Monday, July 7, 2014

Parenthood: Week 58 – Gender Bender

If we had a daughter we could read the Anne Of Green Gables books to Ollie. Well, I guess there’s no reason we couldn’t read these books to Ollie just because he’s a boy.
We are in an important place in the discussion of gender identity in children. As homosexuality is becoming more accepted in our culture and the gender roles of woman and men are becoming more flexible, people are examining more closely how they present gender to their children.

Let’s just  our terms straight. Sex is the biological makeup of a one’s reproductive anatomy and gender is the social roles based on the sex of a person. This all seems like it should work out fine, except for the fact that many people, including myself find the “social roles” based on their sex limiting.

Society told me that I should have been into sports as a boy but I wasn’t. This created internal conflicts in my life. I got over it. I’m fine now. Unfortunately for some people this disconnect is too much to handle and can lead depression and even worse suicide.

Parents are doing all kind of things to help their children create a more positive and less restrictive gender identity. Daughters are sometimes insulated from Disney Princesses and the pink doll aisle in the toy store. Many great toys like Goldie Blox are creating engineering toys  that directly go against negative stereotypes.

And parents of boys, well . . .

I’ve never heard of parents not watching sports with their son, or avoiding the action figure aisle in the toys store. Yes, we do finally have a Easy-Bake Oven that is gender-neutral, but you don’t find dolls that are made for boys to explore fashion to.

Yes, we have tons more work with gender identity in our culture for girls than we do with boys. Woman in our culture are treated-like second-class citizen and we need to do everything we can to redefine for our daughters what it means to be a “good girl.”

The work that we need to do for our girls doesn’t mean we don’t need to think about what we are doing for our sons. The thing is, the more we do to help our boys have a wider and more progressive definition of their own gender, the better it will be for our girls. How much would it help boys understand woman, if boys read as many books and saw as many films that featured main characters of the opposite gender as girls do? If boys had play cookware, maybe they wouldn’t be so hard wired to expect their wives later in life to take on the role as the cook in the household.

All of this stuff needs to be considered with both boys and girls in mind. How a girl defines her gender directly effects how boys directly around her and society will define their own gender roles. This may create some tension but it’s a good tension that leads to difficult but essential conversations.

The most important thing we can do to help our children define their own gender roles in ways that builds their self-esteem is for us as parents to practice what we preach.  If we don’t want our boys to expect that girls should do all of the housework than make sure that they see both parents taking care of the house. If you want your daughter to not be passive, than speak up at the dinner table and don’t let your husband dominate the conversation.

Most importantly, if you want your child to be open to his or her own gender identity that may not line up with society’s expectations, than don’t make jokes about a gay man’s effeminate voice. Draw into your social circle woman who don’t talk about fashions and their hairstyles all of the time. Don’t chastise your daughter for wanting to play with tools and don’t look at your son with disgust when he wants to play with mommy’s jewelry.

If your goal as a parent is for your child to love him or herself, this may mean that you will have to be uncomfortable with your child’s gender identity. That’s okay it’s understandable. But hide this discomfort and get over it. Your child’s self-esteem and happiness is worth it.

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