It came as quite a surprise to learn that children have such consistent gender identities so early on in their development. At three years old, we already identify with being a boy or a girl and, by four years, our gender is usually stable.
During early childhood, we are also learning and adopting stereotyped gender role behaviour. Boys play with masculine things and the girls stuff are….well… much more exciting!
No one really knows exactly what influences our gender identity and behaviour. It cannot all be about the male and female roles in our lives. There must be something physiological.
Society holds stringent ideas of the stereotypical masculine and feminine. When a child strays from the “norm”, it is sad how narrow-minded people will respond with ridicule and even discrimination.
Stereotypes change over time, but I think it is understandable why a parent might have concerns if their child is deviating from the “norm”. Back in the 1960’s, ignorance was far greater. Before the age of five years old, there is no recollection of my parents being critical of their son’s feminine behaviour.
I wanted to be a girl. The cliché, “what will you be when you grow up” was lost on me as I secretly grappled with the masculine make-believe. When I grew up, I wanted to be a woman and enjoy all the things that many (not all!!) feminine women do. I dream of having a child but could never settle for being the Daddy.
“You are NOT a little girl” resonates daily for years to come and carries strict rules of masculine conduct. Memories are patchy and act like markers to guide me through the next 2-3 years. It is a time of huge loss with a deep sense of loneliness and desolation. It is like forcing a little girl to play with boys. At 5 to 7 years old, this feels childishly gruesome.
In an effort to influence the boy’s things, Dad decides to take me to a football match. This is NOT an appropriate bonding-activity. If a ball comes hurtling towards me, I will run in the opposite direction.
I had only ever seen football in black & white; colour television was only just entering our homes. As we arrive in the stadium, I am up on Dad’s shoulders when I first see that awesome sight. There are the heads of hundreds of men and a sea of bright green pitch with players wearing colourful strips. The atmosphere is electrifying.
“Look, Dad, LOOK” I scream at the top of my very feminine voice, “The football’s in colour”
It took years before I understood why Dad was so embarrassed – it was not my statement, but the mannerism. The rest of the experience was of absolutely no interest. I would rather be home playing with my secret stash of high heels and handbags.