CHAPTER
2
Boys Will Be Boys?

What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails,
and puppy dogs' 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. (traditional English nursery rhyme) The familiar nursery rhyme telling us what little boys and girls are made of suggests that each sex is made of fundamentally different things. When we say "boys will be boys," we generally mean there are certain ways we expect boys to behave simply because they are male, for example, to be high-spirited, aggressive, and so on. On what do we base such expectations and beliefs? Are there sex-specific ways of behaving that are acquired by being born male or female or through growing up as a boy or girl? If there are differences, are they biologically determined or socially constructed?

The debate about what is innate versus what is learned, often called "nature versus nurture," has been going on for centuries. As is the case with most questions posed in such a blunt either/or fashion, complex issues get oversimplified and the answers are not always decisive in favor of one extreme or the other. Popular as well as scientific opinion seems to have seesawed back and forth between these two poles in the search for explanations. In the 1970s feminists were taking a minimalist position, but now the tide seems to be shifting back to emphasizing both biological and cultural differences. In 1992 a cover story for Time magazine ( 1992a)

-31-

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