Is it a Boy or a Girl?

That’s the first question people ask about a newborn baby. It’s what determines nursery themes and the attendant comments of well-wishers.

She’s got her mama’s good looks; you better be careful! (Insert jocular ribbing.)

Get a football in that kid’s hands. He’s a big one!

These are obvious gender-stereotypical comments, especially when made in reference to a newborn. But what about the more insidious stuff? What about all those memes about women shopping to relieve stress and men acting like just another child for a woman to take care of? It’s like an extension of the “boy or girl” question. We act like every behavior hinges on gender.

The memes are funny. I know I’ve laughed at them, but as they’ve gotten more pervasive, I’ve started to get an ominous feeling. It’s like we’re extracting ourselves from our old stereotypical gender roles and building ourselves new ones.

Instead of the “yes dear” housewife, we have the eternally exhausted shrew who does all the household work, complains about it and continues to enable her family by doing everything for them. Instead of “Father Knows Best,” we have the idiot husband who is oblivious to everything that goes on around him and, despite living an adult life, is helpless to fix his kids’ hair. It’s not a flattering picture for anyone.

These dichotomies do exist. It’s why all the memes are so funny to us in the first place. But as time goes on and the memes become more pervasive, we as a society start to assume everyone is just like that and has no nuance or depth to them. And then, we start to fit ourselves into those roles, or we feel weird that we’re not like everyone else.

We humans seem to be good at extremes. A person can be a boy or a girl. Men can have all the power and women can have none, or women can be smart and men can be stupid. Middle ground, people. It exists in many of my day-to-day interactions with friends and neighbors but not so much in advertising or on the internet. It’s like we can be nice to each other, but we can’t acknowledge it.

Ultimately, I’d like for the world to get to a place where “boy or girl” isn’t foremost in our minds, whether we’re talking kids or adults. Yes, gender differences exist, but they are not as concrete as we treat them. Gender is more of a continuum than a set of diametrical opposites, and we are all so much more than the set of behaviors and traits society assigns us according to gender.

What if kids’ clothing stores didn’t have “boys” and “girls”? What if they had a pants section, a dress section, a shirt section, so kids could choose what they like without feeling constrained by their biological gender? Adults clothes are trickier because our shapes vary more, but I could work with something like a “shirts for people with boobs” section. This isn’t just semantics; There are people with boobs who don’t identify as female.

I know it may take us several generations to get there, but I hope we evolve into a society that asks what a person is like, what a person can do, and gender becomes more of a sidenote. I’m pulling for it — true person-first thinking. Then, we could all stop bickering about who is better and who should wear pink and get to work on the world’s bigger problems.

6 thoughts on “Is it a Boy or a Girl?

  1. Thank you for writing this. It’s so important that the labels used in our society get reexamined. Instead of assuming and labeling anything, it is always better to get to know someone on a deeper level. We are all more complex than our initial impressions suggest. Diametrical opposites are an easy way to describe someone (black/white, boy/girl, young/old, republican/democrat), but there is so much more beauty in the gray area.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish there were a “love” button for your comment. It’s work getting to know someone on a deeper level, and it takes an open mind, but it is so much more rewarding than going by labels and making assumptions. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Jake.

      Like

  2. The gender traits (as defined by society) certainly did impact me growing up. At about 30 years old a co-worker (a big brawny man my father’s age) had a new grandchild. He spoke so affectionately of the baby. He said: “I just love babies. I love to babysit all my grandchildren.” Men did not speak this way back then – especially at work. I was much in love with my two children – without much thought as to their gender – but I wasn’t comfortable talking about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s really honest and underlines the point that gender stereotypes are limiting and damaging for everyone. It discourages us from experiencing the full range of life’s offerings. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment thoughtfully.

    Like

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