Thursday, October 21, 2010

Raising a Human in a Gendered World

 The way the world that I live in sees and does gender really annoys me sometimes. Boys and girls, men and women all are affected adversely by the world that we have created, and now that I am a parent, I am working even more actively to create a little space that is a "gender agenda free zone" for my son.

Rowan is a very pretty boy (Look out! Those long eyelashes help him flirt mercilessly!) and has worn an amber necklace since birth. (Jewelry is evidentally a feminine thing in the US, although I doubt you could get all cultures to agree to that!) Further, his father and I do not believe that colors and patterns have gender- so he wears all colors (including- gasp! pink and purple) and has some floral and butterfly patterned clothes. His stroller is hot pink with orange flowers. To this I say, big freaking deal.

Half the time when someone calls him "a beautiful girl" or "a little princess" I don't bother correcting people. After all, what does it matter- this is their issue, not mine and not my son's.

But other times, I do gently slip it in that he is a boy. Depending on where I am I get varying interesting responses. If I am here, in the Bay Area, I get anything from a non-chalant "Oh." to a tripping-over-themselves "Sorry!". No one here dwells on it too much- we all pretend to be far too progressive on gender and sexuality issues here to obsess too much. If I am somewhere else where heterosexist, heteronormative gender norms are more rigidly enforced, sometimes people give me incredulous looks or even venemous ones. They chastize me for "effeminizing" my son. They equate what I am doing (raising a kid to be free, for as long as possible, of the ridiculous way our culture deals with gender) with child abuse.

I want Rowan to be fully human, not just pigeon-holed into what our culture thinks a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl) should be. To quote Julia Serano,
...we were duped into believing
that male and female are opposites
when we’re not
we are practically identical
99.9 percent the same on a genetic level
we’ve just been trained to exaggerate
that fraction of difference
into a chasm
into two mutually exclusive classes

and gender is not about biological sex
when you first saw me
you didn’t see my chromosomes
or reproductive abilities
instead you read my class as female
because gender is first and foremost
a class system
and it is held together by the myth
that it arises from
our organs
our instincts
but for every gender generalization you can make
i can find a thousand exceptions
and natural laws
are not suppose to have exceptions
if gender was natural
little boys
wouldn’t have to be told not to cry
little girls
wouldn’t have to be taught
that certain ways of sitting aren’t ladylike
if gender was natural
it wouldn’t need to be so highly regulated...
I, for one, am sick of the polarity/binary model of gender and refuse to indoctrinate my son into it. (Yes, I know that I cannot help him once he gets older- he will run into people that enforce gender agendas and he may even experience shame.) But I will hold out for as long as I can and hope that he is as strong as this awesome tween:


  1. Gender roles in our household have always been fluid. My male partner does the majority of cooking and cleaning because I work longer hours in employment. When my children were babies he stayed home to look after them including doing all the 'mother and baby' groups whilst I was in paid employment.

    Perhaps the gender issue is geater in the US. I don't know. I have two boys and a girl. All three choose to play rugby. Two chose to go to ballet and dance classes. All of them had dolls and prams. My son would never leave the house without his doll in a pram for a long time. My daughter chooses blue clothes, my son chooses pink. I can't believe the colour of a pushchair would ever be an issue. Mine had a pretty flower pattern.

    With regard to the video. I think this young person is developing a healthy self-identity. However I am concerned that so many young people in the US are identified as having mental health issues and are medicated as such. It just doesn't happen here except in very rare cases.

  2. Woohoo, Hot Mama! Thanks for this. I guess you're referring to the bullying that gays and lesbians are getting, especially the teens. If okay, may I share this link with your readers? The project is "It Gets Better" and I hope it reaches the people who are being bullied for being different in their sexual choices. (

    (Makes me wish there is one, too, for people who choose to have a different faith from the mainstream.)

    HELLO, ROWAN! :>

  3. FMJemena: I also admire the many people who have spoken out in the "It Gets Better Project". I see gender and sexuality and two separate things. Rowan may be heterosexual and feminine, heterosexual and masculine, or feminine or masculine with other sexualities (the possibilities are endless!). (And those terms "feminine" and "Masculine" are loaded with cultural assumptions that I am actively working to undermine in the socialization of my son.) I will also address sexuality when the time comes. He will learn all about sex, human anatomy (with nothing left out), and that no matter who he loves, as long as it is consensual, it is OK.

    Riva: Yes, I believe that the US has a highly regulated gender system that is hard for children to escape. And I agree that a lot of kids, especially ones that are rambunctious and full of energy, are being medicated for no reason.

  4. Mama--love the post, I try to teach my daughter the same things, but with two sets of conservative grandparents, its not that easy. In regard to the video...loved it, what a brave girl, but I wonder if it is really such a good choice to give her medicine to suppress a natural occurence like puberty.

  5. SushiQ: I don't know about as a long term solution (but even the doctor acknowledged it was only short term), but I thought giving Anneke a break from the tyrrany of puberty was a welcome change.

    I know that my parents enforced gender roles with the onset of puberty- I could no longer rough-house, play with boys, and they wanted me to do more "girl things". Frankly, it sucked, and I still identify as female! I cannot imagine what that would have been like if I didn't...


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