The Truth about Boys (and Girls)

They really are different. Here's what to do about it

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails? Sugar and spice and everything nice?

What are little boys and girls made of, after all? Before the sixties, this question sparked little controversy. You had a daughter, you raised a girl. You had a son, you raised a boy. But then along came the feminist movement, poking holes in all our preconceived notions of "girlness" and "boyness." "We need to raise boys like we raise girls," said Gloria Steinem?thus blessing "girl" behavior as the norm, and boy behavior as aberrant.

This philosophy, quickly embraced in academic circles, filtered down into the schools and throughout our culture, and finally to parents. According to a 1997 Newsweek poll, 61 percent of parents believe that differences in behavior between girls and boys are not inborn, but a result of the way they're raised. But are they?

As a teacher and mother of 11, I've been riding the nature versus nurture pendulum for years. In fact, I gave it a good push myself, prompted by the birth of my daughter Samantha in 1969. My feminist period began with our first trip to the library, when I noted with alarm the absence of girls in kid's books (thankfully, this has changed). Ever the conscientious mother, I spent hours replacing pronouns and feminizing male critters of every species (think curled and beribboned bird in Are You My Mother?). I firmly believed that boys and girls were different only because of parental programming. Fourteen years later, I had to admit I was wrong. Not because anyone persuaded me, but because I ran into evidence I couldn't resist.

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May 25

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