I wasn’t sure when gender identity is established in kids, but I’d thought it happens pretty young. Turns out that the initial establishment of gender identity happens at 18 to 30 months! While it takes a few more years to fully mature, I was surprised to learn that it begins that early. I wonder how much of that has to do with how we treat and dress boys and girls differently, even from birth. I always thought that I could just dress the girl in the boy’s hand-me-downs, and while the overall effect is adorable, you realize exactly how gendered kids’ clothing is from the get-go. Here’s a pic from a recent weekend day. Eric thought she looked like Jeff Tweedy dressed this way. (Of course, Eric sees Jeff Tweedy in everything, in the same way that religious fanatics find images of Jesus in toothpaste splatter.)
Before I had kids, I assured myself that I would raise children in a open fashion, without making a boy do only “boy things” and vice-versa. Some of this is ingrained in society and impossible to escape. Look closely at toy advertising–it is rare to see a typically gendered toy (such as a doll) being played with by a boy, or a Lego X-Wing fighter set played with by a girl. There has been some progress, in that I’ve seen toy kitchens advertised with boys and…well…that’s all I can really come up with. Disney is not about to use boys to market its “Princess” line.
Still, I think that it is generally more accepted now for girls to do things that have traditionally been the realm of boys, such as sports, whereas it is frowned upon for boys to engage in girl activities, like ballet. It is interesting that the circle of possibilities has expanded for girls whereas it remains relatively narrow for boys. Some of this can probably be attributed to feminism and its effects (Girl Power!) and some of it can likely be explained by homophobia. For instance, the boy is into many things that are “girly,” like wearing glittery barrettes. I cannot tell you how many people have told me, only half-jokingly, that I should be “worried” about my son, as if having a gay child would be something dreadful.
For the boy’s birthday, I bought him a dollhouse as he had been asking for. I found a good deal on a nice wooden house with matching furniture and proudly gave it to him on his birthday.
He took one sad, disappointed look at me. I thought he was going to tell me that he didn’t want it because it was for girls.
Instead, he wailed, “But Mommy! It’s not pretty enough!!”
That’s my boy.