Gender is such fluid and complex social construction. The gender socialization process begins before a person is even born and plays such a large role in their development. Gender has absolutely nothing to do with ones biological anatomy yet, socially, sex defines gender which in turn assumes everyone’s attracted to the opposite sex because our culture is black and white, strictly binary. You are male or female, you are masculine or feminine, you are tall or short, you are blonde or brunette, you are a democrat or a republican, and I could go on but I hope you see my point.
Where’s the wiggle room? Why are we, as a society, obsessed with labels? We have the constant need to understand everything and have a name for everything. Anything outside our binary system of labels dumfounds us then we try to understand why things aren’t the way they’re “supposed to be.” We should be able to look at a woman and not expect her to want kids, love to cook, be attracted to men, and she could be a body builder for all we know. We should be able to look at a man and not automatically assume that he doesn’t wear make-up or high heels in his spare time, that he doesn’t stay home with the kids or that he doesn’t like men…you know what they say about assuming.
I’ve learned about gender construction in all my classes and we live it everyday but it’s so much more interesting when you witness it from the womb, so to speak. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their first child and besides being so excited to be an aunt, I’m very interested to see how they handle the concept of gender. They don’t know the sex of the baby yet, which apparently dictates not only the gender but color schemes for the nursery, names, types of clothes and toys and even expectations for their developing characteristics. Even this early into the pregnancy, my brother has standards of what is “boy appropriate” which is, from what I’ve gathered, whatever he deems masculine enough or not too feminine. This logic boggles my mind and maybe yours too because…it’s a baby, no offense. If you put a boy in a pink onesie doesn’t mean he will end up homosexual, which is what I realized to be the real reason behind his stubbornness (the fact that his male child being hypothetically homosexual is the worst thing is a whole other issue stretching far beyond gender socialization). When he starts getting defensive, I just like to point out the days that Cinderella was his favorite Disney movie and he wore our mom’s white knee-high heeled boots around the house in his underwear. And look at him now!
I honestly don’t blame them because when you’ve never looked at gender through a critical lens you wouldn’t realize how it’s a social construction. Even if you are aware of it, as some of us are, what can we do? Children can only be raised in a truly gender-neutral environment for a limited amount of time because they are exposed to it from every direction, family, friends, the education system and the largest culprit being the media. Parents can home-school their children, never allow them to watch TV, completely isolate them but this is an extreme scenario that would probably only lead to larger issues than following normal gender roles.
Standing alone, gender is not intrinsically harmful to society. It’s within a patriarchal context that gender begins to carry a significant amount of weight and meaning. It isn’t a coincidence that men are supposed to be strong, virile, powerful, unemotional and sometimes aggressive. We, as women, are socialized to maintain the public sphere while being passive, nurturing and delicate…you can’t tell me there’s not an obvious reason for this. On some level I’m not really sure as to what the overall purpose of this post was other than to rant about the frustrations of gender construction but I know you don’t need me to tell you how aggravating social norms can be. We will struggle with the conflicting perceptions of societal expectations and those of our own our whole lives, so why do we thrust it upon people before they are even born?
Wouldn’t postponing ideas and expectations of gender salvage some of their gender-neutral innocence? Innocence that allows girls to love space and dinosaurs or for boys to love the color pink while simultaneously loving hot wheels and football. We shove our children toward the paths of least resistance that are dictated by society, instead why not allow them to jump from path to path and have the ability to choose for themselves as they navigate gender and sexuality?