Gender Norms

Recently I visited the Caldwell First Nations’ Cultural Centre in Leamington.  The woman showing us around proudly highlighted a series of pictures showing children doing various activities.  She noted that there are an equal number of boys and girls, even if we didn’t recognise them as such.  It is interesting that she had to clarify this for us.  I wonder how many people had passed through previously who had required clarification.  What does this say about our assumptions and expectations?

Gender Identity

According to Wikipedia: “Gender identity is the personal sense of one’s own gender.  Gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth, or can differ from it.  All societies have a set of gender categories that can serve as the basis of the formation of a person’s social identity in relation to other members of society.  In most societies, there is a basic division between gender attributes assigned to males and females, a gender binary to which most people adhere and which includes expectations of masculinity and femininity in all aspects of sex and gender”

When did girls start wearing pink?

This article  from Smithsonian.com highlights the evolution of our understanding of masculinity and femininity based on fashion.  In fact, the idea that girls wear pink and boys blue has only been in practice since the 1940s.  Prior to that there was a time when boys and girls wore dresses until they were 6 or 7.  It would seem that as our society changes and evolves, so does our understanding of gender and its associated assumptions and expectations.

Policy Resolution R4

Last week the Ontario Progressive Conservative party passed a resolution that states that gender identity theory is a liberal ideology that is controversial and unscientific and thus must be removed from Ontario schools and its curriculum.

Given the extent to which gender identity is influenced by culture, I find myself wondering what exactly this motion will seek to remove from schools.  I suspect the goal is to reinforce a particular understanding of masculinity and femininity while undermining any efforts to accept non-conformity.  The questions then become:

  1. Who gets to decide what version of masculinity and femininity is considered the norm?
  2. What, then, happens to those who would challenge these norms? Is it OK to have a ‘tom boy’ or effeminate man?
  3. How far are we expected to take this normalisation of gender as a binary? Do they also expect families to reinforce conformity to avoid further controversy?

Who gets to decide?

Life is a journey in which we have choices to make which influence who we become and how those around us see us.  One of my kid’s teachers once asked me what I thought about her having a ‘spa day’ for the girls in the class where they could learn about how to do their nails and put on makeup while the boys played soccer.  My only response was: what if not all of the girls liked that kind of thing?

Who gets to decide what we like and what we don’t like?  Isn’t part of the reason we need specialised STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs for girls BECAUSE for too long society has said these are not ‘feminine’ activities?  What about paternity leave, the opportunity for FATHERS to spend time with their newborn children – a very recent addition to employment rights because care-giving has long been assumed to be a mother’s job? How can we reach the ideal of gender equality if we promote policies that continue to narrowly define who we are based on socially constructed norms about gender?

What do you think?

Is it OK for anyone to choose not to conform to social norms about gender?  What risks are there to allowing space for fluidity?  What risks are there to reinforcing conformity?  We would love to hear from you.

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