Monday, February 1, 2010

A Note on Gender

I went to Costco the other day. Partly to shop; partly (mostly) to snack my way through the afternoon.

While I was there I was pleasantly surprised by another family shopping.

From what I could see it was a mother with her three children, two boys and a girl; all under the age of ten it seemed, but definitely old enough to make their own choices of who they are. They were moving the opposite direction as us through the rows so we kept running into them.

What struck me, however, was the pleasant androgyny that the family seemed to have. Let me explain:

The mother was wearing a light colored long skirt, a matching shirt-blouse and tennis shoes. Her hair was medium in length and tied up to look shorter. Clearly feminine, but not overwhelmingly so.

The girl, who was probably the youngest, 7 or 8 maybe, had a simple young girl cut down to her shoulders with a small flower hair clip in the front. She was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a graphic tee with a sailboat and sea gulls on it. One of the boys had a similar outfit. The other boy, probably the oldest, had short buzz cut black hair, also wore a graphic tee with what looked like a bands name on it, a long skirt like his mothers but a different color, and those skate shoes with wheels in them. He kept rolling about the cart.

Basically, the reason I was so pleased to see this family and found it important enough to talk about was that it indeed is too rare and fits into several questions that I have recently been pondering on.

First of all, and I fell into this without a hesitation, why do people so inherently need to classify things? Or why do we? That is how our brain works I guess. But it happens with not more than a millisecond of waiting and hardly any thought. As soon as I saw this family I immediately classified each of them according to my perception of their sex. Which ones were biologically male? Female? Based entirely on the social cues they were sending (what they wore? what their bodies looked like? hair? make-up? the way they moved?) It required after-thought on my part to see how quickly and without control I made these classifications. In reality, I had no idea, and still don't, exactly what any of their sexes are. None at all. Let alone their sexuality or gender or life experience or really anything about them.

This didn't stop my immediate classification of each of them, however. Even my reasons for writing about it, my interest in this family in an otherwise un-exciting walk through Costco, are based in my rigid socialization-formed biases about how different sexes present themselves, the genders they typically embody, and even the sexuality that would most likely fit. Well this is absurd. I can tell none of these things from what I saw.

Is it possible to control such brain-washings of socialization?

Secondly, I have been thinking recently about how I might parent a child one day, and because of all the other ponderings I have been dealing with I have wondered how one, as a parent, might deal with gender, sex and sexuality for their children. I do not want to promote the gender binary or any of the limitations that these three categories can yield.

How do you avoid this? Can you?

I have thought more recently that it might be impossible to completely lock out or reject the views socialization usually brings on gender, sex, and sexuality. But hopefully you can to at least some extent.

This leads me back to the family in Costco. I believe this is a great way to raise a child. Basically, make sure that at anytime the child chooses to be whatever they want, you must let them. If they want to wear this or that, play with this or that, whatever. As a parent I don't think you should restrict their choices on the basis of "that is what society has said to do." Ever. Personal choice in these matters is of much more importance.

But then, what do you do with children before they can decide? Or make that decision known?

Do you assume a certain gender on a baby? Dress them in a certain way? Give them certain toys?

How do you deal with this? Thoughts?


kaeklep said...

These are things I think about so much!
"If we're so desperate to hide our genitalia, why do we want everyone we meet to know what we have?"
Gender is the first thing we notice about a person, but why? Men and women are very similar, and often it's surprisingly easy for people to "pass" or be mistaken for the other sex. Still, we're obsessed with the differences between us. When we can't tell someone's gender, it bothers us: ; It bothers even the most androgynous people. It's such a big part of our lives!

As for raising children, I've often thought about these things, too. The pressure is especially difficult for parents of boys. I found a couple of interesting blogs by parents raising gender-variant sons that you'll probably enjoy: ;

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