10 Times Gendering Made Me Want To Poke Out My Own Eyes, Now That I'm A Mom
I've had it up to here with the incessant "pinking" and "bluing" of everything. In the good old days (the '80s, duh), you had to wait until that baby came out and, even then, everything was primary colors. We've had sh*tty gender roles forever, but as women looked to the ultimate glass ceiling, society has backpedaled, going the extra mile (in reverse) to make sure boys and girls (and nothing in between) know exactly where they stand. As a mom, the times gendering has made me want to poke out my own eyes are massive in number, which is exactly why we need to talk about this ridiculousness.
I like to think of myself as an enlightened parent, but I did find out the sex of my baby. A lot of my learning around gender happened concurrent with my pregnancy, but I at least understood that I was finding out the sex that would likely be assigned at birth. Gender, an internal sense of self as male, female, both, or neither, is something else entirely. Until my daughter can tell me something other than "I eat cake," I won't know her gender identity (but I'll use she/her/hers pronouns for now). Regardless of how she or any child identifies, however, I think gendering is not only pointless but limiting, and I'll be damned if I let anyone put my kid in a gender corner.
When I was pregnant, I planned for a gender-neutral nursery (who doesn't love foxes?) and stocked up on onesies from both sides of the aisle. I can't control everything in my kid's environment, though, and it can be hard to kick my own social conditioning (not to mention the fact that it's so much harder for boys to cross the gender line than girls). Collectively, we're making strides in the right direction, but gendered moments like these make it really hard on parents like me:
When We Get Invited To A Gender Reveal Party
The Pinterest Mom in me admires the endless creativity of folks who host these shindigs. I mean, blue fireworks or a ball that explodes in pink dust when hit with a bat? That sh*t is pretty ingenious, but I don't want to go.
It's the principle of the thing. Why are we gendering fetuses in the first place? All we know is penis or vagina, and what does that really tell you? (It tells you about genitals, not whether baby will like football or ballet.) I hate that these parties both set up gendered expectations (mustaches or lashes, anyone?) before a child is even born and reinforce the outdated construct of the gender binary. Hard pass.
When Bathrooms Are An Issue
As a cisgender woman and toddler mom, I've come to realize that so-called bathroom bills are designed to protect people just like me. But you know what? I think they're a steaming pile of hot garbage. Sex-separated public bathrooms became commonplace in the early 20th Century, having grown out of the "separate spheres" ideology. It's all about protecting our virtue as the weaker sex, you guys.
My daughter and I have a reasonable expectation of safety when it comes to using public restrooms. Transgender and non-binary folks do not. According to LGBTQ activist Jacob Tobia, "For most trans people ... no gendered restroom is comfortable." I see us sacrificing the rights and safety of some for the illusion of safety for others, and to me, that is unacceptable.
If the Starbucks bathrooms in Texas can go gender-neutral and the unisex toilet in your house is working out pretty well for you (and you know it is), then I think we can get past gendered spaces completely.
When I'm At The Toy Store
This northwest liberal recently found herself inside a Cracker Barrel, and y'all, they have a store. There's quite a big kids' section, but it has one problem: it's divided into boys' and girls' toys. You know what's in the girls' section? A play mop. It's pink because of course it is and there's a picture of a happy little girl mopping her heart out. Way to tell an impressionable child to stay in her lane.
Pardon me while I shop exclusively at Target, where they've decided not to divide toys by gender because, you know, it's stupid.
When I'm At A Book Party
Bookstores aren't quite so bad, but direct marketing companies are notorious for marketing to boys and girls separately. A classic example is Usborne's Illustrated Classics for Boys (action, adventure, and daring-do!) vs. Illustrated Classics for Girls (mermaids, princesses, and fairies). I'm firmly in the Let Books Be Books camp. Nothing makes me throw up in my mouth quite like The Gorgeous Girl's Coloring Book.
When I'm Buying Clothes For My Kid
My mom bestie successfully potty trained her daughter, and all her kid wanted was underwear with trucks on them. You know where those are? The boys' section. An acquaintance shared with me that her son wanted a unicorn t-shirt. She was happy to buy him something from the girls' section, but it was too fitted and they didn't have the size up.
Why, why are we designing shirts differently by sex when there is so little difference in their little bodies? Prior to World War I, all babies wore white, loose-fitting dresses and long hair (check out FDR's outfit) up to age 6. The pink and blue thing came more recently, and it started out the opposite as social convention now demands. Because this sh*t is freaking arbitrary, people.
A friend of mine has a little boy, and I love seeing pictures of him wearing the same shirts as my daughter because we both shop in either section. Why should only boys get the octopus counting in Spanish? Everyone likes an octopus counting in Spanish. I want an octopus counting in Spanish.
When We Go Through The Drive-Thru
Me: I'll have a kid's meal with milk and apple slices, please.
Speaker: Would you like a girl's or a boy's toy?
Seriously, back off with your aggressive gendering and put a car or a princess figurine or a puzzle in the damn box because it doesn't freaking matter. Put in sweet and sour instead of barbecue sauce, though, and I will cut you.
When I'm On Pinterest
Any time you type in any idea (Sesame Street party, for example), Pinterest will suggest "for boys" or "for girls." Can't a girl just have Elmo without having to let Abby take centerstage? Don't get me started on those gendered time-out chairs, either. I love me some DIY (and some time out, for that matter), but you'll never catch me painting sugar and spice on a pink sparkly sexist chair.
When I'm Speaking Spanish
English has gendered pronouns (although they/them/theirs is now an accepted singular pronoun), but it's not a gendered language like Spanish, where nouns are male or female and you change adjectives to end in "a" or "o" based on the nouns they're modifying. It's a challenge to teach a child not to assume gender when the very grammar forces you to do just that.
I love the use of the term Latinx (as opposed to Latino, Latina, or even Latin@) to include people of all genders, but it would take a serious linguistic revolution to un-gender an entire language.
When Strangers Treat My Daughter Differently
I put my 5-month-old daughter in an orange, teal, and cream striped outfit with a raccoon on it, and my husband's coworker called her "buddy." When he heard me use she/her/hers pronoun, he apologized to me and said to her, "I'm sorry, sweetheart." Um, my daughter doesn't need anyone to be more gentle with her just because she's a girl.
It's not just my anecdotal experience. In an experiment by BBC, researchers found that adults interacted differently and introduced different toys based on the gender indicated by the child's clothing. This is a problem, because this kind of early gender-stereotyping can affect development, encouraging certain aptitudes while repressing others.
When Schools Sort Kids By Gender
I taught for 13 years, and it wasn't until a decade in that I realized there was no good reason for me to have a boys' closet and a girls' closet. It seems obvious to me now, but the "boys and girls" habit dies hard. It does need to die, though.
In a Tufts University study of preschool children, researchers found that in classrooms where teachers differentiated between gender (e.g. lining up, using "boys and girls" instead of "children"), those students had more stereotypical beliefs about gender roles.
If a school tries this kind of garbage with me, they're going to have to deal with a kid who insists they're actually a dinosaur.
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