On Babies and Gender

21 Jan

When I was pregnant with Theo I was, like most expectant parents, very much a blind idealist about what raising children in general and my child in particular were going to be like. Oh, I wasn’t going to be one of those parents, plunking their kids down in front of the television, feeding them sugary food, giving into their tantrums. I was going to be always alert and engaged, loving but firm, and naturally I would feed my child nothing but the homemade goodness that I, Betty Crocker aspirant that I am, would whip up from raw, organic ingredients. My kid would sleep through the night. My kid would never cry on a crowded bus. My kid would be perfect.

My kid would be raised without all of the gender baggage that my peers and I had grown up with.

I had (and continue to have, I suppose) such an incredibly specific hangup about the word gender and the way that it’s tossed around in relation to babies and small children, especially with regards to the mid-pregnancy anatomy ultrasound. This ultrasound, for those of you not in the know, happens at about twenty weeks gestation and is meant to look for any fetal anatomical issues. In reality, most people look forward to it as the first chance that they get to find out their baby’s sex. Except they don’t say sex. They say gender. They speak excitedly about learning what gender their child is, and then plan out cute gender reveal parties to spring on their unsuspecting families. They start picking out pink or blue coming home outfits, and plan their nursery decoration scheme around the idea of either boy or girl. They talk about sex and gender as if the two words are synonymous, and either can somehow be discovered by a cursory look at someone’s naked body.

I seriously cannot emphasize this point enough: sex does not equal gender.

You cannot learn an unborn fetal gender through an ultrasound. Gender is a social construct that has nothing to do with a person’s genitalia and everything to do with certain ideas that are programmed into us about how a person should dress and act based on certain physical characteristics. And for that matter, you can’t even tell fetal sex based on an ultrasound – the only way to know the particular arrangement of X and Y chromosomes of any given person is through a DNA test, which in the case of an unborn baby would typically mean amniocentesis. Ultrasounds cannot reveal gender. So whenever people refer to their anatomy scan as a their “gender scan,” I feel like I want to tear my own hair out.

It was even worse when I was pregnant, probably because I was a member of several online parenting communities and wound up wading through all kinds of baby ridiculousness every time I went online (although, now that I have an actual kid and not just an ideal baby in my head, I may, admittedly, no longer find all of the posts to be so terrible after all). I was part of a small but rabid group of people who felt the need to comment and correct every single time someone conflated sex with gender. We were well-intentioned but oh-so-smug, and for almost all of us the birth of our children proved us to be hypocrites. It’s incredibly easy to talk a good game about raising children without gender; in practice it’s much, much harder.

The gendering of my son began the moment the doctor exclaimed, “it’s a boy!” Though I had no more way of knowing my child’s gender five minutes after his birth than I had five minutes before, I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t felt expectations and anxieties forming around those three little words. Our child, who had been referred to during my pregnancy as Pele or “it,” immediately became a he. My husband and I gave him a traditionally male name (Theodore) and the hospital wrapped him in a blue receiving blanket. Although I’d bought only gender-neutral clothing before Theo was born, I quickly fell into the trap of the (insanely adorable) Baby Boy section at Baby Gap. Soon he was wearing tiny sweater-vests and button down shirts, a mini-version of a corporate executive in a high-stakes job. I thought he looked equal parts adorable and hilarious.

Still, pronouns and pint-sized business-wear aside, I’ve tried to keep Theo’s life pretty gender-free. My mother had given me all the beautiful little caps and sweaters she’d knitted for me when I was a baby, and I often dressed him in those, complete with all the ribbon and rosette detailing. In the summer, I put him in onesies and leg warmers because it was easier to change his diaper that way. My grandmother sent me a pink sleeper with butterflies and kittens on it, and I dressed him in that. People would often stop me on the street to tell me how sweet my daughter looked; I wouldn’t bother to correct them, but if I dropped a “he” or “him” into the conversation they would become confused or sometimes even upset, apologizing profusely for guessing the wrong gender. I would just laugh it off and say that it was basically impossible to tell if a baby was a girl or a boy, but I felt uneasy about the whole thing. Their language and their entire attitude often changed once they realized that Theo was my son and not my daughter. I couldn’t understand why – after all, he was the exact same baby that they’d been cooing over five minutes before.

I guess I’ve spent the last three years trying, in ways big and small, to deconstruct gender for Theo. I’ve given him trucks and trains to play with, yes, but also dolls and a kitchen set. I switch up the pronouns in books so that it’s not just boys doing boy things and girls doing girl things all the time. He still wears sweater vests and cardigans and dress shirts, but he also wears leggings and skinny jeans, and I always try to find him clothing in brighter colours whenever possible. He has long hair because he doesn’t want to get it cut, and I have no real interest in forcing the issue because he should be able to have his hair whatever length makes him happy. What’s funny is that though I’m conscious of how I teach my son about gender, I don’t think of him as a boy, really – I just think of him as Theo, his own individual person with his own likes and dislikes. I mean, yes, I call him a boy, but I try pretty hard not to attach any specific meaning to the word boy. So I was surprised, and a little excited when, after posting his recent birthday letter, a handful of people began leaving comments about what a wonderful relationship I seemed with my daughter, while others mentioned how sweet my son was.

I thought, I might actually be doing something right.

Because when I went back and re-read what I’d written, I realized that, because it was written in the second person, there was no way of telling Theo’s gender. And looking through the list of his likes and dislikes, nothing seemed to especially indicate traditionally male or female interests. That, coupled with the picture of him in a yellow cardigan, long hair and skinny jeans, gave people the idea that he could be anything. Not definitely a boy. Not definitively a girl. His very own person, whoever that is.

I might actually be doing something right.

I recognize that it’s going to be hard-going to keep up even a semblance of this sort of gender neutrality as Theo gets older, especially once he starts school. Eventually he will realize that the world has sorted almost everything into two neat little boxes: boy things and girl things. He may no longer want to play with dolls. He may no longer play at cooking or cleaning. He may ask me to stop switching pronouns in books, may no longer want to wear skinny jeans. Or he may not stop doing any of those things, an act of gender defiance that carries the very real threat of teasing or bullying by his peers. This last fact is why I don’t push too hard to erase all ideas of gender from Theo’s head – because I know that unless I’m willing to stay home full-time, homeschool him, and only allow him to be around like-minded people, he’s going to have to interact with folks who are frightened, and might even become violent, over the idea of someone not fitting neatly into the gender binary.

And it’s not that I want Theo to fit in at all costs; I just want him to be safe.

It’s important for me to remind myself that Theo is a person in his own right, and not just an extension of myself or else some kind of social experiment. I have to weigh the benefits of my idealism and good intentions against the possible real-world consequences that he might face, especially in places like the classroom or the schoolyard or the school bus, places where I am not there to protect or explain. There’s so much that I want to him to understand about gender and how it functions in our society, but I worry that if I explain it too soon or too quickly, he might repeat what I say to his friends and end up ostracized as the weird kid. And while I believe that what I say is the truth, I know that it’s a truth that so many other people don’t believe in. To say that gender is a social construct does not mean that it does not play an oppressive role in society; just because something was invented by people does not mean it can’t be used to hurt others. So I don’t want to make this his fight, at least not until he’s old enough to know that it is a fight, sometimes a dangerous one.

Mostly, though, I just want my kid to be himself. I want him to like whatever he likes, and dress however he wants to dress. I want him to be fully comfortable expressing who he is in whatever way he needs to. I want to be able to mitigate the idea that he can’t do or like certain things because they’re girl things. I want him to know that all toys and all games and all jobs and all clothing are for anyone, no matter what they’ve got between their legs. I want him to know that whether he’s a boy or a girl or anything else that he happens to be, that I will love him just as fiercely as I do now.

Because I love this person so, so much.

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40 Responses to “On Babies and Gender”

  1. jgroeber January 21, 2014 at 3:26 am #

    Yes! This is so on. (How I love reading your posts, but this… sigh. Delicious.) There’s no way I manage to walk the gender line as mindfully as you have (or erase my imagined version of the gender line) but I do so try to remind my kids daily that they can be anything, anyone, at any time. My focus has been more that they can and should love any one, that all families are fine families, that love and kindness are perhaps the things we need to watch for and value above all us. But your point about gender… what a good thing to also tuck into my mind. Thank you!

    • bellejarblog January 21, 2014 at 3:35 am #

      Oh man THANK YOU! This is one that’s been brewing for a while. It’s so hard to give your kids messages that seem to run counter to what they’re learning from everyone else. I think you sound like an amazing parent, and what you’re teaching your kids is so, so important <3

  2. redbirdheather January 21, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    Hi! I came across your blog through one of your more explicitly feminist postings, and really enjoyed what I found. I didn’t realise when I started following that you also wrote on parenthood – as someone planning on starting a family in the next couple of years (and struggling with the usual array of fears and questions!) I’ve absolutely appreciated reading your thoughts on those topics too… thanks so much for sharing!

  3. barkingiuana January 21, 2014 at 4:08 am #

    Thank you. Perfect.

  4. Barb January 21, 2014 at 4:09 am #

    This is so great. This whole question came home to me very personally and profoundly when my husband and I decided to support his transition from male to female 8 years ago. It was unquestionably the right thing to do (although I gotta say, the number of people who think they have the right to question it is astonishing) and we are now a very happy queer couple; but as the parents of two young daughters, this transition put us right on the front lines of gender-unbiased parenting. For example, my kids would go to school and calmly explain that their dad was a girl. Quickly we realised that each September, a good instructive note to their teachers was a helpful thing to do. After a few years of being the Toronto District School Board’s poster-family for “diversity”, we got pretty invested in raising awareness of gender bias in society – popular culture, societal expectations, government forms. My kids are totally excellent teenagers now; they and their friends have boyfriends and girlfriends and transfriends and queerfriends, and it’s pretty darn good. I have no real sense of where they may be/move/live along the gender spectrum, but they get to look at me and their dad and think it’s pretty damned OK. Parenting job well done, I say.

  5. John Hric January 21, 2014 at 4:27 am #

    if we take time to look we often fine even the most black and white things do indeed have grey areas. nice post

  6. briarrose44 January 21, 2014 at 4:34 am #

    Thank you *so* much for this post!

    I have a friend who has a two-year-old, and when she talks about buying her daughter more “girly” things “because she’s supposed to like them because she’s a girl” I want to scream and/or explode with rage.

  7. Frances Rae January 21, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    I have so much love for you and Theo. When I was pregnant, I was terrified of all the gendering that was happening around me and trying to get in at my child, whom I wanted to keep safe from ideas I felt were harmful- based in knowing that they were harmful to me personally as a trans* person. Navigating gender in parenthood four years in still scares me every single day. I am really grateful to have other parents like you in my life for whom this issue is present and who are mindful of these things. It makes me feel less alone.

    Possibly my most spot-on moment ever in my life was when I was probably mid-way pregnant and a friend asked whether we were planning to find out “the gender”. My immediate response was, “Nah, I think we’ll wait 20 years or so.”

  8. Psychobabble January 21, 2014 at 5:45 am #

    I agree on so many levels. I know that once I have kids, I will feel similarly about trying to keep my kid from being forced into the gender binary and I worry that others will do the forcing and I’ll have to keep that at bay.
    Thanks, also, for saying just how hard that is. I’ll have to keep it in mind.

  9. Oneinamillion January 21, 2014 at 5:51 am #

    I really enjoyed reading this. I’m 6 months pregnant and want to avoid some of the overwhelming gender stereotyping that happens from before they are even born. We are having a girl (found out through amnio) and I was really reluctant to tell people because, as predicted, I have already received a mountain of pink clothes. I have tried to encourage people to buy us neutral clothing where possible, but I feel like sometimes even asking that offends people. It’s just so hard to avoid, and you seem to have done a bang up job, so good work!

  10. Pool Fish January 21, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    You know, I’ve been bothered by people mixing up “sex” and “gender” for years, and I didn’t even *think* about people doing it when referring to their yet-to-be-born kids. Thank you so much for this.

    The kid rocks those skinny jeans, by the way. :)

  11. Amanda Martin (writermummy) January 21, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    I do agree with your post and that we overly gender children. I hate the boys toys/ girls toys and the blue pink crap. I’ve always let my daughter and son wear what they like (Thomas the Tank Engine for her, pink and nail varnish for him) but I do have to say that – with them (and I accept that all children are different. I’m only speaking for them so don’t rant) – they have fallen into boy/girl characteristics despite my best efforts. I thought my daughter was boy-ish until I had my boy, and couldn’t have been more wrong. He has a natural gung-ho, physical personality that makes her tomboyish behaviour look like a shadow. And even though he loves cuddles and reading and playing with babies, it is a shadow of her when she is quiet, nurturing and (despite my best efforts) loves all things pink. I’m not sure of my point, and I’m nervous of getting shot down, but I felt I had to say that I think there are genetic differences between boys and girls that aren’t all social constructs.

    • southsidesocialist January 21, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

      The thing is that the differences between your son and your daughter aren’t necessarily because he’s a boy and she’s a girl. The differences might just be because they’re different people, not because they’re different sexes. I think society tries very hard to tell us that if a girl likes pink and dolls, it’s for genetic reasons, when really it might be because she’s been conditioned into liking pink and dolls, or she might just have an innate liking for them. And the boys who like blue and hammers – how do we know their genes are telling them to like blue and hammers? Isn’t it equally likely that the displays in toy shops are telling them to like blue and hammers? Or the looks of concern and comments like “do you really want to play with the pink doll? They’re for girls” might be pushing them away from pink dolls and towards blue hammers. Your son’s natural gung-ho physical personality isn’t necessarily because he’s a boy – it’ s just the personality he happens to have, and your daughter’s quiet nurturing and love of pink aren’t necessarily because she’s a girl. If your boy was the quiet, nurturing, pink-loving one, and the girl was the gung-ho, physical one, you’d probably accept that that was their personalities, but because their personalities currently seem to fit socially constructed gender norms, it’s easy to assume there must be a genetic girls are this and boys are that reason, If your girl was blonde and your boy had dark hair, that wouldn’t be grounds to assume boys are destined to be dark and girls are destined to be blonde… Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender is worth a read – she puts it so much better than I have done!

    • allisonjayne January 21, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      southsidesocialist said more eloquently what I was planning on saying, but I still do want to chime in about this. I think of it like this – let’s say we lived in a society that didn’t impose any gendering on people, and it turned out that even still, 75% of people with vaginas are more nurturing and 75% of people with penises are more boisterous, what does that mean for the 25% of each that aren’t that way?

      I guess what I’m saying is that even if we think there is some basis to our perceptions/stereotypes/assumptions about gender, we know it doesn’t apply to everyone anyway, so…yeah.

      I do think it is more about individuals anyway, like southsidesocialist said. I have 3 sisters and we are all so completely different in so many ways it’s a wonder we’re related at all.

      Great post Anne, as usual!

    • Joanna Polley January 27, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

      I feel the same way about my boy and girl. I do suspect there may be genetic differences that have *some* influence. Though there are obviously exceptions, this does seem to be the rule from what I can tell. However, I also think that children are far more susceptible at a younger age than we may think, and that the gender stereotyping that goes on is much more pervasive than we may notice. I have begun to notice my own behaviour in this regard, and the behaviour of others when they were only babies, calling them “pretty girl” and “strong boy”. I guess the challenge is to take the open-ended differences that sex gives us and make them into productive and egalitarian ways of thinking about gender and difference. Difference is good and I don’t think we need to be afraid of the idea that sex makes us different – we just need to be careful of how we use those differences to lock individuals into roles they haven’t chosen.

  12. MarinaSofia January 21, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    I have two sons and the older one was always keen on dolls, small animals, babies and asked to have his toenails painted while I was doing mine (much to his father’s horror, I complied). The younger one is only interested in cars, bridges, engines, planes and building or deconstructing thing to figure out how they work. I have treated both of them the same, given them the same toys and of course they have inherited (brightly coloured, not typically boyish) clothes from each other. Yet they are very different – and I treat them as individuals.
    Sadly, my older one is now going through a phase (he’s 11) where he doesn’t play with girls at all anymore and feels he has to show an interest in ‘manly’ things. I dread to think of the teenage years ahead, but I try to encourage him to be himself and not give in to peer pressure.

  13. Britt January 21, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Very cute… kid! I’ll never forget bringing my little boys into Pottery Barn kids when they were 2 and 3. The entire left side of the store was pink pink pink and they were enchanted, probably because their room at home was quite “gender-ed” (I have no idea why we thought our half Asian boys would be sailing types versed in the flag alphabet.) I bought them a grocery cart, which became the beloved toy of all time. Masterminds and Wingmen does a fabulous job of explaining the fall out of all of this “gender-ing” later on.

  14. shecando January 21, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    This made my heart smile!

  15. penelopegprice January 21, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    I have a daughter who will be three in May, and I have exactly the same concerns about our gendered society as you have expressed so well in this post. What has struck me most as she has grown and developed and played with her five (male) cousins is how the gender divide reveals the innate sexism in people. It’s not so difficult for a girl to play with a tractor or a train set, or to go around roaring like a dinosaur, people seem to accept this ‘tomboy’ behaviour, but if a boy plays with a doll or wants to dance in a tutu, people are much more fearful and offended (why they feel offended by a child’s innocent choice of play is hard for me to fathom). The only explanation I can find is that it is because he is playing ‘down’ towards being more like a girl – a lower-status incarnation of a human being – and she is playing ‘up’ towards being more like a higher-status boy.

    I get really annoyed when people (complete strangers sometimes) say to me, upon discovering that Persephone is a girl, “Why have you dressed your daughter as a boy?” I haven’t dressed her ‘as’ a boy. She is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I am also wearing jeans and a t-shirt. So are you. We are not dressed ‘as men’.

    Sometimes it feels like a daily battle, so it is good to know I am not the only parent fighting it! Thank you!

  16. Liz Woodbury January 21, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Thank you so much for this–it all rings so true and familiar. My experience with both my daughter and my son (now 21 and 17) was similar, and looking back at their childhood(s), I feel like it’s more than worth the effort to balance out what popular culture and well-intentioned people are constantly trying to push our children toward, gender-wise. I dressed both in the same baby clothes (which somehow made my baby girl look like a boy and vice versa–minus distinguishing bows on the head, or footballs on the onesie, or whatever). My son headed off to kindergarten dressed in his Superman pajamas with velcroed-on cape, carrying a Hello Kitty backpack. He was very into his Scottish heritage in elementary school and wore a kilt several days a week, and had hair that touched his shoulders until fifth grade or so. I can’t tell you the number of times he was informed that he was walking into the wrong bathroom by some gym teacher or hall monitor. What I’m proudest of is that both of my kids have a concept of gender that is fluid and open–just different from what I grew up understanding about gender. When they were young, we had a friend in the process of transitioning from female to male–this did NOT seem strange or hard to understand to either of my kids. They just got it. It required no more explanation than any of the other experiences or changes the people in their lives were making. Things like this just warm a mother’s heart.

  17. Sneha Narayan January 21, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    I absolutely love LOVE the way you’re bringing up your child. I wish that every parent adopted this way of raising their child, not to be who they want it to be but to help it to grow up to be itself. I’m nineteen now and for some time I believed that I didn’t want children when I grew older, but I’m beginning to change my mind. If i ever become a parent the first person I would want to learn from would be you. This is so inspiring and thought-provoking, Your child is so beautiful the way he is.

  18. sneha8994 January 21, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    I absolutely love this post. I love how you’re raising your child and its nice to see someone actually trying to make a difference. I’m nineteen now and Im changing my mind about children and wanting them in the future. If I ever do become a parent I would want to be like you. Your child is so beautiful.

  19. Kim January 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    First, thank you, so much, for your introductory paragraphs. The gender/sex word swap makes me crazy.

    Now. This post is awesome. That’s it, it’s just awesome. It makes my heart happy to read it. Thank you for writing this. :)

  20. ksbeth January 21, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    what a doll, you have certainly done something right. even though you may worry about the bigger world out there not embracing your openness, what you have taught is the base of everything and will never go away. great post. ) beth

  21. lucylaloca January 21, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    You’re doing a great job! Life is hard, all of these questions and concerns are difficult, changing society as a whole is…next to impossible – but you love your baby and you want him to be happy. That’s all any parent can do, I think. Keep it up!

  22. whitelight0000 January 21, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    i hope for your your kid’s mind that you don’t screw him up up by confusing him that he still is a a boy for god sake sake! I mean yes it’s okay that he wear’s pink and that he has a wonder woman or barbie doll, but please stay away from telling him telling him it’s ok to paint his nails and toe nails aqua blue, wearing make-up or looking like a girl. Femininist BS or not, don’t ever allow your child to look like a girl while he’s actually a boy. You femininist are somethig else, like that whore madonna who has all of her professionall dancers wear heels like the queers that they are.The exact same woman mother she i,s is the exact same woman mother YOU ARE -the same trash, and your son will grow up fucked up because of you, because you are fucked up period!.

    • ryanfhughes January 21, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      Hey I’m curious: what is it like to have literally nobody care what you think? Like does that weigh on you, or is it really liberating? Actually, never mind, I don’t care!

      • earthedangel January 21, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

        ryanfhughes, I love your reply! Had me smiling when I might otherwise have been fuming. Thank you. :) I only wish it could’ve been zapped directly into my brain without giving this dude any more attention. Ditto this reply. :P

    • Ciara Raven Blaze January 21, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

      so… if Theo wears nail polish that is dark blue, it’s okay? I mean, I need to know these things too–is it only aqua blue that we need to avoid painting our sons’ nails with?

      seriously, though–if you don’t like seeing people wearing nail polish, strictly because they’re equipped with penises and testicles, then I suggest you go find a remote island somewhere with no internet connection and no cable or any reception of any kind, to live out the rest of your life.

  23. theyellowblanket January 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    I have always HATED the use of the word “gender” when talking about the sex of unborn babies. I have made it a point to only call it “the baby’s sex” when I say he’s a boy. It’s not possible to know what someone’s gender is from an ultrasound. Why can’t people understand the distinction? Like race and ethnicity. Not the same.

  24. chiilmama January 22, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    I agree with you and adore what you’ve written. I struggled with the same fears and desires for them. My kids are 12 & 10 now and I have been raising them in as egalitarian a way as I can. Here’s my story of raising a mighty girl http://www.chiilmama.com/2014/01/listen-to-your-mother-auditions-raising.html. So far it seems to be working, as my son is a sensitive, long haired artist and my daughter is all about being mighty. They’re both a great balance of both feminine & masculine & uniquely themselves.

  25. Haley Morgan January 24, 2014 at 2:56 am #

    I absolutely love this post! It sums up a lot of my fears as a someday in the future mom. Especially how all this changes the instant they start school. Being home schooled myself for several years it’s not something I want to do with my future children. Really well thought and worse post. Thank you!

  26. Mici Oelschig Halse January 24, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    I’m trying very hard to do similar things with my kids. Most of their clothes were initially hand-me-downs and they all wore clothes designed for both genders. It’s gotten much harder now they are at school; my daughter went through a phase of being teased for “wearing boys’ clothes” by other kids when she was about 4, and responded with a very pink and princessy phase. I tried to set out why the other kids were silly, and basic concepts of peer pressure, and the arbitrariness of pink for girls and blue for boys. I tried at the same time not to force my ideas of what was appropriate on her; she wanted pink, so I let her select pink things, while gently remarking on how beautiful other colours were as well and how having everything the same colour would make life very boring, and how companies in other countries run by people she had never even met shouldn’t get to tell her what colours to like! Now at 5 and a half, she’s getting over the pre-school brainwashing, and self-selecting clothes by comfort and fit rather than girly cartoom characters and degree of pinkness/frills. She’s also starting to select colours like green or black as favourites, and to question some of the bull she picks up from other kids, like jobs being gendered (“nurses have to be girls, firemen have to be boys” etc). It’s an uphill battle though. I am glad I’m doing it, and it’s worth every minute, but sometimes I feel sorry for her being the kid who says being a boy or a girl is in you head and your heart, not in your pants, and the kid who says you marry who you love, and it doesn’t matter if they’re a boy or a girl… she doesn’t get why so many other kids react weirdly and with prejudice to those ideas.

    Anyway; you might be interested in this book for when Theo’s a little older. I just got it for my daughter. At 5 it’s still a bit of a stretch mentally, but she’s fascinated by the ideas in it anyway. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18478943-meet-polkadot.

    • britishasianmum January 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      As always, a great post:)
      While I do agree that gender mostly down to social conditioning, rather than something we are born with, how about the idea that our kids pick their gender for themselves, based on example? My mother in law gave my daughter a toy diaper bag and baby doll this weekend, and whilst I was at first mortified to see my daughter pretending to be a mum, I realised that all she was doing was imitating me. Little girls tend to want to be like their mums as they identify with us and little boys usually want to be like their dads- I’ve seen this time and again with my many nephews imitating my brothers. So gender conditioning, it could be argued has a lot to do with the example we as parents- their earliest role models- set for them.

  27. Joanna Polley January 27, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I’m tired of all the other moms who tell me that they get their daughters “Monster Highs” and other such horrible influences because ‘all the other kids have them and they don’t want them to feel left out’. I don’t think it can be underestimated how important it is that we be conscious of these things and make a stand where we feel it’s important to not just our own children but our communities as well. I am glad for the reminder here to start being more conscious of it myself.

    I just bought my son a tea set and he adores it. He has been fascinated by my tea-making rituals for months and it hadn’t even occurred to me to get him this toy – yet I remember I couldn’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to have one. It can be hard to avoid this thoughtlessness, but I’m trying to do better!

  28. Catherine February 4, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Its interesting the things that this post made me think about:
    First it made me think of my life right now with my boyfriend, where he is the main person who cooks, and we both share cleaning. Interesting, because both those things have been considered “woman tasks”, but here’s my boyfriend, cooking FAR better than I ever could, and cleaning up after himself to boot. I suck at cooking, and when I do, I make a huge mess, and usually it turns out wrong.
    Then it made me think about once when I went out with mom to buy a new winter jacket. Being that I was never super girly, but shopping in the girl section, we spent the better part of two hours trying to find one I like. Dad was with us that day, as he had offered to contribute. All the jackets there were awful colours or designs, all girly. Not fair, why did dudes get pokemon jackets, and I got flower and rainbows? Dad finally brought over a black pea jacket. I loved it. I wanted it. It was dignified, and not pink or purple. Mom argued with dad saying that it was too masculine, while dad argued that it was uni-sex. Then mom argued it was more of a fall jacket and not warm enough.
    I don’t remember what I ended up getting, but it certainly wasn’t that pea jacket.
    Interesting that although mom insisted I couldn’t have a masculine coat, she never really taught me to cook.

  29. lisethle February 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Reblogged this on lisethletradotme and commented:
    Chemmbaa EsTaaa ChiiKaa Opaaa

  30. Shrinkgrowskids February 22, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    So great to hear other parents feel the same. I tried and failed to keep my daughter out of pink polyester princess garb, but its so hard when the world conspires against you, not just media and retailers but everybody in day to day language. My post “Why do gender stereotypes still persist” at http://www.shrinkgrowskids.com might be of interest to you. I am a feminist child psychiatrist and I’m really glad I found your site!

  31. thegirlysamurai February 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    while I don’t mind blurring away the gender binary and am all for liberating ourselves from preconceived notions about gender roles, what I don’t like about common arguments I hear such as in this article is that it assumes a modern western-centric worldview of gender roles
    what’s considered “girly” in America and in this time period may be very manly and masculine in another culture/time and vice versa
    for example in the western Renaissance, men were wearing tight and form fitting clothing showing off their figures while women wore loose fitting clothing (well, everywhere except at the torso that is), whereas nowadays wearing tight form fitting clothing may be considered a feminine thing to do
    ancient Egyptian men wore eyeliner and skirts (shendyt), which would be considered feminine in modern western culture, Egyptian women shaved their heads bald, which in modern western culture, is considered masculine
    Viking men wore eyeliner into battle, and contrary to what a skewed version of history might tell you, plenty of viking women went into battle with the men as shieldmaidens, treated equally alongside their male comrades
    Celtic society was matriarchal well into the middle ages, women were holding official positions, fought alongside men who looked up to them as leaders of society
    Muslim men (even nowadays) will wear thawbs which are, in essence, dresses (with open skirt and everything)
    Japanese period clothing… is actually very gender neutral. Sure, the more fanciful versions may be more gender distinct, but plain common kimonos were rather gender neutral. I design and make kimonos myself, and a woman or a man could wear the same one that I make and it would look like it belonged on them regardless of their sex/gender, in fact the beauty of it is, if a women wears a kimono I make, it looks feminine, and if a man wore it, it looks very masculine. Also, the original hakamas (pleated pants worn with kimonos) were actually a skirt rather than the legged pants you see in Japanese period clothing worn nowadays
    I guess my point is, while I do agree with your points about gender stereotypes/roles being eradicated from our society, or at least approached differently than we have traditionally, I don’t think it’s a reason to remove a child’s gender identity, if it’s a boy he’s a boy, if a girl then she’s a girl, let them keep that, but naturally don’t raise them to believe that the gender/sex they’re born with dicates their behavior, let them decide what it means to be male or female
    hell, I myself am a straight cisgender male who wears eyeliner (women even ask me for makeup advice), designs and makes clothing and is essentially married to my sewing machine, am vegan (I’ve noticed that veganism comes off as feminine, at least in our western society hence my bringing it up here), own a corset (granted it’s a “male corset” designed to resemble a waistcoat) that I absolutely love to wear, and own more pairs of boots than I will bother to count, while at the same time maintain a stocky muscular (“masculine”) build, cut my hair short and grow my beard long, am a gun nut, will open the door, pull out the chair, and cover the tab on dates, and enjoy classic “displays of masculinity” as much as the next cisgender male trying to prove himself, but as I pointed out, a distinction between gender identity and the roles it assumes (of which there should be none), if you have a son let him identify as a male, encourage him to, just raise him to know that it has no bearing on what he is and isn’t allowed to do, let him choose what it means to be a male, and same for if you have a daughter, let her choose what it means to be a female while letting and encouraging her to maintain her gender identity… and if they choose down the line they’d rather be/identify with the other gender anyway, it’s their body, their life, their choice, I’ll be as much encouraging and supportive as the next supporter

    granted this is also my personal opinion and how I would go about it, but hopefully I offer some perspective to think about ;)
    if you don’t agree or see obvious flaws in my opinion, feel free to point them out, I’m open to discussion, I might even learn something from it :) :) :)

  32. carolinemellor2014 April 29, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    As mother of a 15 month old girl I am aware that it is somehow more OK for me to dress my daughter in ‘boy’s clothes’ than it is for a boy, even a tiny baby boy, to be seen wearing anything pink or girly. Perhaps there is even more pressure on boys to conform to gender stereotypes than girls – girls can be ‘tomboys’, but boys just have to be boys, or be weird. Which breaks my heart. How can essential world healing begin if our children’s true natures are stifled? Glad to have found your blog.

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