Archive for toddlers

Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys. Also, Ballerinas, Monster Trucks, Barbies, Gendered Lego, etc.

As I have pontificated testily in the past, if there are inherent differences between boys and girls, we don’t really know what they are, and where differences between genders do exist they are small, and significantly dwarfed by the difference within a gender. In fact, as regards social behaviour, I would contend that it is impossible for us to measure this because children do not grow up in a vacuum. There are gendered messages for children to take in every single day of their lives, from the moment they are born, and unconsciously or consciously, parents, caregivers, older children, other family members all subtly reward behaviour that fits the gendered stereotype, and subtly discourage, ignore or redirect behaviour that doesn’t fit. I spend my time pontificating testily about these topics, and I’m certain that I still do this, because I grew up swimming in the patriarchy just like everybody else. It’s inescapable.

So here’s my theory for boys and girls and gender: boys and girls (and frequently even the kids who fall outside that binary) are very similar in their ability to be socially sensitive to these cues. They are very similar in their desire to please the people around them and to do what is expected of them socially, to fit into their community/pack, to please their elders/protectors, to get along with their friends. There is variability within the genders, and individuals who, for whatever reason, find this fitting in more painful than others. There are communities and families that more harshly reward gendered conformity and others that strives for more individuality in expression, but the children themselves universally try to respond to all of these subtle messages so that they can fit in with their communities and be what it is they are expected to be.

There’s a reason that social ostracism feels so life threatening after all, why our emotions come on so strongly in response to rejection, why we can feel desperate to fit in, and that’s because social rejection was life threatening when communities/family groups were literally the defense against death. It makes sense that kids would come in acutely sensitive to fitting in. They are told they have a role based on a physical characteristic, and they are told each and every day how to perform it. So they do.

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Gender, toddlers, me pontificating testily

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the time or energy to write a big long post about this and my thoughts thereon? I mean, it would if you like reading the posts I write when I write like that, I suppose. Supposing you don’t, I’d keep it to yourself – I hardly need more encouragement not to write.

Apparently J Crew sells clothing or something? In the states apparently? Whatever. Apparently they decided to put up an ad with a mother and her young son who likes pink nail polish on his toenails. People are all “Yeah, woohoo, buy stuff at J. Crew!” and “OMG, they’re pushing trans-ness on kids, for shame” and so on, because the internet is full of people, giving a shit.

I live with a toddler who loves nail polish and likes nothing more than demanding that the roommate apply it, in specific colours on specific fingers. I have no interest in this, but hey, what they do is what they do. Toddlers like to do stuff with colours. Playdough. Paint. Crayons. Socks. As adults we might code this as feminine but there’s nothing inherently vagina-uterus-clitoris-possessing* about it.

I have a friend or two and family members who seems to delight in pointing out to me when he conforms to gender stereotypes. I’m not sure why. They’re just so pleased by it, and it sometimes feels like they wants to rub my nose in it a little. See Kenzie? There really is something to gender stereotypes!

I never said that there were no differences between boys and girls. All I’ve ever said is that if there are, we don’t know what they are. Not really.**

And one kid conforming to one stereotype is not even data. It’s not even interesting in the bigger picture. Maybe he’s well-coordinated as regards large muscle stuff not because he’s a boy, but because he was carried so much when he was an infant – babywearing and carrying seem to contribute to better balance and physical development of kids at 6 months and a year in some studies. Or maybe because he was born so very very full-term and well-developed and 9 1/2 pounds and he got a head start. Or maybe because that’s the body he came with, part of the normal variation inherent in bodies. Who knows.

So pointing it out and thinking that we know the explanation for it because, you know, penis and testes and a Y chromosome is just so much buying into the concept of the patriarchy. And it’s not neutral. “Boys develop large muscle coordination earlier than girls” feeds right into “boys are more rough and tumble than girls” which feeds right into “boys are more aggressive than girls naturally” which feeds right into all of the horrible narratives about adolescent and adult sexual aggression by boys and men, about men’s natural dominating assertiveness in the workplace, and so on (including all of the complementary narratives regarding girls and women). It’s all of a piece.

And of course, these same people don’t sit around commenting that he’s empathetic like we tend of think of girls being. That he’s a peaceable kid who most of the time likes to get along, like we think of girls being. That his language development is not at all delayed the way we think of boys’ language development being. That he likes pink frilly dresses and his stuffed animals and every baby doll he encounters the way girls are supposed to and boys aren’t.

I frequently feel that people are being unscientific, picking and choosing their data to fit their preconceptions, but that in their opinion I’m the difficult and unreasonable one for not going along with it and just declaring this feminism thing a crock because the kid climbs well.

* I mention these body parts that not all women possess not because I believe that these parts are what make a person a woman (I do not), but because the sort of person who tends to consider maleness and femaleness to be these massive irrefutable inborn and opposite things also tends to believe that being born with these parts is what makes someone a woman and therefore inherently feminine.

** I’ve also said, and will continue to say, that as regards almost everything we think of as dude, so male, and woah, so female can almost always be plotted as two significantly overlapping bell curves. And that there is almost always more variability between two members of the same gender than there is between the genders in general. Height. Strength. Hip to waist ratio. Body hair quantity (before shaving and depilating and lasering). Levels of so-called sex hormones like Estrogen and Testosterone. Even boob size.***

*** Seriously, look around at the men you know. There are a lot of A and B cups around on men. And larger. They’re just not as noticeable as the equivalent ones on women because they’re not propped up on a shelf under a form-fitting shirt. And we’re not looking for them. Sure, most of the very flat-chested people you meet will be men. But not all of them! And sure, most of the D+-cupped people you meet will be women. But not all of them!****

**** Bodies are awesome in all their shapes and sizes and conformations and abilities. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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