This story starts with a simple image someone shared on Facebook (as all great stories do).
The message is simple – boys should continue to be boys and leave girl things alone. It’s been seen as a throwback to all the good times when boys and girls knew what was expected of them; easy to categorize A-or-B boxes; “Red pill or blue pill, Neo?” Because gender is binary and locked into your DNA.
So, let’s begin with this:
Gender is not the same as Sex.
The latter is biological, deciding your reproductive system and physical body structure. In most circumstances, your sex at birth is binary; you are born with testes or ovaries. Gender, however, is not biological, nor is it binary. It is fluid, constructed by man (and not in a “mankind” kind of way) over millennia of existence. Gender is not predetermined by biology. There is no evidence to suggest that a boy will be born liking hunting and sports, while a girl will automatically go towards make-up, fashion and cuddly little bunny-rabbits. That is absurd and if you believe that then… well, I’m not sure you’re going to like what comes next.
Our entire cultural system has been designed to suggest boys are one thing and girls another; that boys can grow to be doctors or lawyers or police officers or CEOs or politicians. Read: leaders. Women are brought up to see themselves in a world where their role is submissive, to serve someone else; she is rarely a leader or the owner of her autonomy. Think: nurses, secretaries, hairdressers, cooks*, and – yes – motherhood, where she serves her partner and children. And when women are able to break into powerful positions in business it’s usually in the cosmetic or fashion industry, or specific fields of occupation tied to other women (e.g. OB/GYNs).
*Women are presented with the tools to cook as children, with toy kitchens and home economics in school, but we all know that the most famous chefs are men. Funny how industry success can only be for one group…
Children are taught that boys are A and girls B, and you must make sure you sit yourself in the correct box, not choose your own, because culture commands.
Time to for the personal anecdote…
I’m someone who didn’t know what my gender was supposed to be from the age of four or five. I saw boys being “boys” and girls being “girls” and I didn’t completely associate with either. I would wear my mother’s shoes or play around with my sister’s clothes. When we would have free time in kindergarten, I would head to the costume box and put on a wedding dress. I couldn’t explain the attraction, nor why other children who saw me would laugh. When I was nine I remember walking through the school hall in shoes that made a clip-clop sound and I would imagine myself wearing high-heels and it felt normal. When I would play “schools” in my room at home I was always a female teacher (although I did only have women as teachers), often wearing a piece of clothing over my head to resemble long hair. I always chose to be Storm from X-Men; my favorite Power Ranger was the pink one; Sabrina the Teenage Witch was my favorite show; my character from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon was Sheila; with ThunderCats I was Cheetara, the only female member of the gang; I regularly re-enacted Spice Girls songs (usually as Ginger Spice). And I dabbled a few times with make-up and jewelry if I could sneak it from my mother or sister.
I grew and began to feel differently to the point where I would now only identify as a guy. But that’s just my story. There are kids who feel different from as young as four or five, like I did, but never grow to feel comfortable in their own skin. Forced into a box they do not fit in causes all kinds of development struggles. And for what – because as a society we refuse to accept people are not binary?
Some assume these types of children are obliged to behave like this by pushy, PC, liberal parents in a way – the above meme suggests – to make boys soft and weak in order to push a radical feminist agenda. But I and millions more stand as proof against this; I didn’t have pushy liberal parents (they actually voted conservative) but I was never told to stop, that it was wrong, that I needed to act more like the other boys. To paraphrase a pop song by Ms. Gaga: I was born this way, I grew this way, I had my own thoughts this way, I chose this way.
But this isn’t just a problem for women
Many of these arguments about inequality and gender understandably follow the women’s arc, where aggressive social patriarchy can cut her off from experiences and options men take for granted. For men the problem is the expectation to follow this status quo rigidly. And when deviation occurs, severe backlash ensues.
What happens when a man is a nurse or a secretary? “Did you misplace your balls, princess?” Men are emasculated when they choose subservient positions, which makes sense: men have been leaders for all of human history. To be anything but a leader or a soldier would mean being less than a man. It is men who regularly lash out against discussions on gender and feminism similarly to white people overreacting to debates over racial inequality; it’s a human instinct to want to remain on the top ladder rung, where even sharing symbolizes submission. Many men instinctively cling to constructs where they are the commanding soldiers following the same old orders without question or divergence.
Parenting best depicts this gender divide, where even in politics there are Mommy Problems and Daddy Problems. The latter refers to military might and global power, while the former are social, domestic issues. Mothers are the sensitive, compassionate parent, whereas fathers are rational and analytical. Men have been brought up to be emotionally stunted. Feelings are kept on lock because vulnerability is not accepted. We are expected to get dirty, to hunt and gather, to discuss sports, to like certain kinds of music, to dress in a particular way, to think alike; to be an alpha. While it takes extraordinary courage for women to attempt to break the cycle of oppression, bravery is also needed for a man to say he doesn’t want to follow the same path.
Then there’s cultural matter where the definition of “girl” is second-class to “boy”. It is acceptable for girls to wear trousers, to play sports, to hunt, to get dirty, to like rock, to want to have careers – these were not norms in the mid-twentieth century. Yet, if a boy wears make-up, enjoys dance, gymnastics, wants to wear a dress, likes pop music, enjoys cooking, fashion, then he is either gay or a lesser man (two concepts which are too often synonymous with each other). In the not so distant past, boys were sent to military schools, or other facility where they would learn what it means to be a man. Acting like a woman is weak [note phrases like “don’t be such a pussy”], even the act of loving another man.
We treat feminine or homosexual traits as less than masculine or heterosexual ones, because as a culture we have decided there is room for only one group at the top, and any departure from this model would open the door for others to take some of that power. We look at compassion as superfluous to leadership traits, dividing and boxing men and women separately. Not only does this diminish the authority of women, it inhibits the human development of men. How many believed Hillary Clinton would be too emotional, too “feminine”, to effectively lead? Why can’t a man be both powerful and empathetic?
Let them be children
There is nothing wrong with a girl who wants to be a princess, as there is absolutely nothing wrong with a boy who wants to be a warrior. The issue is telling children they should only be one kind of person. We have to accept that growing and developing, experiencing and identifying how one chooses and not because of instruction is just part of childhood. These constructs are based on pseudoscience, not actual knowledge.
I was able to start life off with my sex listed as “boy”, deviate in my youth towards “girl”, and then during puberty identify myself as I chose: as a guy who doesn’t follow the archetype of my gender. I have no interest to wear a dress (except perhaps when shorts just aren’t enough!), hunt, or define myself with either pink or blue. My gender is open: I identify as “boy” but don’t conform my interests or pathway in life to the traditional “boy”.
At the end of it all, who the fuck cares if a boy wants to dress up with make-up? Are people really so delicate they won’t allow a child to do something they enjoy, that allows them feel comfortable? This, my friends, is what it really means to be a snowflake; a fear of change where the world doesn’t conform to how you want it.
And regardless of everything else, I would rather my children play with make-up than weapons. So, there’s that, too.