Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pink and Blue DNA ד.נ.א. ורוד וכחול

Girls and boys are different because we tell them they are. Say that in a roomful of parents, and have your anti-riot gear at the ready. I confess, I’m one of the few left who believe that gender is learned. What astounds me is that many of the most educated, intellectual, progressive, and worldly people I know revert back to the 1950s when it comes to children and gender.

I witness parents saying of their progeny, “She’s definitely a girl!” or “No doubt about it―he’s a boy!”* or “You can’t escape it: Girls and boys are different”. I sit there fuming and think, “Of course they are. You just told them they are; what behavior do you expect them to consequently reflect?” If I do dare express this subversive view, I'm invariably told that I can't talk because I have only daughters, as if only parents of children of both genders can have an intelligent opinion on the nature / nurture debate, thereby eliminating 66% of the population.

I’ll never forget meeting up with a woman I'd known years before and her four-year-old. This woman was the epitome of non-gender-stereotyped: She worked for several years as a date-grower, a physically arduous job; she was independent and neither dressed nor behaved “girly”. But you should’ve seen her when I mistakenly referred to her four-year-old as a girl: You’d have thought I’d mistaken her child for a chimpanzee. She immediately rushed over to her friend who was standing nearby and asked her anxiously, “Does Bertram look like a girl? He’s all boy, right?” Picture my eyes rolling straight out of my skull.

And yes, on more than one occasion my girls were mistaken for boys. More often than not the “offenders” would apologize all over themselves while I reassured them that no offense had been taken. After all, I reminded them, it’s not as if she’s twelve years old―she’s all of four (or three, or two…). If we stop to think about it, what could possibly be insulting about one’s child being mistaken for the other gender? Why is it treated as an accusation? Why do we feel the need to mark our children early on as their gender?

And, while I’m on the subject of female stereotypes, I finally figured out what bugs me about feminists giving their girls “unmistakably female” names, i.e., Ariella (as opposed to Ariel) or Cora (as opposed to Cory). If one believes, as feminists do, that we should be working to eliminate gender stereotyping, then why revert back to it precisely when naming a daughter? Why do something that immediately tags your daughter as a girl (and by society’s extension, a girly-girl)? Words, including our own names, have power; our names are an integral part of our self-image. So why would a feminist want her daughter to start off life with the girliest stereotype there is?

* Ever notice that children are only spoken of in these terms up to about age eight? Could it be because until they start developing secondary sexual characteristics, we feel a need to reinforce their (sterotyped) gender?

This just in:עברית

With no less than 151 responses, many echoing what I wrote above, judging from the titles.

More on the " inborn differences" between males and females here.

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