If you want your boy to be a “real boy”, dress him in pink

The important question about gender differences is not whether they’re real.  It’s whether they matter.

First of all, when we talk about gender, we have to be clear what it is we mean, because the topic of sex and gender is much more nuanced than our day-to-day language yet conveys.

Most often, “gender differences” seems to refer to a binary understanding of gender:  “People born with a penis are male.  People born with a vagina are female.  This is both their sex and their gender; this is the natural way of things that is necessarily the case.”

So for a minute, let’s pretend that’s true.  Let’s ignore the incidence of intersex people and transgender people and the millions who, like me, identify as gender queer.  Even though it’s as misguided as claiming an absolute boundary between races and ignoring the existence of mixed race people, let’s claim that genetics or biology determines that there are Males and Females and, to an extent, the characteristics of each category, which differ in key ways.

Even if all that were true, in today’s society, where binary gender norms are enforced, whether they have some real basis simply doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter whether, say, hormone levels control people’s predilections and abilities.  Trying to pinpoint such differences is like doing a study in which all blue-eyed children are taught to speak only Chinese and all brown-eyed children are taught to speak only Italian, and then the linguistic differences between eye colors are analyzed.  Any “natural differences” are canceled out by the ones we create.

If we assume that there are “natural” gender differences, there shouldn’t be a need to police them.  Women shouldn’t need to be brought up to be a certain kind of woman, or men a certain kind of man.  Given total gender freedom and equality, we’ll find that they gravitate toward certain clothing, certain fields of work, certain relationships, all on their own.  It would still be in everyone’s best interest to create an absolutely gender neutral society so that these differences could freely flourish.

Using the supposed existence of the gender binary as an excuse to raise, educate and treat people differently shows disingenuousness– an insecurity about the scientific fundamentals of the theory, covered up with a desperate attempt to rationalize a belief ingrained since birth.  I challenge people who honestly believe there are Men and Women who are Different to have the courage to work for real equality in the hope that, on a fair playing field, their ideas will prove accurate.  Anything less isn’t science or even theory, it’s dogma.

When it comes down to it, binary gender theory isn’t about acknowledging differences.  It’s about enforcing similarities.

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7 thoughts on “If you want your boy to be a “real boy”, dress him in pink

  1. Gary Blackwood says:

    Good point. Nothing wrong with preferences, it’s having those “preferences” dictated to us that’s the problem.

  2. georgiakevin says:

    What a wonderful thoughtful post!

  3. mckarlie says:

    Really interesting post! I grew up being told that women acted and looked a certain way, and men acted and looked a certain way. Women were meant to be feminine and polite and men were meant to be strong and lead the way, and every good woman needs a good man, right? Well on my own I found that i fundamentally disagreed with these stereotypes, I think sexuality and gender can be fluid things, my sexuality definitely is. And I’ve been told by so many ex lovers that ‘you act more like a man than a woman’ because of my fear of commitment and tendency to run. I now have two daughters, my eldest is 11 and since she’s been old enough to choose she’s been wearing mainly ‘boys’ clothes from the store, she’s into pokemon and video games and figures and “boy” interests. My younger daughter enjoys lip gloss and barbies and frilly dresses, but they both made their own decisions, and we always tell them to wear what they’re comfortable in, what they feel suits them, to make friends with boys or girls or whomever they find to be a good person, that their interests are their own and it doesn’t matter what other people think about the appropriation. They know that mummy has had relationships with boys and girls, they know that Uncle G lives with a man and has a beautiful loving relationship that’s just as valid as any man and woman, and most of all they know it’s ok to be exactly who they are, that I will love and support them so long as they’re happy. Gosh my post turned into an essay, sorry! I’m just a bit passionate about the topic 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! It sounds like you and your daughters have an unusually healthy relationship with gender and sexuality, so kudos to you. My little boy loves Transformers, Pokemon, My Little Pony, and Sofia the First, and his favorite color is pink. He’s had problems being teased at school for wearing a Frozen shirt with Elsa on it and pink ladybug socks, but he’s very matter of fact about it, and says, “I just tell them that boys and girls can do anything they want to do.” I’m so darn proud of him for that. I feel badly for kids who are raised to conform instead of express themselves… in my day, parents had the excuse that such things simply weren’t talked about in most circumstances, but that doesn’t really apply nowadays. You can’t stay neutral on a moving train and all that. As you can tell, I am also passionate about the topic. Please feel free to leave comments as long as you like, they will be enjoyed and appreciated 🙂

      • mckarlie says:

        Thanks! Your son sounds adorable! My daughter has had a few kids tease her over the years for being a “tomboy” but i say screw that expression, she is who she is and she is brilliant. But yeah, we have a very open dialogue about these things in our house, they don’t understand the sexual side of things yet thank goodness, but they understand the purer side of things, love. They know that love comes in many forms and so long as it’s between two people of consenting age (or similar age at very least) it’s all good. So I hope your son keeps rocking his elsa tshirt and his ladybug socks ’cause we need more open minded little folks out there! If parents are still feeding their kids the same crap that I heard when I was a kid then booey to them, at least the children themselves are growing up in a much more broadminded time 🙂

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