When I was younger, I planned to have only girls. I had all these great theories about raising girls. Plus, since childhood so often means boyhood in stories, boyhood seems somehow less interesting. Like it’s already been done.
So karma (or something) ensured that I would have only boys to raise.
This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise since being boys has saved my kids from my plans to use theories on them. Instead I end up just observing them and trying to figure things out as I go along.
One of the things I’ve been fascinated by is watching which stories they connect with. Like a lot of parents, we’ve slowly accumulated a huge collection of children’s videos, based somewhat on our preferences, but largely on theirs.
The kids give us an idea of what they’re interested in not only by which videos they ask to see often, but also by role-playing their favorite stories. The system seems to be that Nicolas (who is 5) gets to play the most interesting character, and Leo (who is 3) gets to be the sidekick and/or second most interesting character. (I was the second kid myself, so of course I sympathize with Leo here, but I’m not sure if anything can be done about it.)
One thing I’ve been watching for is the common wisdom that boys don’t like stories about girls. The more I watch my kids, the more I get the impression that it’s not true. Both boys role-play male characters far more than they role-play female characters. However, this appears to be mostly a question of the fact that there are so many more male characters than female characters in children’s films. If they see a movie where the most interesting character is female, then that’s the role Nicolas wants, even if the character is doing fairly feminine things.
The other thing I’ve been on the lookout for in their viewing is the “Mo movie measure”, which is whether the piece (1) has at least two female characters (2) who speak to each other (3) about something other than a man. When you start looking for this, it’s surprising how few movies pass all three criteria (especially considering how rare it is to find a film that would fail the male version of the same test, which I’ll call the “opposite MMM”).
So without further ado, I’ll tell you the results for many of the films, videos, and books they like:
Their current favorite is Robin Hood. They have both the Disney version and the old Errol Flynn version from the 30’s. Nicolas likes to play all different characters in this story (including minor roles like the sheriff’s posse and Prince John’s rhinoceros guards) apparently based on how many sword/archery battles the character is in. They’ve been improvising a lot of swords, battle axes, and bows and arrows lately. I guess it’s mostly harmless. The Disney version just barely passes the MMM because for the first few seconds when we first meet Maid Marion, she and Lady Cluck are talking to each other about playing badminton (before they move on to only talking to each other about Robin Hood and how dreamy he is for the rest of the film.). The Errol Flynn version fails the MMM.
They’ve been requesting Mary Poppins a lot lately. They don’t role-play this one much, although just today Nicolas was playing the maid “Ellen” singing terribly and then closing the window on a songbird whose song was “giving the master an headache.” This one easily passes the MMM with an elaborate song-and-dance routine near the beginning about women fighting for suffrage. A lot of people complain that this movie is anti-feminist because the mom is ignoring the kids while agitating for women’s suffrage and in the end she dumps her suffragette sash to stay home with the kids. But really I think the mom is a sympathetic character, and the situation with the dad is shown as parallel. In his introductory number, he explicitly ignores news about the kids while he’s in his own world singing about being the “lord of his castle, the sovereign, the liege,” and he ends up learning that he needs to spend more time with his kids as well.
Along the same lines, there’s The Sound of Music which they like but haven’t requested lately. In that one, Nicolas takes the role of Fraulein Maria leaving Leo to play Captain Von Trapp (as I mentioned here). They especially like the fact that she plays the guitar and for some reason they’re interested in the fact that she carries her guitar around in “a suitcase” (the guitar-case).
Another current favorite is The Rescuers. This was one of my childhood favorites as well. Nicolas generally chooses to play Bernard (leaving Leo to play Bianca), which I think is kind of interesting since to me Bianca seems like the leader. But when it comes to playing the villains, Nicolas insists on playing “Madam Medusa” leaving “Mr. Snoops” for Leo. This film passes the MMM easily as most of the main characters (including the kid) are female. It may actually be one of the rare films that fails the “opposite MMM” — I can’t think of a single dialog in the film involving exclusively male characters, and when the male characters are talking to each other, they’re mostly talking about Penny, Bianca, or Medusa.
A perpetual favorite is Cars. For some reason Nicolas’s favorite role to play is the villain “Chick Hicks,” and Leo likes to play “the King” (who is the main character’s other rival). They’ve decided that Chick Hicks and the King are brothers. They love all of the characters though — it’s one of their favorite movies to play. This one barely passes the MMM as Sally speaks to Flo a little about saving their town (although there are no dialogs involving exclusively female characters).
Since this is starting to get long, I’ll just list some other favorites, and I can go into more detail later if there’s interest: Thomas the Tank Engine (discussed here), nature documentaries about pregnant sharks and whales (discussed here), Winnie the Witch, Herbie The Love Bug, The Jungle Book, The Wiggles, Finding Nemo, The Year without a Santa Claus (discussed here), The Grinch + Horton Hears a Who, Shrek, Wallace and Gromit, Dora the Explorer, and The Aristocats.
I think my little boys show a preference for traditional boy stuff, especially vehicles of all types and (unfortunately) weapons. They also love anything involving musical instruments (which I would consider gender-neutral). They don’t seem to have any aversion to stories about girls or women. What matters is whether the story and characters are interesting and memorable — the characters’ gender has little effect.
At least so far. I plan to keep watching and see how their interests develop.