Dear boys, girls, and those of you who just aren’t quite sure yet (because that is totally cool too),
For many of you, this is a confusing time. Things are growing in places where you aren’t sure if they are supposed to be growing, new places might develop novel smells, and you might start to feel differently. If any of these things apply to you, or if none of these things apply to you, you are still normal. Every body goes through different changes at different speeds and in completely different orders. So if your best friend is growing armpit hair, but you haven’t reached that point yet, don’t worry – we all catch up in the end! I am writing to you, middle-schoolers, because this time can be a bit scary; there are a lot of changes that you can expect in the next couple of years, and a lot of information out there, both true and false, so a quick guide to the next few years seems like a pretty good resource for you right about now. Read on to learn about what makes boys and girls different biologically, some of the changes that you can expect to your body during puberty, how babies are made, and a quick peek at the different categorizations of gender!
Let’s start from the very beginning. How did we get here and what exactly makes girls different from boys?
The video “Nature: What Females Want…and What Males Will Do” featured clichéd, even asinine commentary about animals’ reproductive behavior. The DVD showed heterosexual animal interactions punctuated with quotes from biologists and the narrator such as “Males will do anything they can do copulate with a female – we know that!” In a look a male geladas, whose ability to withstand sub-0 nighttime temperatures is demonstrated by the deep red of their chest patches, were described as “Pretty tough!” Female fireflies that mocked another species’ light patterns in order to eat the males were described as “true femme fatales.” In reference to jumping spiders, a biologist explained, “Females are looking for complex things; they want more and more, so males have evolved these dances.” Red-sided garter snakes that were forcibly inseminated would in a day or so “have another chance at love.” This constant commentary, while meant to be entertaining, was not only distracting but often times offensive because of the way it demonstrated stereotypes about gender and sexuality.
I was fascinated by the concept of “cryptic choice” introduced in the video “Nature: What Females Want…and What Males Will Do.” Female red-sided garter snakes are rendered immobile by males competing to inseminate her. They have, however, evolved a means of defense against forced copulation: they can choose which of the snake’s sperm will fertilize their eggs. Another example of “cryptic choice” is seen in ducks’ reproductive systems: they twist opposite ways to make reproduction more difficult. A third of ducks’ copulations are forced, but they produce only 3% of the young. Explained the narrator, “Evolution has given females the edge.” Last week, my psychology-major roommate sent me an article called “Women’s Avoidance of Rape” which, like the video, acknowledged that “Sexual coercion and rape have been documented in many different species.”