He looked up at me and smiled, “I know, I love you.” My smile only increased and I relished the moment to the fullest extent. Then EZ turned towards me and out of nowhere said, “I’m a kid. I’m a boy.” I slowly nodded, wondering where that line of thought appeared from. He returned to his trains for a minute or two before looking back up, “I’m not a girl.” I nodded again, surprised by this topic.
We never really focused on gender in our house apart from EZ’s fascination about who has what body part beneath their pants. And even then it seemed more of a curiosity related to anatomy than gender discrepancy. I was interested to see what prompted this seemingly out of the blue declaration from EZ. I thought long and hard about how much focus I actually wanted to place on his statement before asking, “Well, what does it mean that you’re a boy?” He looked at me and scrunched his face, deep in thought.
“That I’m a kid.”
And that was that. He was back to the train table before I could engage him in a process-y discussion about gender roles and societal definitions. While his mind had already moved on to trains and tracks, mine was still on the short conversation we just had. I was immediately reminded of an article I recently read
about a Swedish couple who were purposefully eliminating the concept of gender from their toddler’s life. Only the parents, and a select few people who had changed the child’s diaper, know what gender “Pop” is. The parents, working on the feminist principle that gender is a social construct that they do not want to reinforce, have basically decided that they will be proactive in promoting a genderless identity for their child.
So, when EZ decided to take a stance on his gender and announce to the entire book store that he was, indeed, a boy, I wondered if I had lapsed as a feminist and somehow enforced gender stereotypes in my household. That couldn’t be true, could it? I pride myself on my beliefs that men and women can do and be whatever they want, and yet here is my son, declaring his gender, loud and proud.
And then I thought, what’s wrong with that?
Does knowing and owning your gender mean you are playing into the patriarchal ideals of gender construct? I don’t think so. My two and a half year old son claimed his gender while wearing a necklace, white toe nail polish and blonde ringlets surrounding his face, all of which are of his choosing (he has on more then one occasion informed me NOT to cut his hair, which actually relieves me since I love his curls!). I can look around the living room and see it cluttered with trucks, books and dolls. While taken individually, each toy might scream out a particular gender, but taken collectively, one would be hard pressed to guess the gender of the child they belong to.
While ideally it would be wonderful to live in a world free of labels and gender stereotyping that is not the world we live in. So while we try and change things, I think one option is to give my child the tools to be what he wants within the system. He knows he’s a boy, yet still feels comfortable wearing or playing with things traditionally associated with little girls. He’s bucking the system in his own right, even without realizing it. And, I hope that as he grows to understand this whole social construct of gender “thing” he’ll continue to choose what he likes, regardless.