masculine profile that would make this much comfort. But the kid LOVED the Betsy-Tacy books, and more girly books I think you’d be hard-pressed to find. We are right now, this week, reading “By the Shores of Silver Lake” and he’s loving that entire series. There is a great deal of not especially boyish stuff in it, you know: how to make various things (including bullets and log cabins and a wagon for traveling) and how to ride horses and what it’s like to thresh wheat. Laura was both Mary’s eyes in the West and her father’s pseudo-boy so she wrote in detail about the whole array of experiences.
    Which isn’t to say that many boys won’t be blocked by the whole “it’s a girl’s book” thing. There’s a whole discussion about boys and books that’s huge and complicated and Scary with a capital S. I’ve read academic articles about the boys/literacy and boys/girls’ books problems.
    The trick might be to start young, and read as many of those books aloud before the boys figure out that they are “girly” books.
    I know blog writers whose sons love Junie B. Jones and Ramona. So I think some of it is definitely the kid. And also, earlier might just be better, before the school peer pressure gets to be too great.

  5. SamChevre Says:

    Well, I’m a guy. I loved the Little House books. I remember reading Farmer Boy when I was seven–I think that’s the first one I read. And I still, at 31, enjoy being read to.

  6. jen Says:

    I have two girls, and enmeshment is definitely an issue. My 5YO recently underwent a change of friends, with her closest little friend at preschool throwing her over for a rival. It was surprisingly hard for me. But then again maybe it’s just normal parental protectiveness. My husband confessed to also being quite upset for her.
    In general I have to say I’m downright embarrassed by how much of my parenting experience is about me, not about my kids. I know I always wanted girls. And now I’ve got them. And I wonder if my “I want girls” thing was really about me not wanting to stretch myself, or figure out how to deal with boys. (I came from a family of two girls, and so that model was very familiar to me.)

  7. Jennifer Says:

    As an aside: Surprised to read your comment about boys needing to be masculine these days. In my (admittedly limited) experience, teenage boys seem very feminine. Well … I am trying to figure out how to say this. The teenage boys I’ve met through my neice and nephew do/say/wear things which I, at 35, consider feminine. My neice & nephew & the boys themselves don’t consider themselves feminine. They have long hair, wear it in a ponytail, wear lots of jewelry, paint their toes and fingers; they give cute little gifts, remember birthdays…
    What makes you say society is hard on boys who aren’t conventionally masculine?

  8. Genevieve Says:

    Yes, to what Jody said. Start young and see what it gets you. Sometimes starting with the movie works: J. saw the movies of Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess first, then was happy to hear the books (requested them, even). I was sad in advance at the possibility of his not wanting to read them, so this made me very hapy. Definitely he enjoyed Charlotte’s Web and the Little House books, for the reasons Jody gives (Farmer Boy was actually his least favorite, even with the boy protagonist, because it’s less eventful – the Wilder family is much better off and doesn’t face any real hardships).
    Pippi Longstocking was also well-liked, and I can definitely see older boys liking Harriet the Spy. (The Long Secret, I’m not as sure, but certainly a possibility.)

  9. Jeremy Adam Smith Says:

    As a strapping young lad (actually, skinny and clumsy) I read most of those books (no Little House), especially A Wrinkle in Time, which I loved. I probably just read too much. I should have been out tossing a football, or something.
    For Jennifer’s question: “What makes you say society is hard on boys who aren’t conventionally masculine?”
    I can’t answer this, really, because I’m not a woman and don’t have much grounds for contrast. I can personally attest that deviations from the masculine norm can provoke a lot of teasing and bullying, especially in junior high, when sexual difference becomes an issue. Especially feminine boys can be targeted for real emotional and physical brutality.
    In the grown-up world, however, I think that a lot depends upon where you live and how much money and education you have. The more urban, moneyed, and educated you are, the wider the range of masculine templates to choose from. Here in San Francisco, you can basically be whatever kind of guy you want to be (though there might be frontiers I don’t know about) and if some of the time you really want to be a woman, that’s just fine with most folks. That ain’t true in Flordia, where I unfortunately graduated from high school. It’s not true when I visit my blue-collar relatives in post-industrial Massachusetts, where a “man” is something pretty specific and deviations can spark derision and even violence.

  10. merseydotes Says:

    You never know how your boys will turn out. It sounds like now, in spite of your best efforts, D is still very “conentionally masculine,” with the pirates and rocket ships and all. And if you had had a girl, she may not have fit the girl mold either. I quickly outgrew My Little Pony and Cabbage Patch Dolls to Transformers and football, because that’s what all the neighbor boys played with (and there were no girls on my street).

  11. Anjali Enjeti-Sydow Says:

    I always wanted girls, and I have them, but I think there is a special uniqueness in raising children of the opposite gender. It stretches you as a parent in different ways, and I think I’ll always feel like I’m missing out on something and I’ll always wonder whether raising a boy would have somehow made me a better parent.

  12. Phantom Scribbler Says:

    So far I can’t get my boy to sit through much fiction of any sort. But since my daughter is *also* obsessed with trains, rocket ships, and the Magic School Bus, I’m not at all sure that simply having a child of each gender will guarantee that I have someone with whom I can share Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret. At least I can share them with other bloggers!

  13. landismom Says:

    I’m in a somewhat odd place here, having both a boy and a girl. It’s always a mystery to me whether the different relationship that I have with my daughter is driven by her age (4 years older), her first-born status, or her gender. It’s certainly true that our relationship is more complicated than mine with my son.
    On the other hand, I get to have books of both genders, read by everyone, so that’s something.

  14. Because I Said So Says:

    So glad to know I am not the only mother of boys to fret about their reading tastes. Happily, all four boys in my house loved the great female heroines, from Pippi to Anne of Green Gables to Harriet and Alice in Wonderland. Your thoughtful post inspired me to weigh in on this on my blog. Thanks.

  15. Renee Says:

    My young Hercules is one of those uber-masculine boys, and he has very good taste in literature:) We’ve read Pippi Longstocking, Stuart Little (several times), A Series of Unfortunate Events, and are now reading Harry Potter together. His teacher read Junie B. Jones and Charlotte’s Web to his class and he loved them both.
    Hercules has never seemed to care whether or not the protagonist of a story is male or female. He’s all about pirate ships, rockets, and guns (much to my chagrin), but he still loves to sit and listen to just about any story you’ll read to him.
    It’s interesting because he’s ADHD, and even his teachers have always marveled at the fact that he is most likely to remain quiet and still, indefinitely, while someone is reading to him. I think it’s because I’ve been reading to him since he was in my belly, and it has always been a bonding time together for us.
    Books are cool!

  16. Kate Says:

    Just chiming in here to agree with those who say that, yes, boys will love the Little House books, Ramona, Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web, etc, if you start them off early enough and – more important – if they love being read to in the first place.
    But we like pirates in these parts, too, and one of our faves is Brinton Turkle’s “Obediah the Bold” about a little Quaker boy from Nantucket who wants to be a pirate. It is absolutely delightful. Also, I must put in a plug for our very favorite band, Captain Bogg and Salty (www.eatalime.com) a crew of rock ‘n roll pirates from Portland who can’t be beat.

  17. Jeremy Smith Says:

    It’s somewhat off topic, but my answer to Jennifer’s question (“What makes you say society is hard on boys who aren’t conventionally masculine?”) got me to thinking and remembering. It led me to a thought about raising my son that I don’t think I like very much.
    When I was a kid in Saginaw, MI, I played the flute in my junior high school band. There were twelve chairs, and for the first year, I was dead last. I was also the only boy flute-player. The drum section — all macho schmucks — teased and bullied me relentlessly.
    At some point — driven by an impulse that I did not consciously acknowledge — I started to practice furiously. In a single session, I zoomed past all the girls from last chair to first, and I held that first chair for the rest of my time in band.
    At roughly the same time, I challenged one of the drummers to a fight. I lost, of course — of the dozen fights I was in that year, the best I could ever acheive was a draw. I was, as I mentioned earlier, skinny and not physically gifted.
    But a strange thing started to happen: the teasing and bullying gradually evaporated.
    With hindsight, I see clearly that it had everything to do with dominating the girls in the flute section. It helped that I was willing to fight with my fists, even if I lost. The important thing is that I fought at all.
    I just put my son down to sleep. While I was watching him sleep, I remembered all this. I asked myself: if he faced the same level of teasing and bullying, would I want him to fight other boys and dominate girls if that meant an end to his persecution?
    I’m afraid that for all my dude-feminist posturing, the answer is almost certainly yes. This probably represents some kind of massive political and moral failure on my part.
    Times have changed and also, he won’t grow up in a place like Saginaw. Hopefully, he’ll grow up in a more forgiving, egalitarian social atmosphere, where gender is not quite so polarized and people are more secure in difference, than the one I experienced in the Midwest in the mid-Eighties. It would be better if my ideals weren’t put to any kind of test.

  18. Andi Says:

    Thanks for starting this great discussion, Elizabeth! I’m just popping in to say that there’s a great essay in the “It’s a Boy” book called “Reading to My Son” by Kate Staples that tackles this topic of books and interest and whether it ties in to gender. I wrote a little about the piece and excerpted a few paragraphs here.

  19. Genevieve Says:

    I should have added to mine: my son specifically asked for books about girls who are heroines, because he got annoyed at a young age by the fact that all the animated movies had boys do the rescuing but didn’t have any girls who rescued people. After he said that to me, I specifically went out and got books like The Princess Knight, Petronella, and Little Red Cowboy Hat (we already had Cinder Edna and The Paper Bag Princess). I also pointed out that both Fern and Charlotte rescue Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, and other instances, which he was excited about.

  20. Raising WEG Says:

    Charles Everywhere

    A few years back, our pediatrician wanted to know whether any of the kids had an imaginary friend. At the time, they told elaborate stories with their forks at the end of every meal, and the forks had names (if

  21. Dawn Says:

    Noah just read Harriet the Spy. He loved The Little Princess. He’s an equal opportunity reader — if it’s good, chances are he’ll like it!

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