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.
Compassion, compassion, compassion. sigh. I hope one day, as a society, we are so much better to ourselves and our loved ones. It seems that those closest to us are always the ones who cause the most damage. We have got to do better!
I agree Dharma… many thanks for taking the time to read and respond. It means a great deal.
🙂 I’m always reading your posts Cat. In this instance, my heart hurt because being a parent is such an enormous responsibility that only at this point in my life can I truly understand.
I’m sorry you felt like you could not be yourself 😦 gender stereotypes have a lot to answer for.
Thank you Borderlion…. it means a lot that you stopped by
Cat, “the football’s in color” That is such a sweet, precious story about a child’s observations and understanding of the world. I realize the circumstances likely bring up sadness. But, it’s still such a wonderful story!
It is amazing to watch little children gravitating toward certain gendered items. My little nephew is 2 1/2 but already (for a long time actually) he displays such an interest in all things boy! He spends lots of time with my parents each week, and my mom wanted to make sure he had access to whatever sort of toys he wanted. A bit to his dad’s chagrin, this has included two boy dolls and a toy grocery shopping cart. My nephew has never been overly interested in the more feminine toys. He does occasionally like to grab up a bunch of stuffed animals. But, mostly he loves trucks, tractors and trains and crashing them!
I’m glad you had a secret stash of girl things to play with, but I’m sorry it had to be kept secret. I hope to always create an environment for my nephew to be whatever sort of little person he wants to be -boy, girl or choo-choo train.
I was lucky during the time period I was growing up -70s & 80s. Girls were allowed to have their little girly things and be a tomboy too. I’ve always like little girl stuff, but I loved climbing trees, building forts, catching frogs and getting dirty too!
When I watched my nephews in early childhood, it struck me how quickly they became set in male role behaviour – the things they did, said and played with. The strong influences in their lives were my sister, BiL, mum and me. None of us is into football but both boys naturally gravitated towards balls. They played with other children from a very early age, so I guess they just fitted into whatever was the “norm” in nursery.
It is good on your Mum for recognising the importance of access to ALL kinds of toys. When my parents bought me an action man, the first thing was to strip his clothes and replace them with dolls clothes (from Cindy-doll, I think) – we had action man in drag!!. It sounds like you are all creating a balanced environment for your nephew.
Society is so much easier on Tomboys. Even transgender ‘female to male’ seems to be more acceptable. In London, I have seen many ‘male to female’ and they always have a hard time with discrimination.
Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Rl. Your very supportive responses have been amazing.
I wonder if perhaps the reason you wanted to be a woman, as well to have a child and to be the mom is because of the lack of nurture you felt growing up. I know that many girls/young women who grow up in a home lacking intimacy and nurture have strong urges to become mother’s early in their lives. I don’t see this as being any different. Also you have negative feelings regarding father figures so why would you desire to be in that role? Being a mother provides the opportunity of both given and received unconditional love, of course this ideal falls short more often than not, but the opportunity to fulfill it is always there.
I think that there is so much hurt you are grappling with, and I do not understand what could motivate people to become parents when they so obviously did not want children. It is so sad and hurtful… Also I think your story about the football game was sweet and echoed with innocence, your father should have laughed with you not been embarrassed… (also you were a young child your voice should not be classed as feminine… young children all have higher voices no matter which gender they are… )
MSH… you are spot on. I have previously considered my hunger to nurture was because a lot of it wasn’t coming my way and I used to have enormous negativity towards my father.
More than a higher pitched voice, I think my mannerisms were so much feminine, anything I said would sound like a little girl.
I appreciate your feedback, it mean a lot to me, thank you so much!
I wish the world was gender blind and we as humans allowed each other to just be who we are no matter the body we occupy. I have spent most of my life trying to get comfortable in my own skin and none of us should have to do that. Again I offer a virtual hug and understanding.By the by I loved the innocence of the story and I am sorry that the memory is tarnished for you.
Maybe far of in the distant future, we will have societies that are more open-minded.
Thank you for replying, much appreciated. In fact, I am very touched by the responses
I spent most of my childhood wishing I was a boy. I’m still very boyish and can’t identify with femininity at all – no offence 😉 I guess everyone has their own gender issues, one way or the other, because society presses us into gender roles… it really is sad.
And I also remember my father continuously saying he’d have liked to have a son instead of a daughter… see? Maybe my issues partly come from there too … because I find that society can only harm a kid if parents aren’t on their child’s site and if they reinforce society’s expectations instead of putting their child’s needs first.
I love the anecdote about you saying the football is in colour… it’s lovely. And I’m sorry they couldn’t see that 😦
I’m sure the majority of our development comes from within the family unit. It is so right, what you say about parents not being on our side against society’s expectations
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – it means everything to me!
Gender is complicated, many adults are still questioning their gender identities, not everyone learns this as a child and the fact that society forces gender on people makes it more difficult.
I never felt like a girl or a boy and as an adult I found out I don’t need to be either one and have been very happy like that.
I know people who don’t have a gender too.
It’s a very individual choice.
Thanks Diversity. I’ve have done a lot of soul searching over the years and feel very comfortable where I am at today with my gender. Thanks for sharing. I am so pleased to have such lovely people taking the time to read and comment. It may come as a surprise to know that I have never shared my thoughts on gender with anyone, not even a Psychiatrist, Therapist, or even a best friend. It is probably because I feel so comfortable today that I am able to write so openly…
I love this post, my friend. It gives us a rare window into the real you, and if people choose to stare at the ceiling rather than peep through? Their loss.
Thank you Frank. I am overwhelmed by the kindness and support from everyone.
Thanks for sharing this insight with us…think many people could do with reading it.
I had never really considered gender while growing up until my nephews birth. Obsessed with cars and anything stereotypically ‘boy’ from a young age but also loves baking, singing and dance. Weeks into nursery I remember him saying “only girls cry”….which made it clear just how much peer pressure there is amongst three year olds (aarrgghh!).
Do my best to counteract it.
I’m so pleased that you *did* have a secret stash of high heels and handbags….just wish it didn’t need to be secret.
Think gender stereotyping is a huge problem within society and to me, you’re doing a great job in illustrating how damaging it can be to young minds to raise a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ rather than simply a ‘person’.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Your words are encouraging and mean a great deal
This post is so…mind blowing, I don’t know how to else define it. I love it.
I’ve read other times that gender is said to be stable as early as our first years of life, but I’ve always had troubles with it. I clearly remember feeling a ‘man’ inside when I was eight years old, and also later on, and I would say even now I sporadically keep on feeling like I were a man. The curious thing is that it never bothered me, ’cause I’ve never thought the gender to be a relevant issue – although I rekon that it is an issue in our world. (I don’t know if I’m clear, I’m a little bit drunk but I sooo wanted to leave my two cents, ’cause it’s a really interesting topic and a really personal and evocative post 🙂 )
I am so very chuffed that you like my post, thank you for your feedback. It helps more than you could ever know.