Gender Expression

I came across a new blog today that made some interesting points and I wanted to share it with you:

Gender expression is a social construct. I’m sure you have seen the old pictures of little boys with long, curly hair and wearing dresses. And if those pictures were in color, the dress would probably be pink. Today, any young child wearing pink with long curly hair is assumed to be a girl. Any child with long hair is assumed to be a girl, regardless of what color he/she is wearing. And the reverse is also true; any child wearing blue and/or with short hair must be a boy.

Having raised two sons, trying to be gender-neutral in their clothes and toys isn’t easy. One of my sons decided at one point he wanted to take ballet; so he did. He was the only boy in the class, and didn’t keep it up very long as his friends made fun of him. And he was at the age where friends’ opinions mattered more to him than the opinions of his parents. Both boys had dolls when they were very young in spite of their grandparents’ disdain and belittling comments to us, their parents. Society in the early 70s wasn’t ready for anything other than traditional gender expression.

Then there’s the whole issue of sexual orientation (No, it isn’t a ‘preference’!!). Our society can easily tag a man as homosexual if he acts ‘effeminate’ or likes ‘girly’ things; or tag a woman as lesbian if she has short hair, dresses like a man, or doesn’t wear makeup. We judge by appearances before getting to know a person. And I have been guilty of the same thing.

I wish that we didn’t have these labels; I wish that it didn’t matter what a person does in her/his private life; I wish it didn’t matter who a person loves or has sex with. Because it really isn’t anyone’s business but theirs. We are far away from the traditional hunter/gatherer society where men and women had defined roles. But even then, those who broke the mold weren’t belittled, ostracized, or murdered.

Many Native American cultures honor and celebrate the “Two Spirits”. They are considered special and blessed and are allowed to live their life as they want. Or they were until Christianity came along and changed many things about their culture. Two Spirits is a recently coined term, from the 1990s, when it was used to replace ‘berdache’, which is a term derived from the Latin for male prostitute and is thus derogatory, used by anthropologists and others to describe those members of the tribe who were both male and female. In native society, the two spirits were considered third and fourth genders, and each tribe had a term to describe them. So there were male, female, male woman, female man.

But back to today. Wouldn’t our world be better off if there wasn’t this duality-only? Thinking about it, there is male-female; black-white; light-dark; good-bad. Life isn’t that simple, really. Things are on a continuum, not either/or. Most people are somewhere on the continuum, not at one extreme or the other, although the political discourse would have us believe there is no middle ground and that if you are not on the side of (fill-in-the-blank) then you must be wrong/bad/doomed.

Society can change; I have faith that it will. And one day, it won’t matter how any child or adult expresses his/her spirit.

6 thoughts on “Gender Expression

  1. I don’t recall facing gender-specific “dismay” during my childhood. Growing up with 3 brothers and almost all of our neighbourhood children were also boys, I was a tomboy and preferred to play with their toys. I don’t remember that ever being a problem. The first time I consciously remember being confronted was in grade 12 when I wanted to be an architect, and was told by my guidance counselor that it was a man’s occupation and that I should be a teacher or a secretary instead. I believed him, and ended up drifting for years not knowing what I wanted to be or do. I don’t think it’s as bad today, I think young adults are mostly encouraged to pursue whatever career path interests them. I’m glad for them and for that change in attitudes.

  2. I don’t think back then it was an issue for girls to play with boys and their toys. But it was and still is an issue for boys to play with girls and their toys or to want to dress like a girl. Girls can wear pants, and even ties, and nobody bats an eye, but if a boy wants to wear dresses, that is not acceptable in society, either then or now.

  3. I think a very sad part about labels is that everyone has expectations, even people who claim not to. As a feminine lesbian, I’ve been not let into a gay club because I was perceived as being straight, and told by people that I don’t look gay enough. I went through a stage of cutting my hair short and dressing differently, before realising that I didn’t feel comfortable like that, and that I wasn’t doing it for myself but for these other people. It makes me sad that one of the most “welcoming” and “open” communities; the LGBT community, are precisely not either of these to someone who doesn’t fit into their expectations; to someone who’s different but not in the right way.

  4. You’re right about the labels and expectations. I think in some respects, it’s our way of trying to make sense and bring order to our lives. Fitting people into neat little boxes makes everything work better, or so we think. I don’t know of any group that is totally welcoming and open.

Ruth passed away from cancer. Please remove from list

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