From the day we are born and brought home from the hospital, the way we are treated is directly correlated with our gender. In fact, even when we are still in the womb, our gender plays a specific role in the way others behave around us.
A woman learns she's pregnant for the first time, and with this knowledge, she is filled with the emotions that are inevitable, as any new mom wonders what her life will be like with a new baby. There are many questions that arise during this delicate time, and much preparation is needed to welcome in a new addition. The countdown begins as the weeks and months are tallied up to determine the date that will bring a new life into this world. The family and friends are notified of the wonderful news, the doctor's appointments are scheduled, and now it's only a matter of time before colors can be picked out for the nursery.
From week 15, the image can clearly be seen from an ultrasound that will announce the sex of the child. Every parent experiences a great amount of anticipation as they wait for the final word as to the gender of their baby. From the moment the ultrasound brings the image into view, gender role is attached to the idea of what the baby will, or should, be like. For example, from the moment I learned that I was going to give birth to my first daughter, all I could see was pink. Everywhere I went I saw pink; pink dresses, pink baby-dolls, pink night-gowns, pink shoes, pink socks...pink everything. What I didn't realize was the fact that with my knowledge of the sex of my baby, I was assigning a predetermined gender role to her. I, like many others, have this idea about the way a boy or a girl should act. Girls play with dolls and wear dresses, and boys play with trucks and wear over-alls. Why is this the case? Somewhere along the line, the norm was formed as to how each gender should behave.
When I think about all the stories that my parents told me about my birth, I can't help but wonder if my gender was more important than I thought. I was the third child to be born into my family, however I was the first-born daughter. Back in 1974, ultrasounds weren't available to allow parents to plan ahead and pick out swatches for the baby bed linins. So, when I was born my family was surprised, and a bit relieved, to have a sweet little girl instead of another boy. My dad even cried when he informed his parents that Miss Emily Rose was their newest granddaughter. As I'm sure you can imagine, I received a great amount of attention due to the tiny fact that I was a girl. I'm sure it didn't help matters that I was born on Christmas and was sent home from the hospital in a large, red Christmas Stocking. From that moment on, I was treated like a sweet little girl should be treated (although I'm not too sure how different a boy would be treated. Any newborn child would receive much attention).
The way boys and girls are treated when growing up, definitely is due specifically to their gender. It's most often seen within the walls of a little boy's bedroom the many examples as to what is expected of that child. You may see sports trophies, trucks, trains, and bright colored bins filled with action figures and micro-machines. As you walk into a girls room, the walls would most likely be a pastel pink, yellow or purple with a floral border surrounding the edges, with a netted swing hanging in the corner filled with dollies and stuffed animals, and the heart-shaped toy box in the closet is filled with Barbie's and all their accessories. How rare would it be to hear a boy's room described this way? That in and of itself, should say something about the gender role expectations that we place on our children from the moment they are born.
As the years go by and a child grows up, the expectations never seem to change. There are specific unwritten rules as to how a young man and a young woman are to behave. We as parents, feel that there is a certain criteria for the manner in which a boy is to treat a girl, on a first date, for instance. He is expected to be prompt, courteous, and respectful of the precious daughter he will be in charge of. He is expected to pay for the date, open doors, drive safely, and bring her home sober, happy and ON TIME! Although these expectations may seem overwhelming, it's a fact of life for a young boy seeking the approval of a girls parents. This is just another illustration of how a male's gender role is important to uphold.
Although it may not seem fair or right to place gender expectations on a male or a female, the fact that these predetermined ideas can be changed still remains to be seen. It may do society a world of good if there were no specific expectations placed on individuals as to how they should behave, what toys they can play with, what color they can wear (for babies), what job they can have or even the type of birthday party a child can have. I would love to attend a girl birthday party with a GI-Joe theme, or a boys party with a My-Little-Pony Theme. Unfortunately, these occasions never happen because of the role we expect our children to play.
Maybe there will come a day when we, as a society, can step away from the gender role expectations we so unknowingly place on ourselves, and just expect goodness to be within us instead.