By: Jillian James
From the moment we are born, we are classified as either biologically male or female and raised according to our gender. Girls get pink toys and clothes, boys get blue. Girls wear dresses, boys don’t. However, there is a distinct difference between your biological sex and your gender. A person’s sex is refers to their anatomy, while a person’s gender refers to a person’s concept of himself or herself.
As more and more social science research has been conducted, scholars have realized something very important- gender is a social construct. Just because a boy has long hair or wears makeup doesn’t make him any less of a male biologically. He is just going against his society’s prescribed ideal about what a male should look like.
Gender is a social construct because the definition of masculinity and femininity has changed in our society over time. Less than one hundred years ago women were given the right to vote and a woman wearing pants could cause a scandal. The social construction of gender also changes from country to country, region to region, state to state. Every culture has its own prescribed gender ideals and ways of thinking. This is all proof that gender ideals don’t have a connection to a person’s biology.
So what can we learn from this? Luckily, society is becoming more and more accepting and has gained more understanding about gender fluidity and societies’ pressure to conform to gender norms. This is very positive step in the right direction.
The new trend in parenting is raising a child to be “gender-neutral”. This means that you don’t raise your child as being distinctively male or female or you don’t make them follow prescribed gender roles. Instead you let them grow and develop independently and make their own choices about their gender as they get older. This is becoming very popular in other countries like Sweden and is now making its way to the United States.
There are different levels to this type of parenting. Some couples don’t even reveal the gender of their child and raise their children as neither male nor female while others simply encourage their children to break gender stereotypes. Things as simple as buying both boy and girl toys and encouraging them a wide variety interests can help children feel comfortable being themselves.
Having prescribed gender roles can be harmful. Human beings are incredibly complex, multifaceted creatures. They can’t fit into any one box or type. The people who struggle to conform to the societal norm can feel ostracized and begin to question themselves and their self-worth. By understanding and accepting that both boys and girls can have a wide variety of interests that may include things that are typically associated with the opposite gender, we can start to understand, accept, and encourage them to be their truest selves.