Friday, 25 March 2011

Gender surrender

It's fashionable in certain households to try to raise gender-free children - kids without rigid ideas about what boys do and what girls do. The trouble is, it never works.

However thoroughly the parents try to shield their offspring from indoctrination, sooner or later they cotton on to the idea of gender roles anyway and start behaving the way society expects them to.

As psychologist Cordelia Fine has noted, our everyday lives are so saturated with male and female assumptions that it's impossible to shut them all out. With the best will in the world, they seep into our minds whether we like or not.

And children have such a strong urge to conform that as soon as they realise their parents' mix-and-match view of gender is out on a limb, they rush to embrace the status quo.

Parents have tried all sorts of measures to break the strangehold. Giving trucks and toy soldiers to their daughters, and dolls and knitting patterns to their sons. Encouraging boys to cook and girls to play football. Telling little Damian it's fine to cry or be emotional or show weakness.

But then the kids go to school and the other pupils are laughing at cissies or crybabies or hairy dykes. They watch films where the wispy heroine is ecstatic over her new wedding dress, and the muscular guy is a ruthless oil tycoon. Straightaway all that parental hard work goes to pot and it's business as usual.

Oddly though, most of the parents who fail in their gender-free quest jump to the conclusion that being masculine or feminine is an innate tendency that can't be altered. They're so oblivious to the 1001 social cues prompting our behaviour they completely overlook them.

What Silly Billies, trying to interfere with Mother Nature. Boys will be boys, after all.

27 comments:

Macy said...

No doubt the social pressures to be masculine or feminine are immense. I worry a lot about my boy with no (living)Male Role Model.
But you came through it Nick????

Nick said...

Macy - I've always had huge difficulties with gender roles, they're so inflexible and constricting. Like most people I've learnt to work around them but they impede individual freedom in so many ways.

I don't think boys necessarily need a male role model. What they need is someone to teach them mature and civilised behaviour.

secret agent woman said...

I think rather than trying to make the world gender-free, we ought to concentrate on broadening what is acceptable within each gender and work on reducing the more harmful stereotypes.

Wisewebwoman said...

And why do we struggle with all of this?
Because equality is still a pipe dream.
XO
WWW

Scarlet Blue said...

Why is it that the 'best' [most celebrated] chefs and hairdressers always tend to be men?
Sx

kylie said...

i havent made any particular effort with gender roles, the girls play soccer and the boys are great with small children and they have all just chosen what they like to do. somehow i cant ask the girls to do pooper scooper duty. its a failing of mine but i just cant
(fyi, i dont think i'm above it)

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Good point. Broadening what's acceptable would be another way forward and maybe more practical. In particular, persuading boys that compassion and generosity are better than violence and domination.

W3 - Unfortunately yes, it's still a pipe dream. Precisely because of the suffocating restrictions that are imposed on each gender.

Nick said...

Scarlet - I think it's pure sexism. A basic assumption that women hairdressers and chefs just aren't as talented as men. What's really absurd is all the male fashion designers who design female clothes.

Nick said...

Kylie - It's good to see a bit of flexibility developing there. Hopefully that will broaden out even more, as Secret Agent Woman was suggesting.

No one should be above clearing up dog shit though. Leaving it on the pavement is disgusting!

kylie said...

not the pavement, the backyard!

Nick said...

Kylie - Leaving it in the backyard is disgusting too. So you're the one who's left to remove it?

kylie said...

usually kent does it

kylie said...

and i'm more than embarassed now...


change subject!!!!

Nick said...

Kylie - Change subject? But it's just getting interesting....

Rummuser said...

Boys don't cry and girls don't climb trees are the kind of things, besides many other such sayings that are drummed into our kids. They grow up with hang ups aplenty. It is also drummed into girls that they will have to learn to be housewives and care for the men of the family etc, and these values are breaking down with girls who couldn't be bothered but men who expect such values from their women resulting in all kinds of social problems in a rapidly changing society over here.

Nick said...

Ramana - There's a bit of that in Britain, undomesticated men still expecting women to do the housework and the women refusing. Some men just won't budge an inch from the couch-potato, beer-slurping routine.

newjenny said...

You bring them up as children, and they go and turn into adults.

Nick said...

newjenny - And even as children, they've already absorbed the idea that boys behave one way and girls another.

Eryl said...

I will have nightmares due to that photograph for months!

I do think gender barriers are becoming fuzzier, but it's still almost impossible for women to break through to the top of anything. I have every faith that the next generation will sort things out. That said, I had every faith that my generation would sort things out!

Nick said...

Eryl - I hope not, I would feel guilty for months. Don't worry, it's not a real person, it's pure Photoshop.

Gender barriers are getting slightly fuzzier, but Jesus, they're still so restrictive. Women still lose out in so many ways. And men lose out too by stifling their emotions and sensitivity.

Baino said...

That is indeed a disturbing photo! I tried it once. Bought Adam an ironing board and Clare a Tonka truck, they swapped within seconds. Mind you she still can't iron.

nursemyra said...

I once had a transgendered patient. She had a very masculine appearance but would only wear pink dresses, she loved jewellery and nail polish but would not wear makeup. Staff were always very careful to talk to/about her using feminine pronouns as it upset her greatly to be addressed as if she were a man.

She had quite a short temper and would kick doors and throw chairs when she was angry. During displays of this nature, many of us, including me, would inadvertently refer to her as "he" because the aggressive masculine behaviour had the effect of altering our perception of her

tattytiara said...

Similar to something I read recently about how parents' attempts to raise children to be indifferent to race by basically acting like there aren't any differences completely backfire. Think the book was called Nurtureshock (I'd check, but it's back at the library now).

Nick said...

Baino - Our specialist counsellors are on hand to help anyone disturbed by the photo. Just call them at any time day or night.

Very amusing that Clare and Adam swapped round so quickly. As I was saying, all those 1001 social cues....

Myra - That's interesting that her behaviour was still so "masculine" although she insisted she was a woman. And it's very difficult for a man to successfully conceal a male physique, there are so many tell-tale signs.

Nick said...

Tattytiara - Doesn't surprise me. Those 1001 social cues again. If everywhere you look, non-whites are treated in a different way, children very quickly get the message.

Megan said...

"I don't think boys necessarily need a male role model. What they need is someone to teach them mature and civilised behaviour."

YES.

Nick said...

Megan - I know plenty of single mums whose sons have grown up just fine because obstreperous behaviour simply wasn't allowed.