Bending Gender

gender neutral toy catalogueI’m not really that into gender neutral parenting, in that I don’t set out to do it. I think I’m more into regardless-of-gender parenting. Is that a term?

Most people believe boys will be boys and girls will be girls – boys innately like trucks, girls will always end up playing with a doll.

However, having both a boy and a girl, I really don’t think that’s the case. There is just soooooo much influence over what they will play with from those around them, that I don’t think it is innate at all.

From early days, my son has been getting comments from grown-ups judging what he’s wearing and playing with. Some clothes are too pretty for him, apparently (he wears some of his sister’s hand-me-downs – don’t panic, not dresses), and if he carries a dollie around there are plenty of comments judging it to be a gay or girlie thing to do.

He’s one year old.

A one-year old kid can understand a lot, though. A mocking aside about his infatuation with his sister’s hairbrush compared to the smiles and encouragement from the same grown-ups when playing with trucks, balls and hammers. That sort of feedback must play a role in his choice of toys as he grows.

I have to admit, I’d previously subscribed to the school of thought that there were innate differences between the sexes. Which is weird, because I can read maps. When I read a few articles about Cordelia Fine’s research, I started to change my tune. I started noticing little things about the way my daughter was treated (Fine’s book came out before my son was born). The way people were so quick to comment on her prettiness, her clothes and they’d worry that she was getting dirty when playing (whereas I think a dirty kid = a kid having a good time), or that she was too young to play on certain playground equipment (she wasn’t and I was spotting her anyway).

The different toys they each received for their first birthdays is interesting to note:

  • daughter – lots of books, playdough set, kawasaki quad bike (from her awesome uncle who knows I used to ride a kwakka myself)
  • son – cars, trucks, noisy push-along toys.

Now, bear in mind that our friends aren’t in any way sexist, they tend to have the same parenting style as ourselves, and all the gifts were beautiful – in fact, many were quite gender-neutral, because those are the kind of friends we have. It’s just interesting to note that Miss got mostly quiet toys (besides the kwakka) and Master got mostly noisy ones.

Toys are only a small portion of the way we influence kids in gender roles, though. Mostly, they learn through our own roles, how we relate to other people, and what we convey directly to them.

My daughter knows I work, like Dad does, but she thinks that all bosses are men, because mine happens to be a man. She thinks that Dad is the better driver, because even though I ferry them around during the week, I often get MLM to drive on weekends because I’m so sleep-deprived.

I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or pedantic, but I do know that I don’t want my daughter’s options narrowed because she’s a girl. I know I can’t keep her away from the fairy dresses for much longer. I just want her to know that she doesn’t have to be a fairy just because everyone else expects her to be.

There are so many other people who influence her now: childcare, playgroup kids & mums, cousins, grandparents, strangers. Some of these influences are going to be fantastic, some questionable. I don’t really have much control over that anymore, and that’s fine. I know both my kids will turn out okay, and that if they do follow typical gender interests and roles, it’s not a failure on my part, or some innate path they’re following. It’s just the culture we are a part of, and there’s no way you can block that out, or should want to completely.

Advertisements

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Laotian Commotion
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 06:22:46

    I was going to use that very same picture for my post about finding out the sex of babies in utero! I went with a different one that I added my own spin on.

    I never liked the whole boy-girl/blue-pink thought. Why can’t girls wear blue and why can’t boys, hell, wear dresses? Wearing jeans didn’t make me a lesbian or a man. Anyway, I’m totally agreeing with this post because it’s totally nurture rather than nature when it comes to gender specific roles and characteristics.

    Reply

  2. lissa
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 10:04:03

    As a post script, Miss H got her first fairy dress, courtesy of Grandma today. It’s pink. Grandma bought Mr S a truck.
    I sighed!
    Apparently, as recently as the 1910’s, blue was for girls (purity, as in the Virgin Mary) and pink was for boys (a softer version of manly red)…interesting, no?

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Bending Gender 2 « everybodylovesstring

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: