All Gender is Just Performance

17 Aug

I can’t think of a better way to start my day than with a peer-reviewed article from the UK Guardian!!!

Today’s food-for-thought: whether or not gender differences are innate biological differences or constructed by society in order to live up to cultural norms. Throughout my undergrad degree, this topic seemed to be a hot one. We often discussed gender and biology, sexuality and gender roles in many of my psych classes and women’s studies courses. The consensus of academia (or at least my academia) seemed to be exactly what this study concluded: that gender is completely socialized.

I think the primary motivation behind gender norms is to create categories. Subconsciously, whether we admit it or not, we all like to fit into types. Belonging to a group, knowing the rules of that group, and the sense on community that comes with it, is comforting to most people. It’s the prime motivation for why people join political parties or religious sects. In the case of men and women, masculinity and femininity, fitting into one or the other makes our lives easier, or so we think. The problem is that there are only two choices and more importantly, it’s not a choice at all, we are assigned to either one group or another upon birth and it’s dictated by biology.

From the moment our sons are born we dress them up in blue and decorate their nursery in cars and sports. Likewise, our little “princesses” and “divas” are pinkified into conformity, taught to be ladylike and sweet. Society tells us that boys are to be active participants in the world (pilots, athletes, construction workers and engineers) and girls are to be the passive, non-active counter group, in need of protection, respect, and a “good husband” to buy them pretty gifts. Girls are the ballerinas, homemakers, nurses and elementary school teachers. Our lives are about taking on nurturing, non-threatening roles, staying youthful and pretty, and landing a good man. In essence, gender is very oppressive, very archaic, and as a woman, I find it very degrading in general.

As the mother of young boys I often find that my world view concerning gender is confusing and uncomfortable for other people. In my son’s preschool, they spend more time stressing the differences between boys and girls than the similarities. I’d rather my son learn his ABCs than what a girl is “supposed” to look like, or what a boy is “supposed” to be interested in. I understand how some people can think this might be somehow harmful to my children’s self-perception, but what I find harmful is this glorification of extreme masculinity versus extreme femininity. The quest to fit in to one of these two stereotypes leads women to think fake boobs, fake hair, fake nails and a fake demeanor is a good thing, a womanly thing. They give up challenging careers in favor of stay-at-home motherhood, are guilted into lives of servitude and superficiality. And men are forced into breadwinner roles, and are so dangerously taught that the worst thing a man could ever be…… is a woman.

Think of what these messages do to our society. Across the gender binary, the wide spectrum of gender norms, most people fall somewhere in the middle. But what we are taught is that there is no grey area. You are male or female, pink or blue, you’re either into makeup or hunting, chocolate or steak, glitter or camo. These social restraints we place upon ourselves only serve as a straight jacket with which to limit our full potential as human beings. My sons might have been born biologically male, but their gender is self-defined and I hope it takes them a lifetime to discover exactly what that gender is.

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