Thursday, September 10, 2009

How do people learn to "do" gender?

People learn to "do" gender starting with their parents. It actually starts in the decorating of the nursery and goes from there. Is the baby's room decorated in themes of blue or pink which would indicate male vs. female or is it a neutral theme? The second way that is almost from birth is how a child is named. Is it a feminine name or masculine or is it perhaps an androgynous name? Of course parents are one of the greatest influences as in the way that a child is dressed and treated and the toys that are purchased for play and they way a child is taught by example.

There are many influences upon parents such as society, religion, and of course, how they themselves were raised? Were they themselves taught that there are male duties and female duties or that all duties can be accomplished by either sex regardless of strength and ability?

I learned to "do" gender by not only observing my parents examples but by the message they conveyed as to whether or not it was something that I could do. My mother sent a very positive message that females could do anything a male could do. I remember my eighth Christmas, I received a chemistry and a biology set, which I loved and adored. I spent hours mixing up chemicals(under her supervision) and dissecting frogs and bugs. I was enamored! My mother sent the signal early on that I could do anything. My father on the other hand was this way until I turned nine. When I was a little girl of five, I remember riding with him in his 1968 Road Runner and begging him to go faster up and down the hills of where we lived. I loved the sound of the gears shifting and the engine revving. On the other hand, when I started growing up and would want to go to a job site(he worked construction) he would not let me as he said he didn't want some man "looking at me" as he put it. "That is no place for a girl". I would also beg to go hunting with him and he would not let me unless he was alone, again because "girls don't hunt around all those guys". Once my brother got into his early teens, he never had a problem taking him and what was funny was that my brother really didn't want to go. I was the one that wanted to be out there but was never allowed. Now I see hunters with their young sons and daughters. Maybe men have come to realize that their "little girls" can be just as interested as their sons.

Perhaps society has also changed in the years since I have been a child because now it is not unusual to see children of both sexes learn to cook, cut grass, little boys to receive a play kitchen and little girls to receive play tools. I know that I have conveyed to my daughter, Jessica, that she should not rely on anyone but herself to learn to change a tire and check the oil of her vehicle. She must take responsibility for herself above all else. My other child, Lewis(who is not my biological child, but I did have custody of him from the age of fifteen to eighteen), is an accomplished cook in the kitchen and has worked in a restaurant. It is something that he enjoys and is very good at. When we clean the house, we all pitch in. Sometimes I cut the grass, sometimes Lewis does. We all take turns and together we get things accomplished.

I do want to point out though, that I also think gender is something that is innately within ourselves. To elaborate that all with gender is not taught, I point out the case of Brian and Bruce Reimer. They were identical twin boys born to a Canadian couple in 1965. Brian was incorrectly circumcised and his penis was destroyed in the process. He was taken to John Hopkins and was seen by a psychologist by the name of John Money, who promptly told his parents to raise him as a girl and that as long as he was treated as a girl that he would "learn" to be a girl. They tried for many years but to no avail. Brian (renamed Brenda) was confused and hostile. At the age of fifteen, he was finally told of his true identity, promptly renamed himself as David and from there on out lived as a male. There is much more to this story as Bruce died of a drug overdose in 2002 and David committed suicide in 2004. Suffice to say, the experiment that John Money touted as successful was really an utter failure. You cannot "teach" gender. It is truly within ourselves.

This ended my opinion topic for class this week. I truly feel that gender is something that is within each and every one of us and that what "I" feel is not what another person feels. Our gender is as unique as our fingerprints and no one else can truly understand how another person feels, especially when it comes to something like this.

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