As a parent who has watched his two kids, one male and one female, grow up among their peers, I have witnessed much of that adult obsession with gender focused on children, and youth culture. Sure… part of a kid’s developmental process is to gender identify. But from my experience as a kid, and later experience watching other kids, most of that developmental process has nothing to do with whether you are a boy or a girl. Being “all boy” or “daddy’s girl” are adult inventions, romanticizing to point of fetishizing gender identification. The reality seems to be that most kids quickly and easily gender identify and don’t need all these vicarious expectations and other baggage heaped upon them.
Start with most parents going to great lengths to dress their small children, particularly female children, so there is no shadow of a doubt which gender the kid is. Next you have TV programming and particularly commercials, where boys and girls are presented as two teams, almost always divided by gender, who play with different toys, think about different things and have different goals based on their sexual anatomy. Finally, you have portrayals of adult culture like “Sex in the City” that that take the whole boys versus girls theme into the adult world as something for kids to aspire towards.
Now 54 years into this life, I am wondering more and more if this is all just smoke and mirrors, an excuse for consumerism and vicarious adult fixation with youth, and basically “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
As we move toward an American society with a full and equal partnership between men and women, less and less of what we do in the adult world has to do with gender. Though there is still a “pink collar ghetto” of female dominated jobs, our trajectory and agreed societal policy is to open up all types of job to both genders. More and more women are sharing the boardrooms and legislative assemblies alongside men, charged with the same tasks regardless of their anatomy. Even in religion, more and more denominations are accepting women to lead congregations and participate in higher levels of denominational governance.
Some people I share my ideas about gender with respond that if men and women aren’t different (or at least don’t behave differently) life would be overwhelmed by a boring sameness. It’s that whole “vive la difference” thing. Plus in our society still in the grips of patriarchal conventional wisdom (now thousands of years old), men tend to only notice or take seriously women who are sexually intriguing, even if the venue is a work environment that has nothing to do with sex.
But in my experience, the really exciting differences between individuals is in the uniqueness of their individual consciousnesses if allowed and encouraged to fully express in how they dress, behave, and otherwise present a unique persona to the world. Our fixation with gender-based dress, behavior and personas, paradoxically limits the range of unique expression within individuals. From my point of view, it leads to boring sameness among men and a different boring sameness among women.
I have been privileged to have a glimpse to witness the power of individual diversity that perhaps includes gender but does not depend on it. I have witnessed Unitarian-Universalist camps and conferences for older youth (that my son and daughter participated in) where, based on the UU belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, the kids appear to be much more free than in a school environment to adopt more quirky and individualized personas that sometime include, sometime ignore their gender. In the UU youth communities I have been involved with there is much less normative adult and youth-peer pressure for the young men to act “masculine” and the women “feminine”. The kids seem happy, more relaxed than older youth in other environments, with their gender minimized in favor of their individuality.
What I see are these kids challenging our fixation on the legacy of thousands of years of patriarchy, where the sorting and ranking of people is a pillar of the social structure, including masters over slave, later lords over peasants, whites over people of color, and always men over women. Through our societal consensus, as reflected in our law, we have made a commitment to end this hierarchical form of societal organization in favor of egalitarian partnership. But understandably, people are slow to change habits transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years reinforcing the ancient message that “boys will be boys and girls will be girls”.
To the extent that this routing and sorting by gender continues, it can corrode self-esteem in the individual young person, create anxiety, and lead to an adult who is not fully realized, not comfortable in their own skin, and not best able to proceed with their own evolution and contribute to the ongoing evolution of human society.
In my vocabulary, the adjectives “feminine” and “masculine” have become outmoded relics of that patriarchal gender ranking. Both men and women seem happier and more effective in our contemporary society to the extent that they exhibit a mix of relational and directive skills traditionally identified as “feminine” and “masculine”. So much so to the point that the words have little meeting except in describing traditional behavior.
And finally, at the deepest metaphysical or spiritual level of who we are, I am convinced that our soul, our consciousness, or whatever you might call it, is neither male nor female. We inhabit an animal body with either male or female anatomy and the hormones that go with that anatomy. And even at this level there is enough variation that many of us are physically attracted to the same gender rather than the other, or do not fully identify with the gender that is indicated by that anatomy.
It seems to me, at least in our contemporary high-technology, information society, that other than choosing a mate and giving birth (still of course critical functions to the continuation of human society) your gender is not all its cracked up to be. I urge everyone not to get too caught up in your reproductive “plumbing” as your most salient characteristic, when in fact the blooming of your unique and amazing consciousness, which has no gender, gets short shrift.