Forcing Gender On Your Child Could Be Doing Serious Damage

Pregnancy is an exciting time; your body changes and you get to experience a tiny human begin to grow and develop inside of you. Arguably one of the most important times during pregnancy is the opportunity to find out the gender of your bub. Boy or girl? Pink or blue?  It turns out these pre-conceived ideas about gender are doing serious long-term damage to your child, and you might not even realise you are doing it.

Gender appropriation starts early and does more damage than most parents realise.

Gender socialisation refers to the ways in which we are taught what is thought to be gender appropriate norms. Gender policing refers to ways in which gender deviants are brought back into line through the devaluation of actions and attitudes which do not adhere or conform to what we consider to be “gender appropriate”.
It may seem harmless at first. You dress your newborn daughter in pink booties and jumpsuit and then you graduate to a pink tutu at her first ballet lesson. Then, she comes home from school and when asked what her favourite colour is, she remarks “Pink of course!! That’s a girl’s colour”. While innocent, the encouragement of gender appropriate colours (as well as activities) does not allow children to make their own decisions in regards to their likes and dislikes. Instead, their decisions are sculpted by social expectations regarding gender.

“All men are ‘real men’, whether they wear KingGees or a pink tutu.” -Miya Yamanouchi

Now, you might be thinking, “Why is this a big deal? It’s just a colour”. But it’s not just about colour, it’s an attitude. How many young boys are told that “real men don’t cry/like pink/play with dolls” or that “real men love pretty girls?”  This can cause damage to boys who think they are “not a real man” because of their likes and inclinations go against these stereotypes. Sociologists agree that children learn gender from being subjected to society’s expectations. These expectations continue through adolescence and into adulthood and even marriage.  Sex Roles, an interdisciplinary behavioural science journal which offers a feminist perspective, suggests that kids whose parents over-correct “gender atypical behaviours” (GAB) are at greater risk of developing adverse adult psychiatric symptoms. Feminist writer Habladora claims that “it isn’t being different that puts kids at risk, it’s being punished for being different”.

Even the stars are not immune to public scrutiny, with rapper Kanye West and wife Kim Kardashian regularly dressing their daughter North in clothes and colours considered not to be gender specific. While a topic of discussion for many social commentators (and keyboard warriors), North appears to be a happily developing child with interests in both male and female dominated activities.

The most important thing to do with your child is let them be themselves. It’s hard not to always dress your young daughter in pink or your young son in blue, but encouraging gender neutral colours such as greens, reds and yellows can be an effective way to achieve this.

You must also be aware that any deviations from the traditional norm can tend to make people uncomfortable. However gender roles are socially constructed (as opposed to naturally innate), and making someone uncomfortable can be worth it for the chance for a child to be who they truly are.

By: Cassie Blackeby. Reprinted with permission from My Counselling Service Australia.


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