Gender identity

My first child turned 30 (!) last year. When she was born, I had all kinds of ideas about her identity as a girl, informed in part by my own experience as a first-born daughter, and from classes I took on child development. My husband and I bought no clothes for her that were pink or blue – we stuck with green, purple, and yellow. We encouraged her to play with cars and trucks, build Legos, explore and inquire, in addition to playing with dolls and dress up. When she turned 5, she shocked me by insisting that her favorite color was PINK (!), and spent a few years preferring typical girl things. She was never into sports, largely due to very bad eyesight, until she discovered horses. Her horse mania did (and still does) keep her outside, dirty, and in jeans more often than she wears a dress. She can clean up quite nicely, but she’s definitely not a girly girl now.

My own experience growing up was largely influenced by my father who, I believe, probably wished I’d been born a boy. He inspired my interest in science, and love of math, and pushed me to explore and experiment (I still have two volumes of science experiments for children – one biology and one chemistry – that he and I worked through together). I wasn’t athletic, but I did love watching soccer matches with him (he never liked American football or baseball, so I didn’t develop a passion for those). He liked tinkering with cars, and I treasure my memories of rebuilding carburetors and adjusting the timing on our cars with him.  We did carpentry and plumbing together, and lots of other “boy” activities, and I never felt like I had to conform to a notion of femininity, except when I chose to.

I am now raising two boys. S is all boy!! He runs faster, jumps higher, holds his breath longer, and competes at every level with everyone he can get to compete with him. And, yet, he draws, and loves to read (especially now that he is gaining mastery of reading himself), and he loves to cook! Are these latter skills masculine or feminine? Who cares?

J, our younger, is much more the “new-age-sensitive-guy” type.  He is musical, and thoughtful, and less adventurous/more cautious than his brother.  He does wrestle, and play rough when his brother tackles him, but he often seems to prefer quieter activites.  He is our cuddler, while his brother tends to brush off hugs and kisses.  Is J a more feminine boy??  Who knows…

All of this pondering on gender identity was prompted by a post written by my friend who blogs at Not Ever Still – Fighting Nature.  She writes intensely and personally about her experience raising her wonderful kids, and I encourage you to check out what she has to say.

And, I’d be interested to know – what is your experience of gender identity and growing up, or raising your own kids?

4 thoughts on “Gender identity

  1. Your boys *are* very different, aren't they? For all that I agree with you that the real question should be "who cares?," it seems everyone does care. And it makes me think a lot about my boy. For all that his second sister is approaching her girlhood with disregard for its stereotypes, I think there's more room for acceptance for a "tough chick" than a "soft" boy. My boy is very physical. He tackles, runs, pushes, all day long straight until he falls asleep. But emotionally he's not tough at all- he's much like his eldest sister, very shy and anxious. That's all fine, too, of course, but already I see the beginnings of his sensitivity being perceived as under-masculine. I wonder how that will play out in how he's viewed by others, and in turn how much he notices and cares.

    (did that make sense? This stuff fascinates me. We could happily chat offline about it.)

    1. Janaki says:

      I sometimes wonder if these gender roles are more emphasized and scrutinized on the East Coast than on the West. Having grown up on the West Coast, and particularly in the SF Bay Area, I knew lots of "soft", "sensitive", "feminine" guys, some of whom were gay, and many who were not, but there seemed to be less judgement about that.

      I don't have a good basis to judge the level of tolerance of "sensitive" boys in California as a parent, as I, at that time, was only the parent of a girl, and didn't really pay a lot of attention to the boys (she didn't have too many boy-friends, as a little girl). My best friend has a family that parallels yours: two girls followed by a boy, and, to a large degree, I would say that her son was somewhat on the sensitive side. Was that because of the influence of his sisters, or his own "nature"? He's grown now, and, despite some academic struggles which he is overcoming, he is a manly man (although very slender), and I believe he's comfortable with who he is (and he dates girls, as I understand – often the concern).

      On that score, I can say that my daughter, who didn't date anyone until she got to college, caused me to wonder whether she might prefer girls (which I found an interesting notion to get my head around, despite my many gay friends, and supposedly open-minded attitude). I'm sure I would have welcomed her girlfriend, had she brought one home, but I admit that I'm pleased that she has found a nice young man (and, did I tell you, they're formally engaged!! Yay!)

  2. Alana says:

    When mine was very small I noticed a funny phenom: congregants would comment on his behavior – oh, isn't she sweet, look how she's flirting! or, Oh, look, she's cuddling that (whatever it was) she wants to be a mommy! – as soon as someone told them (I never did, because I don't think there's anything wrong with being a girl) that in fact, the child was male, they would reinterpret the EXACT SAME BEHAVIOR completely differently and in a masculine way (oh, look he's holding the doll like he wants to play football – five minutes previously that was cuddling, not huddling…)

    1. Janaki says:

      Alana,
      I love that!! What a great example, and, of course, I remember how "beautiful" your child was as a little one (and, of course, he's still beautiful, although heaven forbid that I would tell him that!!). Such gorgeous blonde locks he had!

      Thanks for sharing that experience, I think it's really instructive.

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