Teaching gender to the new generation.

One of the things that bothers me most when I talk to people who don’t really “get” feminism is the way that gender is treated as somehow intrinsic, as if we didn’t start bashing out children over the head with their gender roles literally before they are even born — seriously, when you paint your nursery blue (or pink) or buy little floral (or dumptruck-themed) onesies, you are putting your child firmly in the societally-approved box. Actually, box is too mild. You are building giant fucking walls around your child’s experiences, and saying “GIRL STUFF ONLY” or, “YOU LIKE DRESS-UP, SON? TOO BAD!”

I should probably be clear, I don’t actually blame parents for this. It’s not like anyone consciously decides, “I am going to limit my child’s self-expression today!” In fact, it’s unlikely that most people even realize that they are teaching their children gender, rather than responding to their child’s “natural” preferences, when they buy the much-begged-for Barbie, or toy truck, or whatever. And honestly, telling your son he can’t paint his fingernails is, in some ways, good parenting. Sure, if he likes pretty colors, he should be allowed to wear pretty colors– but there are serious repercussions from the rest of society for failing to conform, and it’s a parent’s natural inclination to protect his or her child from harm.

SO: indoctrinating children via toys, clothes, and basically everything else they ever encounter: BAD SHIT, but it’s patriarchy’s fault; even though I’m saying “you,” I don’t really mean you; it just makes for better ranting if I say it.

ANYWAY. Nothing makes me angrier than seeing kids’ sections in large stores, especially the toys and the clothes. The monolithic walls of PINK! and EVERYTHING ELSE! and the vast (metaphorical) chasm between them… on the one hand, it makes me kind of hopeful, since it’s proof that we have to devote a whole lot of energy to teaching gender, but on the other hand, it just depresses me, because we are sure as hell expending that energy, and then some. And it’s just such a limiting paradigm. It’s a losing proposition for boys and girls, the way boys are taught that they are tough (and therefore cut themselves off from emotion and introspection) and girls are taught that they are fragile (and therefore sabotage their own potential in more quantifiable ways).

So what inspired this rant? Not a truly egregious example, like this or this. But still, notable. I walked into Barnes & Noble, and in their entryway display they had the following:

Boy's Box and Girl's Box!

Boy's Box and Girl's Box!

Ignore the inherent dirtiness of the phrase “GIRL’s BOX!” Let’s get a closer look at what these have:

img_0204

Boy's Box: Everything you need to: create a secret code - catch a bug- find a constellation - and more!

make a friendship bracelet - tell a fortune - be a jump rope champ - and more!

Girl's Box: Everything you need to: make a friendship bracelet - tell a fortune - be a jump rope champ - and more!

I mean, we are literally sorting children into boxes by gender, and telling them what they can and cannot like, and they will learn from it.

Does no one else see the problem with this?!

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2 Responses to Teaching gender to the new generation.

  1. Samantha says:

    Growing up really sucked, to but it bluntly. I really loved what was considered “boy toys” by society. My mom wanted me to be the ‘girly girl’, wearing pink, dresses, etc, its something she is still bitter about till this day. I watched football, played sports, I was your ‘typical tomboy’.

    I don’t think people realize how destructive teaching gender early on forces people into believing they are supposed to be X, Y, Z.

    I also don’t think people understand what feminism has done for people to be able to express themselves out of those boxes. I think they believed feminism died after the 2nd wave, when it clearly didn’t, we have a lot of work left to do still (obviously).

    Anyways, it annoys the crap out of me when women especially, say they aren’t feminists, like its a disease that they can’t get rid of. Practically ignoring years and years of progress made for them, that feminism had a direct hand in.

    In my Gender studies classes, I see how surprised people are to learn that gender isn’t something natural or innate, but something that is learned, expressed, and also fluid. Your identity is fluid as well, as well as sexuality. That education needs to keep coming, and not just in gender studies classrooms either.

  2. shannon says:

    Honestly, just because you paint a nursery a certain color does not mean you are putting your child in a certain box. No offense.

    I for example have 2 girls. One is nearly four and one is nearly two. Girl #1 got a pink and green room and bedding, and girl #2 got purple/beige. Both very girlie rooms.

    Now that they are developing personalities, they are exactly opposite and we encourage them in every way. Girl #1 is a total tomboy. She asked for camping gear and a pretend tool box for Christmas and she GOT IT. We don’t force her to play with barbies, although she does like to sometimes. She loves her pink room, but wanted blue sheets. Girl #2 loves dress up and pretend makeup and all the disney princesses. She does not like purple and wants a “boo” room.

    All kids are different, and I think as long as parents listen to their children’s wants and needs as soon as their kids start voicing them, then it really doesn’t matter what color a room is painted when they are babies.

    I am in no way limiting my children’s self expression. But when the children are newborn-sometime around 2 they don’t really have opinions other than ‘oohh that looks pretty, can I put it in my mouth.’ So decorating the nursery is more something for the parents to enjoy rather than the kids.

    Sorry if that sounded like a rant. Its wasn’t!

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