Children don’t need to change – gender stereotypes need to go

Folks who see equality as a good thing readily agree that gender roles are discriminatory and oppressive. Despite this, it appears that many people have difficulty applying this knowledge to everyday situations. Perhaps this is because it’s far easier to agree with concepts when they’re presented as straightforward and conciliatory rather than as confrontational or requiring critical analysis. Acknowledging the harm caused by gender roles often incites derision and dismissal, which speaks to the reality that these tropes are status quo. They’re so ingrained in our culture that overcoming them is a constant struggle.

Gender roles stretch across the globe and dictate not only how females should behave but also how males should behave. The key difference, however, is that whereas males are punished for non-conforming, females are both punished for non-conforming and made to be subordinate when we conform through a host of expectations designed to make us passive and submissive. No matter what we do we’re set up to fail because not only are we never dominant like males are, but we’re never even equal in the gender hierarchy.

Patriarchy is the most oppressive system in the world. Save for whatever minute percentage of people who might live in matriarchal or equal circumstances, patriarchy controls everyone, impacts everyone negatively, and subordinates half of the world’s population. When we throw in the additional trauma of discrimination based on race, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and every other form of oppression, it’s a miracle that people who are marginalized and oppressed multiple times over are so resilient.

kinder
Children have a tough time trying to make sense of this when they realize that the things they’re supposed to like and do don’t always match up to their own interests and personalities. They don’t yet have the experience or analytical tools to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with them and that the source of this cognitive dissonance is a system that was deliberately concocted well before they were born. This is mass psychological torture. It’s not up to kids to figure this out. It’s up to parents, teachers, relatives, and other adults. This is not a personal problem, a family dispute, or an identity crisis first and foremost. It’s a social issue. A moral issue.

Yesterday, it was reported in the news that a seven-year-old child was banned from using the girls’ washroom at a Catholic school in Edmonton, Alberta. The child identifies as a transgender girl.

The parents say they knew from the beginning that something was different about their child…

“As soon as she could speak, she would articulate that she is a female and would gravitate towards feminine objects,” the mother said.

“I just told my mom I felt like a girl,” the seven-year-old recalled.

That’s when her parents say they knew their child wasn’t “a boy who liked girl toys — she was a girl who had a penis.”

This is where I have to call a time out. What exactly is meant by feminine objects? Females have specific sex characteristics, so it makes sense to describe females and their unique physiology as feminine; but how are inanimate objects feminine? What about them is in any way female – or male, for that matter? For example, in an episode of Food Network’s Southern at Heart, Damaris Phillips describes her coconut lavender macaroons as feminine. On its face this statement doesn’t make any sense but the viewer understands what’s implied; something about these cookies reminds her of abstract qualities she associates with the female sex. This is the essence of gender and it’s where the problem starts.

It seems highly tenuous that an individual at the age of seven is at a stage in their life where they can elucidate the difference between being a boy who likes “girl toys” and actually being a girl. Children as young as four years old are now being asked to declare their gender identity. So what does it mean to think or feel like a boy or a girl, exactly? How does a boy who is learning to speak know enough about language – about anything – to know that they’re in fact a girl? Surely we should approach cases of potential gender dysphoria in children with extreme caution given their lack of maturity. I don’t know that anyone should be comfortable trusting the judgement of a child on a subject so complex it makes the heads of educated adults spin.

I’ve thought about what I would do if this were my child. Here’s what I’m thinking. A boy who likes stereotypically “feminine” things or has stereotypical “feminine” qualities is simply a boy who doesn’t conform to how society has decided boys are supposed to be. That doesn’t make him female. Associating traits like sensitivity or vivaciousness and an interest in dresses, pretty things, dance, soft colours, dolls, etc. with being female does nothing except reinforce gender stereotypes. There is absolutely no logical basis for associating the things our society identifies as feminine to the condition of being female.

Being female means being a member of the female sex and no doctor will deny that being a member of the female sex means having a female anatomy, which necessarily involves primary and secondary female sex characteristics, and absolutely includes a vagina. Whether any given female can become pregnant is irrelevant; a properly functioning reproductive system is required for pregnancy and gestation and any human being who’s ever been born was given birth to by a female. Being female cannot mean having a penis.

Of course, no one is disputing that the child is of the male sex, so what we’re left with is the question of what their gender is. While sex and gender are often conflated, they are separate concepts.

This is where what is considered controversial to some people is simple for others. If you believe that there is in fact no basis for thinking that being male must involve expressing a prescribed masculinity and being female must involve expressing a prescribed femininity, then you are gender critical. While gender criticism is often described as a central element of radical feminism (radical feminists are gender abolitionists, to be more precise), it’s also key to feminism at large because it’s impossible to challenge sexism without challenging gender stereotypes.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that discrimination against females exists but in order to challenge this discrimination we need to understand how and why it manages to organize different cultures, geographies, classes, and generations. In order for an ideology to endure so many barriers of time and space it must consist of a subliminal and self-perpetuating set of beliefs. Every oppressive system assigns unequal value to different groups of people. This requires that we develop a set of attitudes and assumptions about them that serve to make them unworthy relative to another group. At the same time, these people, should they use their voice or exercise any degree of autonomy or power, are seen as a threat and are summarily ignored, silenced, threatened, harmed, and murdered. How else can we explain white American police officers killing black women and men in cold blood and in plain view time and time again? How else can we explain the alarming number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, which Stephen Harper shrugged off as not “really high on our radar”, the blame for which indigenous men are expected to shoulder all on their own with no consideration of the effects of colonial patriarchy?

How else can we explain why discrimination persists despite the fact that many people who discriminate do so unintentionally and unknowingly? Patriarchy, like white supremacy, only requires that people with privilege go about their daily lives. That’s why even those who are aware of these systems and try to avoid contributing to them end up making mistakes. This is what it means for oppression to be systemic. To be systemic is to be effective.

nestle

Growing up, I was very close to my older brother and was surrounded by boys more so than girls. This influenced my taste in music, my language, my sense of physicality, etc. I did all sorts of “masculine” things as well as “feminine” things and it never once crossed mine or my parents’ mind that this called into question my identity as a girl or a female. I have no doubt that the males who surrounded me rubbed off on me but they weren’t the way they were because of something innate. It was because they were raised to be that way from infancy as a result of the school curriculum, teachers, spiritual leaders, parents, friends’ parents, advertizing, books, movies, etc. It’s telling that this process actually hedged the female socialization that I was simultaneously subjected to. I also have a mother who exhibited femininity in many ways, but not consistently – and this didn’t escape my notice. My mom could be fairly tough with me and I saw that she was brave, outspoken, and did the same hard labour as her male co-workers. She told me about some of the misogynistic things they would say and do. It’s no wonder we’ve always shared a love of Bette Davis movies. Overall, the message was clear: never let people push you around and never let a man tell you that you’re inferior. I wouldn’t be the strong, independent woman I am today if I hadn’t had her example to follow.

Not long ago, I was taking a walk with my aunt, her 10 year old daughter, and two male cousins of around the same age. As she watched them my aunt said to me, “Boys and girls are so different.” I responded, “That’s because we tell them they are.” Silence followed. Later that evening I was teasing her husband and my brother for comparing their scars, which they seemed to think were badges of honour. To me, they just looked like reminders of stupidity. I remarked that they were lucky they didn’t have to go through the shit women do, neither through stupidity nor by choice, simply for being born with a reproductive system destined to hemorrhage every month unless it was transformed (usually accidentally) into an incubator that would eject a baby way too big for the hole it’s supposed to come out of. Whatever the method of delivery, I added, a woman gets ripped open, leaving a scar that will rival anything they can dream of bragging about. At this point my younger cousin – bless her heart – added that girls have to suffer the job of doing their hair and make-up too. “That’s your choice!” my brother countered. And therein lies the difference between sex and gender.

genderroles

Femininity and masculinity are arbitrary social constructs. Each of us should be free to express whatever traits come naturally to us without having to worry about how they supposedly relate to our anatomy. If we’re really concerned about equality and the well-being of children who will become adults who make important decisions, this is what we need to teach them.

Going back to the article about the transgender child:

The family has found an ally in Catholic school trustee Patricia Grell, who has publicly criticized the administration’s decision.

“I’m really worried about the impact of this stance we’ve taken on that child,” Grell said. “I’m very worried about that child’s mental health and wellbeing.”

I’m worried too. I’m worried that adults can’t seem to let children like what they like and act how they act regardless of their sex and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with these kids. They don’t need to change. Our society does.

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19 Comments

Filed under Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society

19 responses to “Children don’t need to change – gender stereotypes need to go

  1. stchauvinism

    Reblogged this on Stop Trans Chauvinism.

  2. Please let the kids play and don’t hover over them importing GREAT MEANING to everything they say and do. Kids do and say all kinds of odd stuff, they are trying to learn and discover. I feel so sorry for kids who are told to start questioning their non-existent “gender identity” before they learn the parts of a sentence or basic math. This is going to end badly for lots of them.

  3. Oh no, you agreed with a Catholic. I guess now all the libfems are gonna accuse you of being in league with the Catholic Church. LOL

  4. Sophie M. Gray

    I agree with a lot – abolish gender, and we go a long way!

    However, if a child says they are a boy, girl or none of the above, then that is what they are. How does one *know* their gender? How do you know you are a woman? Possibly because you simply know, or did someone tell you? My father never told me what gender I was. In fact, I was free to express how I wanted and play with whatever toys I wanted – without judgement and pressure.

    It is not about your genitals, cause being trangender or genderqueer is real, and not a social construction. I daresay, as a genderfluid, who moves within genders (male, female, none) daily sometimes weekly, I did end up realising that I did tend to change behaviour based on social construct of that gender. I soon realised that my gender and sexual orientation is part of me and not something to prove to anyone. So once I realised I was genderfluid, nothing changed but my confidence. Still the same person, just more confident in whatever outfit I choose to wear that day.

    Pressuring people to be a gender is terrible. It angers me that in many cases trans-girls and cis-girls tend to go towards things that are stereotypically “girly”. It is not that they do that – cause anyone can be a princess and have pink ribbons, go for it! – it’s that fact that these are the ones that get spotlights. Being a woman who is feminine and gay, or a woman who is masculine and straight, does not get in the spotlight. Neither do trans-women and trans-men who choose not to go through surgery or take hormones are respected as the gender they feel they are. There is a society pressure to do that. And as you say, gender stereotypes should be abolished, but so should assuming people’s gender.

    • Thanks for sharing your views. Before I move forward and address some of these points, I think I’d better start with a question: If being a woman does not mean simply being an adult human female (female being a biological reality determined at birth by a medical doctor based on perceived reproductive capacity), then what does it mean? And can you describe this label without resorting to sex/gender stereotypes?

      • Sophie M. Gray

        You can answer the question yourself: how do you knoe YOU are a woman. Or rather, how do you know you are not a man or any other alternative gender?

        • She already answered the question for herself. She’s asking YOU.

        • Again, what does it mean to be a woman? What are the identifying qualities, traits, or descriptors by which we are to recognize ‘woman’? If you can’t/won’t answer the question then the label is empty and thus meaningless, and meant to foist upon adult females a code of conduct and appearance in order to maintain our submissive roles in society. Let’s see if you or any other genderist can tell me what a ‘woman’ is without repeating back to me all the things that men have told us we should be under patriarchy. I’m waiting!

          • Sophie M. Gray

            Haha you seem to not know me well enough, but it is hard to when you haven’t met me in person. I truely believe that gender is in your head and if you say you are a man or woman or both or either, then that is your gender. I experience fluctuations in my gender, and it is a feeling other than based on qualities or tastes, because they do not change. I will as a woman be more into dresses and earings, but as a man I do not. That is pure product of social pressure and me wanting to belong to that gender group. Nothing to do with gender itself.

            I was asking you because I would assume that the answer is “because I know”. That would be the answer I would give you “I wake up in the morning and just know”. Gender is an abstract concept that we try to explain with attibutes and tastes, which is currently being abolished by freedom of expression. So your gender is what you tell me it is, nit for me to assume.

          • I’m afraid you’re entirely missing the point. I don’t have to know you and you don’t have to know me; if you’re going to contribute a comment you’re expected to offer an argument that others can qualify. I don’t really care what you personally believe or feel. You might believe in astrology but if you can’t present verifiable reasons for your position that others can understand (i.e. we need cohesive language and meanings to comprehend what each of us is referring to), why should anyone listen to you? Someone can believe in God or practice a particular religion but the rest of us aren’t required to adopt their narrative. The attitude of “this is how I feel so you have to validate me or you’re killing me” is not only nonsense but straight up bullying. Why is it clear to everyone that abstract spiritual concepts don’t have to be adopted by everyone while “gender” as you understand it MUST be validated by all of us or we’re “bigots” – when you won’t even bother to define it? Sorry, no. I’m a woman – an adult female – and I share particular experiences with other women who have female bodies and the experiences that result from this – experiences that males can and will NEVER understand. We have a right to name ourselves as women and organize as women because (1) that’s what we are [see: science]; and (2) we live in a patriarchal society where our simply being female is the basis for our oppression. What a confused male feels cannot erase that, though they’re trying very hard to once again tell women how we should look, act, and feel. I refuse to further participate in my own subjugation. If gender isn’t binary, if it is fluid and can transgress boundaries, than a binary between cisgender and transgender cannot exist. You can go ahead and assume I’m a woman. Whatever you think that means beyond biology – that cult ideology you’ve bought into – you can claim it for yourself if you wish. I’m not interested.

          • Sophie M. Gray

            I recently wrote an article about gender and evolution, if you wish to understand my “cult ideology”. When I thought we had very similar views, I see I was dead wrong. Jeez, why do you feel the need to make this discussion so damn personal?

          • You wrote another article. That’s great, but I’m not interested. I spend many of my days and nights listening to older women who’ve been studying the system of gender longer than you’ve been alive. You think I’m going to read your article and see the light? Are you that arrogant? You engaged me with this attitude that you were going to educate me and you’re the one taking things personally after offering nothing persuasive or cogent. But I get it; identity politics are all about feelz and ME ME ME. I’m a radical feminist. That means I don’t have an individualistic way of understanding the world because that’s not how things work. I don’t feel entitled to having people agree with me because my job is to read, listen, learn, think, and present arguments that people can work with. I don’t get butt hurt if they disagree. Next time, give people something of substance, not pie in the sky ideas about everything being relative and people making up their own magical identities that have no actual meaning. If you want to double down on the sexist pseudo-science of a ‘male brain’ and ‘female brain’, have at – but you’ve got a whole bunch of questions to answer and you certainly didn’t do that here.

            Before I end this exchange, if not for you then for anyone else reading this, I highly recommend the following sites, which offer the most comprehensive and incisive examination of gender in existence:

            http://sexandgenderintro.com/
            http://thenewbacklash.blogspot.ca/

          • Sophie M. Gray

            Cute. Sharing links of human biology and behaviour to an ethologist. You should maybe read and contemplate about our current evolution instead of listening to old women with old mentalities. The fantastic thing about science is that things change and theories change.

            And please, get off your high horse and stop making assumptions about people and their ideals.

          • Wow, SOMEONE’s holier than thou… And you’re an ageist, too! Amazing. So much for liberal tolerance.

          • Old women with old mentalities, eh? Funny how we’re the dinosaurs but their gender propaganda still revolves around that archaic myth of ladybrain. So progressive! Science! And still no actual argument presented because they can’t be bothered to see anything beyond individual feelings.

    • Maleness and femaleness are not genders, they are sexes. I know I’m female because plainly I am producing eggs or I would not have given birth to two children. Even if I had not had the children I menstruate, meaning there’s a uterus in there. None of this has anything to do with my preferences. I could have grown up collecting bugs and Matchbox cars and playing football in high school and learning to spit for distance and skip stones and I would still be female. I did not get a say in the matter, it was decided by nature as soon as the egg I used to be was fertilized by a female sperm cell with an X chromosome instead of a Y. No child gets to determine their own sex. Nature already determined it. Whatever gender they think they are is irrelevant too, it’s not a biological state. The reason they think they know their gender is because they’ve had it inculcated into them that personality equals gender. If you told them that was just their personality and it had nothing to do with what sex they are, they’d be a lot better off. It’s a lesson you have to repeat with them, too, just like anything else you teach them, and more so because the culture will not let them get away with just being happy with who they are.

      Going back to the beginning of the above paragraph you might answer that with “what about women who don’t make eggs/don’t menstruate,” meaning actual women in that situation, not transwomen. Valid point, but there’s a reason they’re not doing one or the other, and it usually means a health problem. If I told you eyes were for seeing you would not dispute that point even though there are blind people in the world. So let’s stop playing disingenuous silly buggers about this.

  5. The thing that you seem to be missing that its often the child saying that they are a girl / boy. One of the common story elemnts in the stories of trans girls is one of the parents saying “I found my toddler with sissors because she wanted to cut her penis off”. Does this come from external presure over gender? I don’t think so. Gender is complicated and its not entierly a social construct but a mix of factors some of which can be traced down to the neurological level.

    • You’re making assertions that aren’t supported by evidence and you’re confusing sex dysphoria with gender identity. It’s actually extremely uncommon for children to have sex dysphoria, which is a disorder characterized by intense discomfort with one’s sexed body. Children don’t have fully functioning brains. They have a lot of partially formed ideas and try to do a lot of crazy things. Some of these children might have dysphoria, they might be going through a phase, they may be acting something out – who knows. Check out this article – it addresses the exact same example you gave:

      “I think I told you that the most important thing I learned from Dr. Zucker (during my weekly conversations with him) was the importance of asking “Why?” For instance, had I asked that when [my son] told me that he wanted to cut off his penis with a pair of scissors, who knows what I would have learned? But I didn’t ask because I thought I knew precisely what he meant. Applying an adult perspective, and my own views on gender, I immediately concluded that that remark was a rejection of his birth gender. But maybe he had a urinary tract infection and his penis was sore. Or maybe he had been wearing a pair of pants that he had outgrown and they were uncomfortable in the crotch. Or maybe having a penis made him feel like he didn’t fit in with his sisters and cousin, and he thought that if he looked more like them then they would all get along better instead of squabbling. Who knows. But we should at least have had the conversation. The same way we would if he had said “I’m sad” or “I’m angry.””

      Why do you want so badly to believe what children say at face value? Aren’t we supposed to be the mature, rational adults?

      It’s interesting that you think gender is complex but this isn’t. It’s estimated that at least 60% of children who transition will at some point transition back. These are confused children/youth who are still trying to figure things out and are encouraged by adults who have bought into sex stereotypes, which are deeply embedded in our society. Every single article I’ve read about transgender children focuses on the child’s behaviour as deviating from gender stereotypes. It’s always, “they liked to play with dolls” or “they were always more sensitive”. Putting children on puberty blockers is child abuse.

      Gender is not complicated. Gender is masculinity and femininity, which encompass a very specific collection of expected behaviours and attributes that we attach to each sex. Thanks to gender identity propaganda, if a boy doesn’t conform to masculinity he’s presumed to be a girl “inside”. What does that mean exactly? What mix of factors are you referring to? What are the neurological markers that you think make a boy a girl or a girl a boy? We know that there is no fundamental difference between the brains of males and females. Your brain can’t be a different ‘sex’ than your body. When we no longer live in a society where boys and girls are raised in very specific ways based on their biological sex, then you can test your theory as to what differences you think are innate. Until then, radical feminism as a gender critical theory offers a cohesive and easily verifiable explanation. Science does not support gender identity because it’s a religion. It doesn’t have any clear answers, it thrives on ambiguity, and it exploits preexisting power structures to maintain its influence.

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