"Gender is a social construct." I've probably written and/or said that sentence a thousand times over the past few years. Between my undergrad classes in feminism and gender studies, the countless conversations I've had with friends, and all the feminist parenting articles I’ve written, you’d think I’d be a pro at not falling into stereotypes. However, I've realized it’s pretty easy to ease back into old habits. I’m embarrassed to say there have been too many times I’ve relied on dated gender stereotypes, and I need to nip it all in the bud by being open and honest about those moments.
I know that the gender binary is a totally bogus thing and, truly, gender can be whatever you want it to be. You can identify as a man or woman, sure, but being a man or a woman isn't determined by your genitalia or the gender you were assigned at birth. And, of course, it's important to remember that some folks identify as third gender, or as non-gender conforming entirely, because, again, gender is nothing more than a social creation used to label individuals or a group of individuals.
Gender as a social construct isn’t a “new” topic, either. For example, Native Americans have welcomed two-spirit and transgender persons for centuries. So, why is it so damn difficult to shake off these antiquated, conservative ideas that gender is a binary, only capable of being expressed in a certain way? Why do we, as a society, still feel the need to abide by these non-existent rules?
I hope that by being honest about my reliance on gender stereotypes, at time, I’ll be able to identify my own problematic behaviors. After all, I’ve never claimed to be a perfect person, or even a perfect feminist. It’s important to admit our faults, so here are some of mine:
When your daily conversations don’t begin with, “What gender do you identify as?” or, “What are your pronouns?” it’s hard to actually begin that practice. I’ve been to a few events where I’ve been asked my pronouns and it doesn’t bother me to give them in the slightest. However, I still struggle with being able to broach the topic and ask someone else what their pronouns are, and basically avoid using any until someone says something.
I don’t do this anymore, at all. In fact, the majority of my best friends are women. Turns out all those boys I used to hang out with in high school to “avoid the drama” turned out to be, well, misogynistic jerks. We all make mistakes I guess.
It’s no secret the automotive industry is, for the most part, saturated with men. Plus, and in my defense, I don't know anything about cars, nor do cars interest me very much. The people in my life who are knowledgable about vehicles are, for the most part, male (but honestly, most guys I know don't know about cares either, so it's a crap shoot).
I still ask a male in my life to go to a car dealership with me on occasion, and I know I should just maybe get myself a mechanics for dummies book and stop relying on others.
I stopped doing this in college, but back in middle and high school this was totally a thing. I don’t exactly understand why, either. I just recall ignoring my homework and passing notes in class rather than paying attention to whatever it was my teacher was saying, because I thought it was the cool thing girls should do. “Guys don’t like smart girls,” was a serious thought that went through my brain. I was so, so very wrong.
I have twin nieces and they are the coolest little girls ever. However, even right now in trying to describe them, the first thing I think is, “They’re so cute!” That’s fine to say, sure, but I need to make more of a conscious effort to reinforce that what’s really great about them is their knack for using engineering toys, their singing skills, and their sheer bravery. These girls are fearless, I swear.
I feel more comfortable speaking to other women than to men. No, this is not a joke, and I know it’s something I need to work on. Still, when I'm around men I second guess myself more often and I interrupt less.
It’s all about the way I was raised, and I hope not to raise my son the same way.
This is something I struggle with constantly. While my husband believes in transgender rights and understands that gender is mostly BS, I know he wouldn’t be entirely comfortable raising our child without some sort of gender identity. I hate that I’ve buckled to societal pressure and am (so far) raising my son as, well, a son (which is is simply dictated by the fact he was born with a penis).
Part of me wants my son's life to just be easy and I know it might be more difficult should he decide or realize his identity is different than what we assigned him at birth. That all said, I do my best to try and approach everything in his life as more gender neutral. I try to interest him in more “traditionally female” activities. I hope, as he gets older, we can have more discussions about gender and identity and his right to choose, for himself, who he is. For now, though, he’s 3 years old and still learning not to stick his finger in his nose.
I grew up believing that men are supposed to be “gentlemen,” and “gentlemen” always pay for all your stuff, hold open your doors, and do whatever chivalrous acts required of men in a patriarchal society. Then I actually grew up and realized a few things.
Being generous (when it’s financially possible) is a pleasant kindness we should all do for one another. Holding doors open is nice to do for everyone. People who are jerks about these things are, well, simply jerks. None of this has anything to do with gender.
When I was a kid my mom did all the chores, and I mean all of them. She made the beds, cleaned the bathrooms, did the dishes and laundry, mopped and dusted and vacuumed. Everything. My father worked all day, so he got to come home and enjoy a clean house and dinner. Maybe, on Mother's Day, he washed the occasional dish.
My mother is wonderful, but I don’t want to live in that type of household. That said, I often fall into that way of thinking, because I am mostly home (working, but still home), and start to automatically assume cleaning and child-related duties should fall on me. Yeah, that's not true. That’s when I remind my husband that making one partner do all the cleaning is ridiculous, and he quickly springs into action. It’s an ongoing thing, but rest assured, it's a stereotype I no longer want to feed.