Friday, April 3, 2009

Apples and Oranges

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 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.


Rebecca said...

Emily, I've thought about this issue a lot, and while I think there definitely are parents who push certain stereotypical roles and ideas on their children because of their gender, my personal experiences have also led me to believe differently than I used to regarding this issue.

As a new parent, I was determined not to let the gender of my son determine the colors or toys he was surrounded with. When he was interested in babies, as almost all young children are, I unhesitatingly bought him a doll. When he chose a pink button down shirt for church, I let him wear it without saying a thing. I was careful to teach that 'you can like any color you want' or there are no 'girl only or boy only toys'. I found a wooden dollhouse I loved, and bought it for my sons to play with. However, in general, his interests included 'typical' boy things. He loved balls with a passion; he wanted to play with trucks and cars. My second son also came with his 'intensely boy' personality...along with a very tender side.
Even when I would not allow toy weapons into our house, I found my boys making swords and guns out of paper. Since we don't watch tv and we homeschool, I know that a lot of this was just inherent in who they are and what they were interested in.
When my daughter was born and our house was already filled with swords and trucks and balls (along with some dolls and our dollhouse), I was careful not to push ideas on her either about what girls should like or who they should be. Imagine my surprise when she fell in love with the color pink when she was only one year old. I had never even taught her what pink was. Sure, she had some pink clothes, along with red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and a dozen other colors. But she most definitely preferred pink, to the point that she would refuse to wear anything that wasn’t pink, even at the young age of two. Even with me begging her to let me wash the pink clothes, and just wear another color for the day.

I am also very much a t-shirt and sweats kind of girl. I enjoy dressing up now and then, but always much prefer to wear my ‘comfy clothes’. So imagine my surprise again when my little girl wanted to wear her most fancy clothes on a daily basis. The dress she wore for my sisters wedding is one that she would like to wear almost every day.

I have also noticed quite a difference in how my boys and girls play with the exact same toys. Yes, my daughter likes to wrestle and sword fight with my boys from time to time, and my boys have sometimes played with dolls, but they play with these same toys in very different ways.

My point is, I have made a very serious effort NOT to dictate to my children who they should be because of their gender. And they have all come with their very own personalities…apparent even before they were born! All three are different from each other--my boys are about as different as can be--but since their births, I have changed my viewpoint on this issue and now believe that much of our society’s ideas about gender are not so much because that’s how we think things should be, but because, in general, that’s very much how they are.

I strongly believe that gender is inherent in who we are as a person. It is part of us, from before we are born, and while no person in this world is exactly like another, there are certain ‘typical gender roles’ that I WANT my children to have. I very much want to teach my sons what it means to be a gentleman, because that is one of the most good and wholesome parts of being a man. I want my daughter to expect to be treated like a lady, not because she is weaker, but because she deserves respect and love.
And so, once again, my children teach me so much more than I ever knew before. I used to be afraid of pushing them to be someone they are not. Now I know that they have come from heaven the way they are, and the best I can do is to foster the best and most good aspects of who they inherently are…as an individual, as well as a boy or girl.

The Crow Family said...

Becca, your words were very well put. I'd have to agree with your comments regarding society and the way gender roles are perceived to have been attributed to the pressures that of which are placed on us, and that it may not be the case...that the way society expects us as females and males to behave is not necessarily due to the pressures surrounding us, but to the fact that our human make-up is what attributes the our gender role. This was really insightful.

We were just discussing this topic again in my Sociology class regarding the stigma surrounding men or women performing jobs and seeking careers that haven't been accepted 100% for female or male employees. For instance, nurses and teachers are predominately females, and it's a rarity to see males in these roles (although men in these careers are increasingly becoming more and more accepted.) So I think that society places pressure on men and women regarding the type of career they choose, due to the fact that throughout time those said careers were mostly women (or men). This is also true for female construction workers, hockey players, and Presidents of Fortune 500 Companies. (just to name a few).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that our culture is making progress when it comes to dissolving the negative stigma surrounding men and women in the work-place, and slowly melting away the implications that specific careers are only for women or men. However, it still exists. It seems a shame that we label things in such a way, but its mother’s like you that help our children to learn that they can do and be anything they want. I think too often, back in the “olden days”, but not too long ago, boys and girls were expected to perform tasks specific to their gender and not given the opportunity to expand their horizons and think for themselves as to what kind of life and career they want to have. So I commend you for being aware of the unnecessary gender expectations that parents sometimes do place on their children, and for taking an active role in allowing them to explore their potential! Awesome!

Thanks for your comments! I really appreciate them!

I will never forget the male nurse that took care of me while I was in labor with Sabrina...he was the best! :)

Lisa said...

See, you live too far away to see all Lydia's birthday parties... This year it was pirates, last year was My Little Pony, the prior year was Spiderman. She's a well rounded little girl who doesn't care much for Barbies (occaisionally she likes them ok) but loves Dinosaurs all the time. I like to think that we are encouraging her to like what she wants to like, and not encouraging her to be a girly girl just because of her biological parts. I think society is getting a little more accepting of such things, and as parents the best thing we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Our parents however find it pretty strange to have such a boyish little girl. I know my Mom is hoping that Nadia will be more into dolls like she was so she can have that connection. I was a big fan of Barbie, but Lydia... not so much, and I love it. ...Her "Big Butt Barbie" doll that she was so excited about at Christmas has been tucked under her bed for quite a while now, completely forgotten. Oh well... :)

The Crow Family said...

I think that Lydia is a perfect example of a little girl with no gender expectations whatsoever! I have always loved that she's so in to Pirates and Spiderman. You and Elliot both have never pushed her one way or the other, and I think that's awesome! I think it can be hard sometimes to encourage a child to explore "gender-specific" toys and allow them to "go with the flow", so to speak. I mean, I don't think it's easy to let a boy play with dolls and easy-bake ovens. It takes a very attentive parent to sit back and allow their child to choose the toys they want to play with, without intervening or directing them to something else.

I too wish that we could have been at Lydia's Birthday party...we'll have to make it up to you and come for a visit soon!