I used to love McDonalds — not because the food was great, or the place tidy, or the playgrounds clean. But because every time I got a Happy Meal, I also got a toy. Unfortunately, these toys tended to be frilly, fairy-style dolls whereas I wanted the cool-looking racing cars I could see in the plastic display. When I would take the toy back and ask them to trade, I would be told by a blank-faced employee: “But that’s the girl’s toy.”
I hated that assumption that just because I was a girl, I wanted a certain type of toy. Or just because my brothers were boys, they wanted the “boys toys” and not the Power Puff dolls they really liked. Back when my brothers wore their hair long, the employees would look at them doubtfully and ask my mother, “Do you want a boy’s toy, or a girl’s toy?” Gah! Why couldn’t they just ask, “Do you want the Power Puff doll, or the car?”
Gender. It’s a wonderful thing when treated correctly, but our society tends to force people into thin slots that don’t at all match their personalities. As a young girl, I used to love catching worms, playing baseball (not softball), climbing trees, and getting muddy. My brothers loved to play Pretty Pretty Princess and wear my sister’s hula skirts. We were kids. Our parents allowed us to investigate our interests, and didn’t tell my brothers they couldn’t play with Barbie dolls, or that a girl could never be a pro baseball player. As we grew up, our interests changed, and my brothers abandoned the Barbie dolls for Bionicles, and I decided I didn’t like worms anymore. But the point is, we were free to live our lives according to our innate interests.
There are so many people today who feel trapped by their sexuality — that because they’re a “girl,” they aren’t allowed to do or enjoy the things the things men do, or vice-versa. And society supports this. From the time we’re small, they segregate us based on our gender. A girl is told she is “so cute!” or “pretty,” and a boy is told he is “strong.” If a girl falls and skins her knee, people coo over her, but if it’s a boy, they’re told to suck it up and not to cry. The little things like: “Do you want a girl’s toy, or a boy’s toy?” build up and tell us that it’s not okay for a boy to cry or to like Power Puff dolls, and that a girl should do whatever it takes to be told she is “pretty,” since that’s the most important thing.
So what happens when a boy who likes the color pink and smelling flowers, or a girl who likes monster trucks and mudpies grows up? They are told that something is wrong with them, and get called names like “homo” and “queer.” After a while, they lose confidence in their gender and their interests, and start to think that something’s wrong with them, that maybe they are, as their persecutors have named them, “queer.” How confusing it is for a child who craves one thing, and is told they cannot have it simply because of their sex!
The damage is made worse when people use gender as an insult. For instance, my neighbor was working outside with his kids the other day and I heard him tell his boys to “lift that log higher, what are you, girls?” I played baseball for 10 years and heard so many parents and coaches tell my teammates, “You throw like a girl!” It never seemed to register with them that I threw better than most of the boys on my team. But for a girl, being “strong like a boy” is something to be desired; “fighting like a boy” is the ultimate honor. Being told you “look like a boy” is as terrible an insult as one could intend.
I bring up these points because CNN News once again reminded me of how some people are struggling to avoid this biasing, and are encountering a maelstrom of opposition.
In Canada, there is a couple who have a four-month old child, and they are refusing to tell anyone the child’s gender. Of course, their other children know it, they know it, and when the child grows they will know it, but society does not. And it is driving people insane. Many vocal critics are “concerned” about the damage to a child whose gender is not made public. I have yet to hear anyone mention the damage to all the children whose gender is made public.
This particular news story and the outrage it’s spawned reminds me of a tale I read in grade school by Lois Gould called, X: A Fabulous Child’s Story. In it, two parents refuse to tell the world their child’s gender, and the narrative tracks the difficulties they encounter in a world where everything from bathrooms to diapers is labeled “Boys” or “Girls,” and what happens when the child enters school, culminating in a throw-down with the local PTA. I encourage you to read it, and I hope it makes you think about the way our society treats gender, the way it did for me.