Where does gender start?

“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”-Gloria Steinem

The other day my Sociology professor asked the class? “How do you define a man?”

The responses varied, “strong” “tough” “independent” “good husband” “athletic” etc. What they didn’t say “sensitive” “tender” “imaginative” “good samaritan” “academic”.

I think the gender based inequalities harm both our little boys and girls. We begin to gender children very early. By assigning color codes to distinguish  an otherwise completely androgynous being. We discourage them from playing with toys that don’t match their sex. We excuse rough play of males because “boys will be boys” but I say boys can play like girls and girls just like boys.

Where does gender start?

Well, the first question when approaching an infant or pregnant woman is “Oh what is it?”. This question is asked so that the person knows which stock comments to avoid and what gendered compliments are acceptable. Is it really that inappropriate to say “Oh look at those muscles on little Gladys, wouldn’t wanna mess with her” or “Ralphie has such beautiful long lashes, he could model”  No. They’re babies at this point they have the ut most potential. Gladys might in fact grow up to become a champion Strongwoman, Ralphie may have the look the fashion world has waited for. My point here is why not just be genuine? Say what you think if you’re going to speak at all not what society has taught you to think. If you are the first to point out the natural and unique qualities of one persons child, you might actually encourage confidence and originality rather than just making some empty small talk.

We are tougher on a small young men and sweet to approaching very young women. These small acts of gendering deeply affect the individual psychology, which in turn perpetuate societal gender stereotypes.  By inundating young people with ideas of what is and is not acceptable we force other wise sensitive young males to shut out, “man up” and tell little girls “to hush up” and “be lady like”.

I think the concept of gender-role transcendence or allowing for more androgynous roles is a healthier approach.  As human beings we have complex emotions and modes of operation.  We tell young men that they may not cry because they look weak, and we are shocked when they become insular and numb, capable of violence. We tell women they may not speak out of turn  or be confrontation and we are horrified and confused when they don’t flea or stand up to repeated abuse.

Gender roles are responsible for these seeming illogical acts. Gender constructs breed doubt and fear of alienation.

Helpful Definitions. Sex and gender are not the same.

“Sex” is the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. [genitals, hormones so forth]

Gender the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

I contend the there is a spectrum of gender. I am a female but I have many characteristics that my society deems less than lady like. My boy friend is male and he might not be seen as super manly. People are more than gender prescribed to them and the sex to they are born to. When we impose these standard we dull the qualities that make us who we truly are and leave little room for fulfillment and self discovery.



Filed under feminism, gender

5 responses to “Where does gender start?

  1. I am all over the gender spectrum, some of my academic pursits may be labled as fem, while some things I like may be seen as masculine, yet when it somes to transgender man and women I am able to look past the physical and see the man and woman that they want me to see.

  2. Kiwi

    An interesting and related paper.
    Working at a children’s secondhand clothing store, I think about what you wrote here fairly frequently when sorting and hanging the clothes that come in. Why do the girls’ onesies have pictures of cupcakes when the boys’ have wrenches and hammers?
    I do agree with the gender spectrum, but I also think that there are some sex-rooted characteristics. All other things being equal, I believe that if a girl and boy were raised in exactly the same manner, they would still act at least slightly differently. Certainly not the way they are expected to now, but I think that even before puberty, they would behave in slightly stereotyped manners.
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/68221/gender_stereotypes_a_review_of_the.html?cat=9 , however, supports your view (or seems to, I admit that I have yet to read the whole book, only excerpts)

    • Thanks so much for the comment. I actually love the story of ‘X: A Fabulous Child’s Story’.
      There are definetly sex rooted characteristics but they don’t seem to fit everyone. I just think we should try to move foward to a less boxed in more open view of gender.

  3. Jen

    I feel like I do a good job of keeping things as gender neutral as possible for Orson. When I was pregnant I actually made a post about the whole pink vs blue the day I was supposed to find out what sex my baby was.

    Orson loves baby dolls and he plays with make up and I tell him jokingly, boys don’t wear make up…unless they want to. I was actually watching a friend’s little boy the other day and it made me laugh at how different they are raised. Orson is a big lovey boy who doesn’t really care to play with toys but flip through books instead or laugh with mommy and share sloppy kisses. My friend’s boy was the whole “boys will be boys.” Wild and rough.

    If I ever have a girl,which I was scared of at first, she would be far from the make up obsessed pretty pink dress up kind of girls my friends have. I am far from girly but I know I am a strong independent woman and as long as my kids are happy I could care less what makes them who they are. As long as they are addicted to crack or something horrid.

  4. Leslie Ippolito

    Oh Arielle I could go on and on about this. You have seen my little daughter, girlie to a fault almost…almost. Whilst wearing a dress, tights, and her ruby slippers Gia can and will run, climb and do whatever the boys are doing just as fast as they are. This is what gives me a calm feeling knowing that she will just fine in this boy friendly world. She is fiesty, smart, knows what she wants and goes to get it.
    I have a great picture of her decked out in a tutu and high heels wielding a crossbow. Absolutely classic!
    Love your blog lady! It has inspired me to pick up my feminist reading again.

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