Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Children and competition

This is my response to Blue Gal's post here about relationships, in other words arm candy, titty fucking and homoerotic dating. And as you can tell from the title of this post I am going to talk about children and these issues, well ok not these issues as any of them do not really seem appropriate for children. But Driftglass wrote a response and then Blue Gal wrote a response to that and that is what this post is about. I know you are saying get your response already and I will, but these were all such great posts that I wanted to include them here.

In the points that were made by Drifty and BG it seemed competition for sex and for relationships was important. Well, guess what this is not only an adult phenomenon in my experience. In my classroom I regularly see children who are competing for the affections or friendships of other children and the adults in the room. I see children who will push another child out of the lap of an adult just so that they can sit there or who will push a child away from another child so that they can become the "best friend". Children compete for a lot of resources in the classroom, crayons, the computer, and toys, but it seems they fight the hardest and react the most to issues of human affection. I hear a lot of "you can't come to my house" if you don't do what they want you to do, this goes for both adults and children. I hear a lot of "I am not your friend" or "he/she is not my friend". I also hear "I am so-and-so's best friend, right?" in which there are normally several children who are saying this about one child. There are popular children and non-popular children even at this age. Popularity may not always be as noticeable immediately, but over time you can easily figure out who are the popular children.

The other issue that is brought up is the way in which boys and girls compete is different. Boys tend to be more physical and aggressive, hitting, pushing, or kicking another child. Girls tend to be more verbal saying things like "I am not your friend anymore" and then walking away or turning their backs. Girls at this age do not seem to be all that catty yet, but you can definately see where this could develop. The use of verbal communication is more acceptable and hence we do see boys using this method more than I see girls become physical although this does happen as well.

So, why do we see these difference in how each gender handles conflict and why do children tend to fight over relationships? I think the second question is actually easier to answer as all people want to be loved and accepted so it makes sense to fight for this basic need. But then shouldn't children still fight in similar ways or at least shouldn't we see less of a split along gender lines? Has mother culture really inundated these children so much that even at the age of 3,4, and 5 they are already showing gender stereotypical behavior? YES, as a culture we condition these children from their birth to act in a certain way. They may begin to reject our conditioning at some point, but it certainly takes a while for children to become cognizant of the fact that they do not agree with what they are being told and fight back. I look at homosexuality as an example. We are conditioned in most cases toward heterosexuality, it is in our TV, movies and even books. We are pushing children toward a one man-one woman relationship. And I have heard many people who are gay say they realized that they were different even as young as in elementary school, but didn't know why. They recognized that as their sexuality grew that they were attracted to people of the same sex. I would imagine this would feel weird, culture tells you that this is not normal in both overt and covert ways that homosexuality is not normal. Sure plenty of us say that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality and even encourage gay couples to adopt children, but the overall cultural message is still pushing children toward heterosexuality. That seemed to be a long and involved explanation for what I am trying to say, but it is still true, we are being pushed toward what are expected gender roles and that includes how we compete with others for affection and love.

I also do not see a way around this. As a parent or teacher, you can try to encourage children to buck the system and learn another way to solve competition or to go against the gender stereotypes, but when you are constantly having the message slammed into your head it will get there. And finally this message is not always being shouted at the children, most of the time it is being whispered quietly, but constantly, this is how girls talk, act, dress and behave and this is how boys talk, dress, act and behave. So can we break the mold as we get be adults and men not treat women like property and woman not act as though they have to have a man or they will die, sure, but remember that you are fighting a lifetime of constant and covert conditioning, so you must be constantly aware of your actions and words and fight at all times to be different and I would bet most of us are not doing as good a job as we think.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

It's tough being a kid today.

fairlane said...

My daughter is only three and she already tells me when she's upset, "You're not my best friend anymore."

I'm not so sure it's simply "social programming."

Look at how we lived for 90% of our time on this planet.

Males, in general, are physically stronger than women (We know testosterone increases muscle mass), and it was men who did most of the "hunting and warring." (If not all).

Women did the "gathering," which is a more social behavior, and is not as competitive.

In a hunting or war party, (Although I've never been in either) I imagine you don't speak as much, and it's very competitive.

In a way, it makes sense because it balances us. Imagine if women were just as aggressive as men. We'd be in even more trouble than we are now.

I'm not saying people "have" to be a certain way, but there's little doubt evolution has played a significant part in our "gender roles."

There's also the fact that we know over time environmental factors can potentially turn into genetic factors.

For example, we know that depression alters the brain's chemistry. A person whose brain chemistry is altered passes that on when and if they have children, and their children will be more susceptible to depression.

As for the competing for affection, toys, crayons etc, that makes perfect sense.

Being a human is a paradox. On one hand we are incredibly selfish, but on the other we are social. We have a dual nature.

"I want what I want, but it means nothing if I don't have others with whom to share."

I think sometimes we read into things too much. I'm not supporting sexism or the objectification of women. (Men are caricatured as well). But I do think we are different, and in my opinion that's a positive.

The best relationships are the ones where people balance one another.

Blue Gal said...

Oh yeah Fairlane when my daughter was three she would say when she was angry, "do you want me to love dad instead of you?" ha.

This is a great angle on the BG/Drifty thang. Thanks for thinking about this, posting it, and for the link, too.

Boxer rebel said...

Fairlane- I totally agree with what you have said about there being a genetic component. I thought of that at some point, but it never made it in to the post as the post evolved from my head to the web.

BG- I was going to go with a more adult response, but I noticed that this had earlier roots so I decided to post on that.

Monkey- This is only the tip of the iceberg as how tough it is to be a kid these days.

Comrade Kevin said...

The only thing I can add to this post is that the idea of gender is such a broad, complex construct that likely nothing any of us has proposed is "wrong".

We're probably all "right" to some degree, which proves why it's so difficult to reform gender roles. It reaches into so many different parts of our daily lives.