Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Gender Socialization Wrong?

I watched some videos about gender socialization (Gender Socialization Video Part1, Part2) and started thinking about how people now are being taught that it is somehow unfair and wrong. In my opinion it is not. Gender socialization begins at birth when parents and others treat boys and girls differently and steer them towards attitudes and behaviours that society deems masculine or feminine. For instance, they dress girls in pink and buy them dolls while they dress boys in blue and buy them toy cars. They influence the wardrobe, toys, hobbies, and after school activities parents choose for their children. The attitude of the video creator was that this is wrong because it prevents a child from developing their own individuality.

I believe that gender socialization is no different from teaching children good manners and etiquette, rules, hygiene, or the way the world works. You are preparing them for social interactions and trying to make sure those interactions are successful. When boys go to school they can get along with other boys because they look the same and can play together. Girls also look the same and will enjoy the same activities. During elementary school the genders self-segregate so there are not many cross-gender friendships. Therefore, your child will be stuck with members of the same gender. The kids who don't fit in and may have problems are the ones who don't fit into these roles such as the tomboy or effeminate boy. These kids are often teased and they may have fewer friends. Other adults may even treat them differently. It's not fair but that's just what happens. So when a parent gender socializes their child they are trying to prevent this rejection. That doesn't mean that you rule with an iron fist though (authoritarian parenting). I believe in authoritative parenting (setting rules and boundaries but allowing the child freedoms) as opposed to permissive parenting (no rules or discipline). Once the child can choose things I will respect their choices within reason.

Parents have a responsibility to protect their children and help them succeed. Succeeding socially is important. Think about all the kids who suffered mentally because of bullying and some even commit suicide. So getting along socially can almost be a life and death issue. If a kid is bullied and drops out of school that could negatively affect their entire life. So socializing children is a very important task that I don't believe should be left to children who don't even understand complex concepts like gender or sexism. The video creator said this socialization prevents kids from being individuals but parents make many choices for their kids' best interest that the kids would never choose for themselves. Parents make kids eat healthy, go to Church, play music and sports they might not want to at first, get vaccinations, and wear what the parents choose. Kids are only starting to form their identities and they need to learn about the possibilities, choices, and consequences about how they choose to express themselves. When kids get to middle school they start rebelling and deciding what they believe in and who they want to be. They may change their clothing and hairstyles, activities, interests etc. They may also better understand the consequences of some of their identity choices but they have plenty of time after that to "be individuals".

I think the author of the video also contradicts herself. She said that being socialized prevented her from being an individual as a child, but that didn't prevent her from choosing her own path as an adult. So eventually, starting in middle school, kids will choose their own identity so what is the problem? Older kids will reject things they don't believe in and they might change their identities many times in their lives as they take on new roles. My parents socialized me to be feminine as a child, I rejected a lot of it as I got older, but now I value some of those things and I'm actually going back to that earlier socialization! They didn't tell me I couldn't go to university because I was a girl or anything like that so I wasn't that limited. They gave my brother more freedom to date though.

Someone might bring up sexual orientation in all of this. But only 3.8% of the U.S. population is gay/bisexual so a parent shouldn't even worry about that. Plus, many gay/bisexual people act just like the members of the same sex anyway. There is another VIDEO about a controversial Toronto couple who decided to hide their child's sex from the world and from their baby. They planned to avoid gender socializing their child. I guess they will just give the child the choice to do whatever and look however they want. I think that early on the child is going to choose either traditionally male or female toys and prefer playing with males or females and the choice will be made by the child or peers. But really, as soon as the child can talk other kids will ask his/her sex and the secret will be out. Plus, when the child goes to school I'm sure the school will insist on knowing the sex or the kid will have to go to the bathroom eventually lol! Worst case scenario someone might look in the child's pants and hopefully it's just another child. I'm not a fan of's just boring. I like the extremes of masculinity and femininity. I do like long hair on guys though lol!

This question came to my mind: If my child was having social problems at school because they did not conform to gender norms what would I do? For instance, let's imagine my daughter is seriously bullied for being a tomboy or my son is seriously bullied for being effeminate. I mean teased, hit, and rejected with no friends type of social problem (or course I'd talk to the school about stopping it first). This is more likely to happen in middle or high school. Also let's assume I've talked to my child and they are positive they are not homosexual. Well I would ask my child how important it is for them to fit in versus being an individual and discuss the consequences of both. I would tell him/her that high school is not forever but it is important to do well in school. It will be easier to do well if you fit in better with other students. So, on top of suggesting new schools I would also suggest a gender-appropriate make-over and teach them how to act more like their gender (gasp). I would let him/her know that they just need to survive high school and that in university people are more accepting of individuality and he/she could act differently there. Since the kid is already being bullied we know where being an individual has led.

So yes, before university I would emphasize conformity and following the rules. Going against the grain and changing the rules comes during university and after you have the power to choose your own environment and peer group. Some people emphasize individuality above all else but that's a very Western thing and many countries have more of a collectivist orientation. Honestly, we don't always say or do exactly what we want in every situation so in a tortuous, bullying situation if changing your style and mannerisms will stop it, I'd do it. We do many things we don't like to get by until we are among trusted friends, family, or in private. I don't believe for a second that many people aren't putting on an act in high school, especially the popular "cool" kids. That's adaptation. It has nothing to do with being ashamed of who you are. I know that the PC thing would be to just be yourself but what is more damaging, changing your behaviour for a few years or being tormented for a few years?

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