"Look, I'm giving this one a really cute vagina," Ivan, age four, proclaims with delight. We are decorating gingerbread people. Chocolate chips, he finds, make convincing boobs for a gingerbread lady. Ivan chuckles as he puts the finishing touches on another denizen of this soon-to-be-eaten cookie world, who has "a really, really big penis."
Then he examines a more ambiguous individual. Ivan has created this confectionary eunuch – cheerfully outfitted with a bright red hat and blurry genitals -- but now he's not sure what to think.
"Is this one a boy or a girl?" he asks me.
"Maybe you can't tell?" I ask. "You can't always tell by looking at people."
"No, Mommy," he says, suddenly serious. "You're wrong."
Sex differences are an endless source of playful, even raucous amusement in our household. It's gender that causes confusion. Experts like Diane Levin (co-author, with Jean Kilbourne, of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids) tell me that young children are attracted to neat dichotomies. Preschoolers are struggling to figure out how the world works, and where they fit in; that's why they're so compelled by gender stereotypes, especially those marketed to them by kiddie pop culture.
In this blog, "Raising Trouble," we'll be exploring this state of affairs extensively over the next couple months. Anything in particular you'd like explored? Let me know in the comments section!