I grew up in the 1960s, in a conservative small town which reacted to social change by pretending that the 1950s had never ended. It was a time of rigid gender stereotypes. Girls were supposed to play with dolls, getting ready for their role as nurturing mother. Boys were given trucks, encouraged to follow dreams of creating and building important things. Of course, most of the families I knew in this community of Catholics-who-didn't-use-birth-control had lots of kids, usually some of each gender, and the toys in every family ended up getting all mixed up anyhow.
My red-haired sister is just a year older than me, and we used to spend hours playing dolls. Mostly, we were writing narratives that began with "Let's pretend." One of my favorites was pretending we inherited a log cabin deep in the woods. Exploring the cabin, we found an attic filled with old trunks. It was so exciting to imagine what we might find in each trunk we opened.
My brother is just a year younger than me, and we used to spend hours playing with his trucks. These were those great metal trucks that kids used to have in the days before everything for kids became safe and plastic. My father had an entire truckload of sand dumped in our yard and we used to spend every summer building roads and caves and castles in the sand.
One time when I was about four, I was lying on the living room floor putting together toy train tracks and I overheard my mother talking about my father's cousins. Here's the point that struck me: he had a cousin named Josephine and a cousin named Joseph. And they both used the nickname Joe! This fascinated me. Especially since they had the same last name. A man and a woman could have the same name?
I loved the idea that a girl could have a name like Joe, because that meant she could play any boy games she wanted. From then on, whenever my brother and I played together, which of course was every day, we called ourselves "Joe and Joe." That's when I figured out that language could be used to bend rigid gender roles ....