Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Guys and Gals In the Suburbs

Of Princesses and Travel Teams

The other day we went to a birthday party for a 4 year old, on street in our town that has very nice homes indeed. The minute you walked into the door, you realized that this party for kids who hardly knew why they were there, took some doing. The theme was princesses, and there was so much pink everywhere that our poor 4 year old son was in shock. It is as if he had fallen into vat of pink icing. The tiny girls were all choosing princess dresses from a rack, selecting tiaras and glittering sequined shoes to go with them. The boys, it is true, had their choice of knightly regalia complete with plastic swords. But most of them looked like our son — dazed, lost. I had not seen so many puzzled looking boys since last year, when the PTA decided to hold a dance at our other son’s elementary school — while many girls and a couple of 5th grade boys were dancing, the 3rd grade boys roamed in packs, until someone started chasing someone, and one boy took out his game boy, and everyone who could vaguely see the screen clustered around him. 

All of this brings me to last Saturday when our third grader tried out for the traveling baseball team. Watching and running the tryouts were a cluster of dads: giving tips to their sons, encouraging them, nodding approval, reviewing a level swing, a good scoop, the follow-through on a throw. This world of men and advice reminded me of what I know of boxing gyms — guys who have been doing this forever, passing on what they know. This was a world I never knew — growing up in the city with an immigrant dad. 

I liked the guy world of the tryouts. But when I think of the princess party I get the sense that out here — and maybe everywhere today — the grooming of roles takes place early. There is little space for kids to work it out. Moms coo as they doll up their little princesses, dads stand behind the batting cage and buck up their sons. We live in the mall of gender roles — you pick the one you want for your kid, you buy the supplies, and you outfit him or her to play that part. 

When I was in grad school we all read Carrol Smith-Rosenberg’s "The Female World of Love and Ritual" — about the world of letters, diaries, and intimate female conversation in 19th century America. Now, out here in the suburbs, I am seeing two other worlds of intimacy and ritual — one for girls, one for guys. I like one and find the other weird and somewhere between funny and awful. 

How is the mall of gender roles where you live?


  1. This is a good and perennial discussion topic, but I think you are being enormously reductive. There are suburbanites who are not braindead.

  2. Adam Witt says:

    These are some interesting thoughts on gender roles, and I’ve also given some thought to the matter. I have a third grader who is playing his first year of little league baseball. I have a girl in the second grade who loves princesses and wearing pink. How much is driven from within, and how much is suggested from without? My boy pleaded for the chance to play baseball, but also pleaded for the chance to learn the violin, and has loved both endeavors. I hope that by encouraging individual choices, I can give my children the chance to define for themselves the role they wish to play in our modern society.

  3. Amazon: I live in the suburbs and have plenty of bright, engaging neighbors. I don’t think we are all brain dead. But I do see gender roles more clearly defined here than I remember them as kids growing up in the city.