Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 30, 2003

Gender bending

Katie was with me a few days ago when I ran into a woman who commented on a column I'd written. It wasn't the first time it happened and it prompted Katie to say, "Did you notice that it's mostly women who like your columns?"

I answered that if it was so, it was probably because I'm a woman and I suppose I write from a woman's perspective. But then I reminded her that her Dad seems to like my columns.

"That must mean that he's half woman or something," she countered.

A discussion followed about the different roles men and women play. It also got me thinking about the perceptions people have about what the two sexes can and can't do or should and shouldn't do. It made me wonder how Art's and my words and actions have influenced our daughters' ideas of male-female roles.

When she was a little girl, Mariya preferred Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and boys' T-shirts to what she considered "girly" toys and clothes. One Easter my mother was disappointed when Mariya refused to wear a frilly dress to church with us. Then, to our surprise, she suddenly appeared in the dress. It was months later when Art told me he had called Mariya aside and told her he'd pay her a dollar if she wore the dress. She didn't like girly things for herself, yet when we shopped for gifts for her girlfriends, she always said, "Let's go down the girls' aisle, Mom."

That's not to say Mariya didn't like what would be considered traditional girls' toys or activities. She loved the dollhouse her Grandpa Johanning made her and she liked to dress up in the clothes and hats that her Grandma Freeland kept in a closet.

Her sister Katie likes collectible Barbies and loves to draw pictures of girls with different outfits. But Katie also enjoyed a barn with farm animals and liked to play in the mud. She still gathers rocks, leaves and caterpillars for her various collections, and her latest interest is checking out anything from hairs to dust bunnies under the microscope she received at Christmas. While she used to like pink clothes, she has followed in her big sister's footsteps and insists that I not buy her "girly-girl" clothes.

And where do Art and I fit in this picture?

Art cheerfully does our family's weekly grocery shopping and loves to browse through all kinds of stores. Most men I know would rather be tortured than go shopping. Most women live for it. Not me. Although I sometimes enjoy it, I usually have to be dragged along.

On the other hand, I like to work outdoors in our yard more than Art does. He very willingly relinquished the mowing, bush trimming and flower planting duties to me, and I take a lot of satisfaction in getting my hands dirty. It must be the farm girl in me.

That's not to say Art doesn't like the outdoors. He spends countless hours every summer and fall slogging through streams and swamps in Wisconsin to trout fish. Not my idea of fun - although I like to eat whatever he catches.

Although Art was involved in sports in high school and followed the Green Bay Packers for many years, he now only watches a game while waiting for "60 Minutes" to start. His mother, however, had season tickets to the Packer games from 1939 until about 1990, and now faithfully watches all the games on television. I'm pretty indifferent to most sports, although I always like it when my teams - the Falcons, the Wildcats and even my adopted Packers - win.

Art repairs anything that breaks inside or outside the house, including sewing most of the buttons that come off our clothes. I do dishes. Art answers computer questions. I answer questions about Spanish and sentence construction. We both have done our share of painting, shingling, sheet rocking and other house projects.

So what does all this mean as far as gender roles go? I'm not sure. Art and I have tried to show and tell our girls that basically what it boils down to is that people have certain innate skills and other skills that they learn. Some may be considered masculine skills while others are labeled feminine. But the key is for the girls to enjoy whatever they do, and if that means doing half woman things and half man things, well, so be it!

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