Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gender: Demolishing the Separation wall

“Gender is our social and legal status as girls and boys, women and men.”

“Gender identity is how you feel about and express your gender.”

“Culture determines gender roles and what is masculine and feminine.” 

            Our Society as a whole has created gender roles that are too strict. The idea of gender is too complex to be pushed into our unforgiving system; we can’t just simply push boys to one side and girls to the other. If a child wants to test these boundaries they are harshly scrutinized, which is cruel and unjust. Our society needs to drop the authoritarian act and “let kids be kids.” Currently it has built a wall between boys and girls. The wall needs to be demolished and replaced with a neutral zone, giving children the opportunity to explore all possibilities. Neutrality is key.
            Presently boys are taught that they are supposed to go out and get dirty, it’s okay to be rough with one another, and if they get hurt they can’t complain they have to suck it up. As far as personality traits, boys are supposed to be strong, carefree, confident, and display no emotion. Girls on the other hand are held to standards that are the complete opposite. Girls should never get dirty, play with their dolls and have tea parties; they should always be polite and look their best. People expect girls to be emotional, needy, reserved, and subservient.
            These concepts are even engrained into the minds of young children by their beloved toy companies.

As you can see these advertisements reinforce the gender stereotypes our society holds. The playhouse commercial shows the little girls being “typical housewives”; Doing laundry, doing dishes, taking care of a baby, and baking. Of course the little girls have huge smiles on their faces while doing so. Everything in the video is pink and purple or has flowers on it. With our societies views the commercial was obviously geared towards little girls. On the contrary the Handy Manny commercial only features a little boy playing with the tool set. The narrator is also a man, which is not surprising. The young boy is shown building things and using tools. He then yells out with excitement of his manly accomplishments. However, these toy advertisements are not the only thing pushing children to one side or the other.
Clothing is another tool that our society uses to pressure children onto one side of the wall.
This photo is a mash-up comprised from aliexpress and select2gether

The articles of clothing above are prime examples of “typical” boy and girl clothing. When I did Google searches of “little girl shirts” and “little boy shirts” these were the results I found. The girl’s shirts made of bright colored fabric like pink with sparkly designs all over them. The boy’s made with colors such as blue and green with pictures of dinosaurs and trucks on them. This is yet another way of forcing the categorization of gender. 
Peggy Orenstein did a phenomenal job showing the transition from the historical idea of gender to the contemporary idea. After explaining how pink has switched from a masculine color to a feminine one, and blue from feminine to masculine, she plays a  trick on the reader. Orenstein includes a picture of what appears to be a cute young girl with long hair, a dress, and tights. However, she then reveals to the reader that the picture is actually of the second United States Presidnt, Franklin Delanore Roosevelt. I'm sure that the majority of Oberstein's audience were shocked by both of these facts.
 This just goes to show that our society is being too accepting of stereotypes. We don't know when a role reversal like this could happen again. Who knows what people will think another 30 years from now when they look back at our ignorance.
          Throughout history, our country has worked towards equality between men and women. If the two gender groups didn’t exist, “Lorber (1996) poignantly asked; "Why, if we wish to treat women and men as equals, there needs to he two sex categories at all"”(Burdge, 246), we wouldn’t have this problem. Society must accept gender as a spectrum not a discrete system. We have to allow children to choose an in between, not one side or the other. One must be considerate of the child’s true “self”. I am not claiming that we should push the color pink onto a boy or force girls to play in the dirt. However, we should stay neutral and let them choose their own toys, clothes, etc. 
         We must recognize the amount of freedom that we would be teaching our children. Showing them that they have the right to make any choice that they want would be a huge step towards neutrality. Being gender neutral now will teach them to be open and accepting when they become adults, not to mention allow them to feel more accepted, unrestricted, and less judged.These advantages alone, are enough to prove that gender neutrality would benefit our society. As a whole, America needs to work towards creating more gender-neutral items. The ultimate goal would be to have everything offered in a gender-neutral form so that all children will be pleased. There is an entire campaign dedicated to this cause entitled “PinkStinks”.  An excerpt from their blog states:

…offsetting gender-segregation by endorsing Barbie values for boys is missing the point – excruciatingly so. Allowing damaging notions of femininity to infiltrate girls’ lives is perhaps understandable in the shadow of mass corporate endorsement and centuries of patriarchy, but pinkifying boys does not equal equality.What about boys?

          The biggest reason people oppose gender neutrality is that they don’t know the facts. Most people form their own opinions and that’s the end of it.  Once a society, as a whole, makes an assumption that’s what they stick with whether there are statistics or research to support it, or not. These false assumptions need to be brought to attention:

MYTH: We want to destroy gender as a whole.
TRUTH: We just need to create a gender-neutral zone. Like I have stated, gender is a spectrum. By forming this zone we will allow children to have freedom and relieve them from some gender-based pressures.

MYTH: Children will never learn about gender.
TRUTH: Gender neutralization isn’t about keeping kids from learning about gender, that is impossible. Gender is everywhere; we can’t shelter every child from it. However, refraining from directly teaching your child about gender will allow them the freedom of creating their own opinions.

MYTH: You will make your child feel uncomfortable or confused.
TRUTH: There is absolutely no evidence that states that children raised in gender-neutral homes feel uncomfortable. But, we need to think about transgender and gender nonconforming children. With the strict, two sided, gender system our society has a percentage of children are made to feel uncomfortable and confused by their feelings.

MYTH: Gender-neutral parenting means no Tonka Trucks and no Barbies.
TRUTH: Gender-neutral parenting promotes giving the child a choice. The child should be offered the choice between the toys, not just one. Taking it one step further, would be having toys that are not geared more towards one gender over another.

MYTH: You’ve failed if your little girl still wants to wear pink.
TRUTH: It’s fine for a little girl to wear pink; it is also okay for a little boy to wear pink. It’s all about the choice. If you give your child the choice and they choose the “stereotypical” gender things, then so be it.

MYTH: This is a social experiment.
TRUTH: This is not an experiment, it the option of freedom and choice. Every parent shapes their parenting style based on their own beliefs and opinions. We have to make decisions like whether to paddle or not, religion choices, and teaching our child manors. So what is the difference between making these choices about parenting styles and the choice to be gender neutral? Nothing.

       There are currently two key instances in the news of parents whom are fighting these myths and promoting their child’s right to a choice. Both of which are being highly judged by society. Firstly, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter, Shiloh has been all over the cover of several magazines, each of which has focused on her gender-bending style. Shiloh likes to sport short haircuts and “boyish” attire, which is obviously highly controversial, and a news worthy topic for the media. However, when Brad was confronted with the issue his response was “"I want [my kids] to explore that innocence as long as possible and find out what's really interesting to them," he confides. "I just don't want to encumber them in any way."” This attitude is what our society needs to strive towards. It would help promote gender neutrality. Secondly, and possibly the most controversial story is about a “genderless” baby named Storm.

Glenn Stanton brings up the point that science says there is a male and female brain. Science does say this, but what he fails to mention is that science also says that there is little difference between the two. Neuroscientist, Lise Eliot claims that while there may be differences in activity levels, self-control, and performance in reading, writing, and math, the difference is much smaller than most people think. She also states that these small variances between the sexes affect physical maturity more than physical development. (Eliot) Therefore, the issue of the science of the brain has little significance when it comes to gender.
Thus far I have discussed gender-bending children and the reaction of our society. Transgender children are included within that gender-bending category. This means these children do not fit neatly into our cookie-cutter gender system. The following video depicts eight families that have/are raising transgender children. I hope that it is an eye opening video that enables people to have an open mind towards non-conforming children:

I couldn’t imagine being a young transgender child in such a cruel society. Due to the harsh consequences, many transgender children feel that they cannot express themselves or reveal that they are transgender.(Burdge) This is completely unacceptable and our society should be embarrassed that we are oppressing young children.
Fortunately, there have been a few small steps made towards gender neutralizing linguistics. Many people have worked towards creating gender-neutral pronouns. These additions to our language are greatly needed; especially in instances where we do not know the sex of the object or simply want to omit the information.  Here are some examples of the efforts made thus far in the United States:

Image from Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog

Sweden recently adopted a new pronoun, “Hen” which supplies the Swedes with an option that does not denote a specific gender. Sadly, there has not been as much success with the adoption of new pronouns in the United States. 
            Creating a gender neutral option for children in our society needs to be a larger concern for our society. It’s clear that the current toy advertisements, clothing, marketing styles, etc. are unacceptable. We have to accept that children do not have to fit into one of two categories. Gender is not a binary. While we are staring to recognize this problem and take baby steps to improve it, it is not enough. We must demolish that wall and construct a gender-neutral zone that carries throughout our culture.

A portion of the format of this blog was inspired by

Commercials credited to

Print works cited:

Callahan, Rebecca. "Bending Gender, Ending Gender: Theoretical Foundations For Social Work Practice With The Transgender Community." Social Work 54.1 (2009): 88-90. Gender Studies Database. Web. 10 May 2012.

Eliot, L. "The Myth Of PINK & BLUE Brains." Educational Leadership 68.3 (n.d.): 32-36. Social Sciences Citation Index. Web. 10 May 2012.