I had been thinking about doing the November blog on gender as a sort of finale to the couples focus over the last couple of months, but aft a trip to ‘Toys R Us’ I completely want to change the orientation of the blog – to our young. I’m not sure if you can read the slogans on these (I think) ‘Kmart’ T shirts – but the boy one says brave and strong and the girl one says happy and smiley.
As my granddaughter’s first birthday approached I’d been thinking about an appropriate gift. I’d looked in the local toy shops but didn’t feel inspired by anything, so I thought a trip to the mega ‘Toys R Us’ was warranted. My children were a little too old when ‘Toys R Us’ first landed in Australia, so I’m not sure if it’s always been like this, or if the gender narrowing of: what’s for boys and what’s for girls, has tightened over the years.
I was so shocked I felt immobilised – even the tricycles were pink or blue! I had decided I’d like some sort of contraption that my granddaughter could race up and down the deck on, enjoying the summer – if it ever arrives. Half an hour later I still hadn’t chosen anything. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a pink one, and was worried about imposing my ideas on her by buying a blue one.
In the end I found a lion tricycle, I was delighted – it looked gender neutral to me. It had wheels of different colours including one blue and one pink. When I went to wrap it I noticed, oddly, that there were pictures of 3 ethnically different children but they were all boys. This just seemed so odd.
It sent my mind spinning. When did this happen? I remember parenting in the 1980s where the embedded cultural parents voices of do’s and don’ts, was to keep things as gender neutral as possible. The idea, if I remember correctly, was to protect our children from the socialised subjugation process of gender for as long as possible.
I liked that theory then and I still do now. I remember dressing my children in gender neutral clothes, of which there were plenty. And mothers buying their boys dolls and their girls tip trucks.
This followed on from research done in the 70s, which sadly is still appropriate, identifying that we respond differently to babies once we knew their gender.
Now that we often know the gender before birth there is never a time when a child is just a human, it’s always gender classified.
Obviously there are differences between the genders and even in our attempts to not stereotype I do remember many conversations with parents sharing stories of how their boy might have dissected their doll and their girl might make the back of the tip truck into a dolls bed – but this wasn’t the point. The point was choice, potential role extension and letting the child decide.
I can’t help but wonder if the current gender rigidity is directly contributing to what seems to be an increasing number of our youth wanting to transgender. If you don’t fit into the gender classification of birth, maybe it currently feels easier to want to be the other gender rather than stretch the boundaries of your birth gender. Whether this is a variable who knows but I do believe the underlying issue is about belonging and identity, regardless of our gender. Gender should be just one of the variables that, I believe, should come into play of it’s own accord – not imposed by the marketing machines of large multinationals.
So back to the fundamentals of humanness and Humberto Maturana’s work. Regardless of gender we are love dependent mammals, who live in communally, hence the quality of our relationships significantly influence our wellbeing whether we’re males or females.
Strangely even though males receive more than their fair share of the economic wealth. (full time gender pay gap is still 17.3%. ABS(2016) Average Weekly Earnings, Australia Nov 2015, cat.no 6302.2). They manage to kill themselves off more regularly ‘Males have higher age-specific death rates than females in all age groups from 15-19 years, ranging from one and a half times to more than double those of females.’ (ABS Gender Indicators, Australia, Feb 2016 Cat no 4125.0).
After my encounter with the toy industry, I think it’s time to put how we are educating our kids about gender, back under the microscope. There is something weird going on and we seem to be going backwards where gender rigidity is concerned. Add to the mix the number of women who voted for Trump. I find this so worrying – what are they conveying to their children about what it means to be a ‘good man’. Whilst it would be nice to blame misogynistic men for the ills of the world and they certainly make a significant contribution, sadly there are lots of women who support them.
Men generally fare very badly on their own and tend to repartner quickly after separation. Because men as little boys have often been trained to be disconnected from pain and discomfort, both physically and emotionally – we don’t want a “mummy’s boy”, they need a women to tell them when they need to go to the doctor, or to work less, or exercise more! The result is often women are classified as ‘nags’, setting a gender based battle within the relationship.
I know I’m making generalisations but women tend to be more relationally connected. We have been socialised to be able to express love and kindness without worrying about being whimpy.
These ways of being have been socialised into us from birth and are linked to cultural gender stereotypes. These are not hormonal induced givens: there are plenty of very nurturing men and plenty of very aggressive women. Whilst hormones definitely play a part we still are making culturally informed, gendered choices everyday – through what we buy, how we respond, what we reward and punish.
The question for all of us is – are the decisions and choices we are making for ourselves and our loved ones contributing to making us human beings who are capable of kindness, empathy and respect regardless of gender. Or is what is considered to be ‘right for a girl’ and ‘right for a boy’ driving decision making.