There comes a time in every expectant parent’s life when you are eligible to learn the sex of your unborn child. People mistake this to mean gender. Even though it is a coin-flips chance either way, this is somehow a very exciting moment for soon-to-be-new parents. They eagerly anticipate the day as if there are a myriad of options of what the baby can be.
All the time, people mistakenly say that they are excited “to learn the gender” of their new baby. People seem to think that “gender” is a PC term for the state of being male or female.
Gender is a social construction of sexual identity. Gender in an individual is a set of characteristics only evident in that they separate the individual from the antithesis of those same characteristics, i.e. male from female. Therefore, when a new parent frantically buys blue everything to shroud a baby boy in the instant he is born, they are, in essence, gendering the child. They are assigning him characteristics using clothing and décor that have been deemed synonymous with infant masculinity.
Perhaps the very same individual wants to have a baby girl next. Another newborn, who would likely be about the same size at birth as the now older baby boy, will likely be draped in pink. But why? Why would a parent, who still has a closet full of perfectly decent blue baby clothes from the first child, choose to buy an entirely new wardrobe for another baby knowing full well that this one will outgrow those clothes just as rapidly? Gender. Blue is not for baby girls.
The point is that people throw around the word “gender” errantly and then actually “gender” unknowingly based on what they have been brought to believe is normal social behavior.* Dressing my son up in blue just because he is a boy is ridiculous. In fact, his little swinging sleep chair is pink and I’m quite certain he doesn’t give a damn!
Below is a picture of two young boys who are step-brothers. The older one is the step-son and the baby is biological. What’s interesting to note, is that the older boy, the step-son, is wearing pink bunny ears. While the biological baby is wearing blue ears.
Why does the older boy get the pink ears? Maybe it’s symbolic.
Maybe it is symbolic, maybe it’s not. In my opinion, the ears look pretty absurd no matter what color they are…but it is interesting how our immediate association of two arbitrary colors, each representing a specific gender and by extrapolation, a specific set of social expectations, can come to replace our feelings about a scenario in which we have absolutely no point of reference.
Let’s test this.
Obviously, without the colors and our preconceived notions about what those colors represent, there is no way to tell.
This isn’t an advice column urging new parents not to dress their babies in blue or pink or whatever color they want. It isn’t. It is merely an observation of how we have been socially programmed to automatically assign characteristics to children using colors based on the social construction society holds as “typical” for that genotype. It is foolish to believe that a child’s gender is determined merely by the presence or absence of a penis.
In fact, we are doing children a tremendous injustice by enforcing these social norms upon them via their wardrobes. If we truly are a society that champions freedom and self-expression, we surely cannot continue forcing antiquated practices of involuntary self-identity on our kids.
*For the most part, yes, I believe we unknowingly gender children based on our beliefs and environment. However, sometimes people do it intentionally if not maliciously. There are instances where parents intentionally gender a child.