In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
Not really. If we were boys, we were not supposed to have anything to do with girls. If we were girls, we had nothing to do with boys. That was pretty much it. Of course, as I alluded to before, the girls’ wardrobe was much stricter than the boys and in the later years, the boys were able to wear t-shirts and shorts in public whereas the girls never switched from skirts, coo-lats, and dresses. We also all played the same sports. There were really no restrictions there.
When it came to modesty in the home, we were all required to walk around naked – a lot. We became very used to seeing one another with no clothes on. According to my mother, even though Bill Gothard told us in his Basic Seminar that we were never supposed to see one another naked, as a family, she maintained that we were supposed to exhibit self-control and not look at everyone. Everything I learned about puberty, breastfeeding, the aging body, hair in certain places, and everything to do with the human body, I learned from my lack of self-control.
I was a huge tomboy when I was younger. I loved sports and physical challenges. I had a really short haircut, my favorite color was blue, and I thought girls’ interests (such as dolls and clothes) were boring. I think that frightened my mom a lot, because as I approached my teens, she suddenly started telling me I looked like a boy and tried to shame me for playing rough with the boys. She was always trying to get me to be more ladylike; apparently there are a lot of things that ladies don’t do.
My sister didn’t need any coaching; she took naturally to wearing cute dresses, having tea parties, and making crafts. I tried really hard, but I just never was able to enjoy sewing and cooking, and my mom eventually moved on to teaching these skills to the eager daughters of other homeschooling families, which really made me feel like the odd one out. And as I watched my brother leave for his many outdoor adventures with other boys, I felt cheated and limited, having been born a girl.
My family actually had a good amount of flexibility. We girls were allowed to wear pants if we chose, and to romp outside like the boys. That said, we girls were expected to be more compassionate, gentle tongued, and sweet spirited while the boys were expected to exhibit more leadership and initiative. We didn’t always fit those roles – actually, I fit the second MUCH better than the first – but those were the character qualities my parents tried to bring out in us. Oh, and we girls were expected to be “graceful” and “ladylike.” Again, never my strong point!
Girls were expected to wear modest, feminine clothes. The only way to be feminine was wearing skirts and dresses all the time. Pants weren’t allowed – the smaller girls would sometimes wear pants for certain occasions, such as physical activity in the garden, but they’d still wear a skirt over it. Once you were older, about 8 or 10 years old, so shortly before you hit puberty, there were no pants to wear under your skirts anymore. If you couldn’t do something in a skirt without showing skin, you weren’t supposed to do it. Sitting on a swing or climbing trees and things like that were impossible once you were too old.
The boys likewise were expected to wear “manly” things – long pants and a nice shirt. Feminine colors, pinks or pastels for example, weren’t manly enough so they had hardly any clothes in that color. The pants of course enabled the boys to play certain games and do certain things us girls couldn’t do in our skirts – like I said, climbing trees for example.
On the other hand, girls were expected to play with dolls when they were small, but not for too long. After all, we had plenty of real babies to play with. The girls were expected to help in the house, “play house”, sort of, so they would be kept busy, learn skills they’d need and at the same time feel as if they were playing.
The most obvious thing was modesty. The boys could do just about whatever they wanted and could go shirtless or pee in the woods, but we girls were told to cover up, sit like ladies, and to wear shorts under our skirts if we were going to be active. The boys were also permitted a wider radius from the house for bike rides than the girls were.
My brothers got in big trouble for fighting with their sisters, they were supposed to be respectful to all women at all times. We had to wait for one of our brothers to open the door for us or help us into the car or carry something heavy for us, he usually got in trouble if he forgot. Girls were required to dress modestly, long dresses and skirts. Girls were not supposed to laugh or talk loudly, and we were strongly discouraged or banned from participation in sports or aerobics.
From as early as I can remember, I wore dresses and skirts every day. I was always jealous of my brother because he could fit in out in public better than I could. My dad required the boys to tuck in their shirts and comb their hair, but for us girls the list was much longer. I was never allowed to have makeup of any kind, despite the fact that I had acne. I could never have hair hanging near my face. It had to be pulled straight back and if it wasn’t, my dad threatened to cut off the loose pieces. I was never allowed to play contact sports like football, and never allowed to have male friends. My brother was always pretty shy, but his social interactions were not nearly as closely monitored as mine.
Since my interactions with other boys and girls came mostly from other families in my church, I’ll answer this question as it pertains to them.
Boys wore pants. Girls wore skirts. Boys weren’t allowed to have hair past their ears. Girls weren’t allowed to cut their hair at all. Boys were expected to play rough games, climb trees and run around. Girls were supposed to sit quietly and talk to each other. Friendships across the sexes were heartily discouraged.
We went through a phase as a family where my father strongly encouraged the females of his clan to only wear skirts and dresses. Interestingly, my mother refused to capitulate on this one entirely, but we wore skirts/dresses for church services and maybe about half of the time, or more, around the house. I was not allowed to wear anything sleeveless, show any cleavage, or wear anything with a hem that came above my knee. And of course I was expected to be ladylike and domestic, whereas the boys were taught to be hardworking, independent, and strong. My brothers and I lived very different lives.