Yesterday, I went with my brother, sister-in-law, their boys to the Air & Space Museum for a little birthday celebration for my younger nephew, who was turning four. Some of the museum was a little over his head, but for the most part, the planes and rockets went over pretty well.
His big brother, however, was entranced by nearly everything and would have likely spent hours more had there been time. One of the things he wanted to see was the exhibit of Amelia Earhart’s plane, and once we found it he took to reading the descriptive panels. His mom & I followed him around as he looked through the panels, and I was offering a little bit of narration as he did so, having recently found out that he could “read” words that he didn’t always understand. The following conversation ensued:
Me: In the old days, only men were allowed to fly airplanes, but Amelia Earhart thought women could, too, and she was right!
D: (puzzled) They thought girls couldn’t fly airplanes?
Me: (with a “I know! Can you believe it?” expression) Uh huh.
Jen: We know now, though, that girls and boys can do pretty much all the same things.
D: Well… (long pause, during which Jen and I exchanged looks that said “Hmm, I wonder what gender stereotypes he’s picked up?”) Boys can’t paint their fingernails!
(Laughter from the grownups.)
Jen: Actually, boys can paint their fingernails. It’s just that most don’t.
Satisfied with this response – or perhaps bored with the conversation – D shrugged and went back to reading the signs by the airplane.
I don’t know what I love more about this conversation – that he was flummoxed by the very idea that women couldn’t fly planes or that it took him so long to think of one thing (and then, such a small one!) that is not the same for boys and girls. I know some of this is just the innocence of being six, but for me, raised as I was with the ideals of “Free to Be… You and Me” in not always ideal world, it feels like progress.