The End Of Gender: Part II

Back in June, I wrote about NPR’s story on the “End Of Gender.” The article looked at the new “trend” of gender-neutral parenting (which really, is not new at all) and what the potential impact of trying to dissolve gender could be. I had my own issues with the concept to begin with.

Rockin' His Rainbow BabyLegs at 11 Months

When I think of gender-neutral parenting, I don’t think about completely dismantling the notion of gender. Rather, my goal is to provide space for my son to feel comfortable with whatever activity/book/color/toy/TV show/t-shirt/etc… he chooses regardless of the stereotypical gender associated with it.

If he wants to wear a pink shirt and butterfly wings, I want that to be okay.

If he wants to run around with a blue shirt and Superman cape, I want that to be okay as well.

I don’t want him to grow up thinking that he is limited in his choices because of gender stereotypes, and I don’t want him to grow up and limit other people (men & women) because of gender stereotypes.

However, I’m not saying we should get rid of gender as a construct.

Hell, I may not be super feminine, but I dig being a girl and all the fun bits that come along with it. And I know that EZ loves being a boy. But that still doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to rock some long hair and painted nails occasionally.

So, no. I don’t want to end gender, I just want to end the narrow view of it.

I’m not too worried about gender slipping away anytime soon. Since that NPR article came out, it seems as if the social concept of gender is still alive in kicking in both fabulous and stereotypical ways.

We have department stores cluelessly promoting awful gender stereotypes while other companies attempt to right those wrongs.

Trust me, gender isn’t going anywhere, despite the “trend” in gender-neutral parenting.

* * *

In the past few weeks, there have been a few more articles looking at gender and contemplating if it has worn out its welcome (and what the possible ramifications of that might be).

Ms. Magazine blogger (and feminist sociologist), Jessica Holden Sherwood takes a look at the arguments raised when discussing eliminating gender. While I’m still not sure I agree with the concept overall, I do see merit in some of her points. Plus, the piece is a clearly written primer of sorts on the issue and a good place to start if you’re just beginning to think about the dissolution of gender.

In Lisa Hickey’s article, Is It The End of Gender or the Beginning of Men? over at The Good Men Project, she writes about feminism, gender, and how men sort of have it hard too. It’s interesting to read her thoughts on how grown men struggle within the confines of stereotypical gender norms as well… But not surprising, given my experiences with my own little man.

So…what next?

I still don’t think we’re anywhere near the dissolution of gender. But I would like to think we’re getting closer to the acceptance of more gender fluidity, and that in and of itself is a step in the right direction. I maintain that the most important part of this whole thing is the talking part.

Gender can be tricky to discuss, especially when you’re challenging long-held norms and notions about what it means to be a boy or a girl. When that spectrum is no longer binary, people need to work out their own issues in order to talk about it, accept it, and move on.

So – let’s talk about it. Let’s work through our discomfort. Let’s talk about gender fluidity. About stereotypes and how to move past them. About how gender is portrayed in the media and how that influences us on both conscious and subconscious levels.

Perhaps the more we discuss it, and ask ourselves why some people get so up in arms when a little boy wants to wear a princess dress or grow his hair out, we can come to a place where instead of completely dismantling the concept of gender, we redefine it – we expand our view of it instead of adhering to strictly defined stereotypes that are close to overstaying their welcome.

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14 thoughts on “The End Of Gender: Part II

  1. I’ll jump on.

    I think our culture has more problems with males being effeminate than with girls being masculine. If I had a daughter who wanted to be a police officer, no one would bat an eye. But a son saying he wants to go to nursing school makes people queasy. Give a girl a traditional boys’ name, and you’re being a trendsetter, giving her strength. But name a boy an old-fashioned boy name (Ashley, Leslie) and you’re making him a sissy.

    I think we need to give our attention to creating a less judgmental society in all areas, then these problems will start to fix themselves.

    • Oh for sure. I think girls have their own problems (ironically due to “girly” stereotypes) but for sure society is much more accepting of the “tom boy” than the “princess boy.” Yet, I’d be more than happy to get to a place where neither term exists and we just have kids playing games and just having preferences, regardless of their gender.

      And yes…judgement is certainly at the epicenter of it all.

  2. My husband had a great meeting with a feminist philosopher last week to discuss the fact that even if race, gender (as opposed to sex), younameit are social constructs, they are still useful! Discussing them as realities and admitting that it doesn’t matter if they were “constructed” or not–that’s how we make change.

  3. Very well-written. When my son was first born I posted on my private LiveJournal a letter to him about growing up. I let him know that if he likes pink (he does) or princesses (he does) or has tea parties, that’s fine; it’s also fine if he likes trucks (he likes trains) and toy guns (he has a Spiderman watergun) and has demolition derbies with his toy cars (he does). The point was, I didn’t want my son to feel like he wasn’t *allowed* to like traditionally “girly” things, but I didn’t want him to feel he had to hide his more “boyish” side, either.

    So far he has a pink bedroom with pink shades on the windows, and train decals on the walls. He’s currently wearing a girl’s Halloween t-shirt and we bought him the movie “Cars” for his birthday tomorrow.

    The problem is marketing. If my son wants a traditionally “girly” toy, it’s going to come packaged with girls and flowers and rainbows all over it, and at some point my son will be turned off by that, and no amount of my progressive assurances will be able to help him get over it. I pointed this out in a focus group for Fisher-Price recently.

    However, he’s at an age where he’s learning that boys and girls are different, and he’s saying things like, “Daddy is my friend; Mommy can’t be my friend because she’s a girl.” We have absolutely no idea where this comes from, as no one in his life has ever said anything like that around him (to our knowledge), but we’re working on it.

    The thing is, few children are born intersex; the rest are born with one or the other biological obviousness. When we found out we were having a boy, we weren’t excited about the sex of our child so much as that being one more thing that made him “real” to us, like hearing the heartbeat for the first time. How parents choose to interpret their child’s gender and socialize them for it, that’s the part that we can control. I don’t necessarily believe in gender-neutral parenting, partly because I haven’t read enough about it, but partly because that’s just not the world we live in and I don’t think it’s changing any time soon. What I do believe in, is giving my son the courage and confidence to feel comfortable in his own skin, so that when that day comes that he longs for a toy that he sees quite clearly is marketed to girls, he won’t hesitate to ask for it and tell his friends about it.

    • Oh how fabulous to have had the opportunity to be in a Fisher-Price focus group. I hope they really noted your comments, but a part of me feels like…meh, probably not (Just looking at the gender-focused rattles I wrote about a few weeks back. Engendered from birth. Sigh.)

      But yes, I agree whole-heartedly with your last statement…it’s totally about giving our kids the tools to feel confident and comfortable w/their choices, marketing be damned!

  4. Hi, thanks for this, and thanks for the shoutout. I don’t believe it’s the “End of Gender”, nor do I want it to be. And I also believe that the talking about it is the most important part.

    But my hope is that it’s the end of one gender feeling humiliated when taking on the role of the other. Boy’s being teased because they are “acting like a girl”. Or, as I wrote in a different post, as a woman I found having to “act like a man” in a work environment equally as humiliating. (If Gender is a Performance, I’ll Take the Part of the Female, Please. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/if-gender-is-a-performance-ill-take-the-part-of-a-female-please/). I’d rather act feminine and be seen as feminine and feel feminine in every sense of the word.

    But that’s me. And if someone *wants* more fluidity between the genders — if a woman doesn’t want to act feminine or a man doesn’t want to act like a man — well, that’s fine too.

    The hope is that the end of the judging of gender.

    • “The hope is that the end of the judging of gender.”<–YES! I think this is the take-away from everything. It's the judgement that is the problem (whether the judgement is over crossing gender lines, or even "playing into" the stereotype…it seems either way there's somebody upset over it.).

  5. Pingback: The End of Gender Continues: On Gender-Neutral Parenting — The Good Men Project

  6. I’m not a parent yet, but this is how I think of raising my children:

    I would stimulate their creativity and imagination as much as possible by confronting them with all kinds of games, arts, sports, challenges etc. to make sure that they don’t miss out on something they might really like because society, advertisement, media or their peer group suggests it’s only for the other sex.
    Both my fiancee and I play instruments (she plays the piano, I play the clarinet) and we are very active in sports. So I would encourage our children to learn how to play an instrument and to play at least in a team sport. I wouldn’t force them to do something that they don’t like, but I would encourage them very much to stick with something they have chosen and liked at a time and to not give up as soon as they have other interests or feel lazy etc.

    At the same time, if they have interests only in a very small area, I would try to show them that there are many more things that they shouldn’t miss out on.

    I will NOT encourage them to play with different “gender roles”. If the boy wanted longer hair and the girl shorter hair, I would let them have there way to some degree, but I wouldn’t force a girly haircut on my boy like the parents of this gender neutral raised “Storm” baby did with their older boy. His haircut looks simply ridiculous. (http://mycdn.theexcitantgroup.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/4dc6ffcf4378887902ff5a592b60-500×340.jpg?cda6c1)

    If the girl would turn out to love soccer and the boy to love reading books, that’s fine. I don’t want to force any gender stereotypes down their throats.

    BUT: if I have the impression that my children don’t conform at all to the general gender roles, I would try to lead them in the direction of traditional gender roles. I think that 90% of the most important childhood lessons you need to teach your children are basically the same, wether the child is male or female. But to pretend that a 14 or a 24 year old boy will face the same challenges from his peers and the opposite sex as a girl is nonsense.

    I know, by now most people concerned with gender will scream and disagree, but that’s what I believe. A 14 year old boy who is scared of proving his strenght, who is risk averse and who is not assertive will suffer more than a 14 year old girl with the same qualities. That doesn’t mean that I would want my girl to be weak and risk averse, but I wouldn’t mind as much if she wasn’t into physical play and more introvert. Since I don’t know much about the peer pressure a girl faces I would leave that part of education to my fiancee ;-)

    I think gender fluidity is a great thing to a degree, as it shows that our current gender norms haven’t always been the same and can limit your possibilities in life. At the same time, I think we must understand that men and women are divided, at least in the near future, in very many ways and that it shouldn’t be our primary goal to make a political statement or to change the world but to prepare our children for the world they will be facing!

    • I totally get the impulse to protect kids from the waves that we make when we stray outside traditional roles. But it doesn’t feel any better to perform a traditional gender role if that goes against all your instincts. A childhood friend of mine had long, curly hair. Yes, if he had cut it, he probably would have endured less teasing. They said he was girly, gay, weak, you name it. But he loves that hair. It wasn’t a protest against “traditional hair” he just liked it that way. And it’s still really long. The lesson is that we need to teach our children to know themselves from the inside out. A “role” is something you play–from the outside, in.

      Making sure you have the right HAIRCUT is simply not going to make you happy. Having the inner strength to withstand the criticism of others and chase your own dreams? My friend is living proof that THAT does make you happy. He and his girlfriend are much happier than many of our friends who did not make waves with their choice of haircut or after-school activity. I plan to encourage my (hypothetical/future) children to express themselves, even if other people don’t like it. There is no way to be normal, and they might as well learn early to love their quirks no matter what anyone else has to say about it.

      One more thing: I’m a childcare provider, and I get lots of questions from preschoolers about what is for boys and what is for girls. The kids who worry about doing the “right” thing for their gender stress out about. Sometimes, they cry about it. Because they are WORRIED. The children who don’t care? Well, they don’t care. And they don’t worry. And they don’t stress. Unless someone else starts teasing. Is teaching a child to avoid teasing at all costs really the answer? Follow all the rules and keep your head down? I really hope you don’t take that route, because I’ve met kids whose parents teach them early about what boys and girls “should” do, and those kids are STRESSED OUT.

      • I think ultimately that decision belongs to the parents, at least when we’re talking about young children. Would you allow your child to have ANY hair style he wanted? Would you allow your daughter to go to school in high heels and a mini skirt at age 6 if she wanted?
        Obviously there is a trade off between conforming and taking the shit for something you believe in or that is important to you. And while I wouldn’t want to raise my children as conformists, I do believe that there is a value in conforming to some degree.

    • I do think it’s admirable that you’ve clearly been thinking about what you would do when you have kids, but will caution that not everything (especially with parenting!) goes according to plan.

      One thing that I’ve learned so far as a parent is that regardless of what you have planned, it can always turn out differently. Flexibility and acceptance that things might not always go as we predict has been a real valuable lesson for me (and has prevented much stress and needless arguing/crying – on everyone’s parts).

      Now…I think the fact that there’s still concepts such as “girly” haircuts is clear indication that much more discussion needs to happen around the construct of gender. You use the term “girly” haircut – what does that mean? For the 1st few years that we were together, my husband (then boyfriend) had hair down to his mid back, while mine was hardly longer than 2 inches. Now? Mine is longer than his, but only by a few inches. (and mine comes down a bit past my shoulder). I would *never* call my husband’s hair girly, and neither would anyone else he comes in contact with. He is professional with a doctorate, with a job that has him active in the community – interacting on a very personal level with every type of person, and has yet (in his almost 10 years in his profession) had anyone say he was “girly” or less than professional. However, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m curious what explanation you would give to your child who wants to wear their hair in a fashion that goes against your beliefs.

      Also “If the girl would turn out to love soccer and the boy to love reading books, that’s fine. I don’t want to force any gender stereotypes down their throats.” <–Since when is reading a prescribed gender trait for girls? Reading is something done across genders, and not something only looked at as a "boy" or "girl" activity.

      • I wouldn’t call all long hair styles girly. I have rather long hair myself. And I do see the arbitrariness in what is labeled male or female with regards to superficial things as hair styles. BUT at the same time I think I do have a responsibility for a 5 year old child and I have to decide what is best for him. Even if “girly” hair styles probably don’t have any long term effects, if they increase the chance of being mocked in Kindergarten or School thats a bad thing. I’m not saying one should avoid being mocked at all costs – obviously there are very good reasons not to conform to some group pressures. But being mocked or labeled an outsider over something as superficial as a hair style, a dress or a certain behaviour is just unnecessary, at least in those years where children simply don’t know any better.

        Well, what would I tell my child… What would I tell my 5 year old child if he wanted to shave his hair of completely or dye it green? FORGET IT, IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. The same goes for girly hairstyles…

        I was the only male in the book club of my school and you have no idea with what shit I had to put up with… At least among teenagers, a boy who primarily reads and is not so interested in sports can become a target sometimes.

    • “I was the only male in the book club of my school and you have no idea with what shit I had to put up with… At least among teenagers, a boy who primarily reads and is not so interested in sports can become a target sometimes.” <–I feel awful that you had to deal with teasing b/c you enjoyed reading, but I'm still having a hard timing figuring out how reading is seen as "girly."

      The pursuit of learning seems pretty gender neutral to me, and I would hate for a boy's love of reading/literature to get pushed to the side b/c people don't think it's "manly" enough. That's incredibly dangerous right there. Think of the larger ramifications of that thought process. The impact in school, in higher education, in research, etc…

      Now, I've never been a teenage boy, I don't claim to understand what they go through. But my husband was one. And he was a voracious reader. I see plenty of elementary school aged boys that LOVE to read and nobody gives them guff for it. I'd hate to start sliding down that dangerous slope where an intellectual pursuit is thought to be only acceptable for one gender.

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