816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: One mom’s report on the State of Boys and the State of Girls

“You gave us different curfews.”

My parents replied with a look that said, “Yes, and your point is…?”

Those were the parents who never assigned boy- or girl-specific chores, bought gender neutral toys and tried their darndest to raise two boys and a girl the same way.

Gender? What gender differences? They didn’t see any gender differences.

But they were the same parents telling Teenage Me that I had an earlier curfew than my twin brother simply because I was a girl. According to them scarier things could happen to a girl after midnight than to a boy.

Thankfully they had taught us polite debate. After a couple rounds of pointing out the hypocrisy — they acquiesced.

Flash forward: I’m now a parent who tries her darndest to raise two boys and a girl and, like my parents did, I am still learning if gender makes a difference.

During the summer before their senior year, kids across the U.S. of A. have an opportunity to attend Girls or Boys State. While run separately — Boys State by the American Legion, Girls State by the American Legion Auxiliary — the programs are almost identical: live on a college campus for a week and create model governments.

I looked over my daughter’s shoulder when she applied for Girls State and she told me the moment that she was accepted. Together we packed her things in one suitcase and a backpack, drove to campus, lugged her stuff up three flights of stairs, made her bed, met her suitemates and took some selfies before I left.

When it was over we drove back together and she gave me a complete recap of the one job she had, the speakers she listened to and how she had quietly pushed herself out of her comfort zone.

Two years later I was reading a newsletter from our high school congratulating my son for his acceptance to Boys State. I had no idea that he had applied.

A week before the event I wanted to talk details — he didn’t.

“I got a ride with another guy that’s going,” he said. Then he shut me out further, “and I can pack myself.”

Which he did…in two suitcases, a duffel bag, a backpack and a hanging-garment bag.

“Your sister brought less than half of that,” I told him.

“I need it all.”

“You may have to carry all that up four flights of stairs,” I paused for dramatic effect, “…by yourself,”

He scooped everything up at once and posed for a picture.

“Did I tell you my original ride fell through? But I got another.”

And then he was gone.

I did get a couple texts from him that week: he had run for nine positions, was elected to three of them, had asked Frank White and Sly James questions and he was playing a lot of sports.

I’m trying to figure out how to be in two places at once so I can get you, I texted.

Don’t worry, I’ll get my own ride.

I felt left out and confused. The two kids had gone to the same program at the same age; they had been raised together with the same set of rules, but while Girls State had a place for me, Boys State didn’t.

I let myself pout for a few minutes before Inner Susan slapped me upside the head.

“That’s wrong. The girl wanted your help, the boy didn’t but gender has nothing to do with it. It’s not that boys and girls are different, it’s that each child is different.”

Gender differences? What gender differences? At that point I didn’t see gender differences, I saw people differences.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To learn more about Girls and Boys State, visit www.boysandgirlsstate.org . To listen to the women’s history podcast that Susan co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com