Monday, 7 October 2013

Boy - Part Slug, Part Snail (Apparently)

Me being a boy


Noun. Middle English.
[Perhaps related to Old English Bōia, Bōja, Old High German Buobo male personal names, Middle High German buobe boy; compare also Frisian boi boy.]

1(a) A male servant, an underling, especially a young one; a helper, a messenger. obsolete excluding as in sense 1(b) or when a boy in sense 4. ME

1(b) A servant or labourer from an indigenous people in Africa, Asia, etc. Now frequently considered offensive. E17

2 obsolete. A male person of lowly status, a common fellow; a worthless fellow, a knave. ME-E17

3(a) (Affectionately, playfully or slightingly.) A young man, a fellow;
a man belonging to some specified or understood group
(as one's habitual companions, a team, a gang, the army, etc.).
Frequently as a familiar form of address. LME

3(b) A familiar form of address to a male dog, horse, or other animal. LME

3(c) A man of any age. Dialectical (especially Anglo-Irish). M18

4 A male child; a youth. Also, a grown-up son. LME

5 As interjection. An exclamation of surprise, excitement, relief, etc. Frequently oh boy! Origin US. E20

One of my favourite childhood pictures
On the subject of boys, I've had some vehemently argued debates. Granted, any position I take is weakened by the fact that I haven't (yet) had the pleasure of raising a boy, but I draw my experience from a life surrounded by boys, from being exceptionally close to my nephews, and most saliently having been a boy for the first eighteen years of my life (and granted, in my mid-30s, I still feel that I'm as much a boy as I am a man, if not more so).

The debates have tended to revolve around gender stereotyping, and the question that specifically came up was: "Would you let your son play with a doll's house?" It was interesting that the three people engaged in this 'pub debate' (me being one of them) didn't have sons, only daughters, but the positions still rather staggered me, as both my debating opponents stated emphatically that no, they would not let their son play with a doll's house. The reasons given were (as I remember) mind-numbingly inane, and seemed to revolve around the idea that a doll's house is not a boy's toy - it's most definitely something girls play with.

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails
That's what little boys are made of

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of
English nursery rhyme c.1820

Granted, my childhood was unique, and I think my parents were unique in the way they brought us up. I remember finding a large mannequin's head at a car boot sale, complete with flowing blonde hair, that was specifically for the purpose of hairdressing. I asked my Mum if I could keep it, she said yes without batting an eyelid, and I played happily for an afternoon while toying with the idea that one day I might become a hairdresser (I didn't, and I think by the end of the day I had 'reverted to type' and had set fire to the head or blown it up or parachuted it out of the upstairs window or something similarly boyish). Another time, I bought a book in Tesco that was for designing dresses. Again, my Mum happily bought it for me, but I remember two girls in the opposite queue sniggering that I was buying a book that was patently for girls. I bought it anyway - genuinely confused as to why that was funny; thus I embarked on an enthusiastic (but brief) period of designing dresses for fun.

The crux of the debate for me is that boys are not all alike - we're not all into guns and fighting and rough play and cars. Therefore, let boys be boys by exploring their interests. If boys really can't play with doll's houses, or do so feeling ashamed because that's a 'girl's toy', who knows what talented architects, interior designers, furniture makers or family psychologists we could be losing? Far worse than that, who knows how many hours of simple fun and exploration are being denied to children, just because they're being pushed down a particular route of play that might not interest them at all.
I started on the road to geekdom quite early

Would you let your son play with a doll's house?

What are your childhood memories as a boy?

Are all the stereotypes true? Do boys smell icky-poo-poo and are they made of slugs?

Please leave your most boycentric comments below.


  1. Aw, little Ed. So precious ^^

    Boys don't do girly things like play kitchen or draw dresses, yet so many chefs are male, and so many fashion designers as well. Explain that.

    When we were young, we had the stereotypical toys: my sister and I a whole array of dolls (barbie or otherwise), my brother his lego and meccano. It didn't stop us from swapping toys, and I do remember a period of time when my brother, then age 4 or 5, slept with a(n undressed and quite sad looking) doll in his bed. /shrug
    Kids will play with anything. How else will they find out what they like doing most?

    1. That's the point, really - letting them find out what's interesting to them.

  2. Never really thought about it before. I don't think I'd rush over and stop my son playing with a doll's house if I saw him. But there's no way I'd come home with a doll's house as a present for him either. It'd almost certainly be a toy car, lego set or a Batman comic or something typically boyish. But then that's probably because that's what I'd like to play with if I was his age.
    I also think a lot of the stereotypes are true. In my experience boys were always far more likely to find and pick up worms, snails etc and derive a strange pleasure from squashing them whereas most girls would instantly express some form of "eewwww".
    Good old stereotypes.

    1. Well, yes - I'm not suggesting non-stereotypical toys should be pushed onto kids either; I don't think I'd ever turn up with a Barbie out of the blue for my son. The point is really flexibility - to not have rigid ideas of what a child should and shouldn't be playing with. Stereotypes usually have some element of truth to them, otherwise they wouldn't make any sense as stereotypes. What's sad, however, is the presumption that just because a boy is a boy (or a girl a girl), they must by definition adhere to that stereotype. I hate cars, for example. Cars (in adulthood and childhood) are just painfully boring for me. I can't think of anything more tiresome (ooh! nice pun) to talk about, be interested in, to do, etc. Therefore, I don't think my parents ever bought me toy cars - not that I can remember anyway.

  3. Back when Cabbage Patch Dolls were popular (early 1980s), a friend's son wanted one.
    He was around 5 years old.
    The dad was dead against it, but his mum brought him one anyway.
    I would have too.
    It was deemed okay for boys to have teddy bears, so why can't they have dolls. They're just another form of something to cuddle, and it just so happened that the Cabbage Patch Doll was the popular 'cuddle toy' at that time.

    1. My sister used to tell me I was found under a cabbage patch; I never did find out if it was true.