Saturday, June 11, 2005

Gender baby

For many years, I have had to listen to people tell me that when I had a child, all of a sudden I woud come to a new appreciation of gender innateness; that when one sees just how much of a child's personality is inborn, it would become very clear that gender difference is obvious and natural. Although given all the scientific evidence to the contrary, I found this rther dubious, I always had a niggling doubt that perhaps this was true. Or at least that I would anecdotally be swayed.

Now that I actually have a child, I have to say that the people who were so certain of the innateness of a child's personality have some clear evidence on their side. Maiyan certainly slid out into the world good-humored, outgoing, smiling and pleasant. Although Leon and I get the praise for being good parents, it's apparent to us that at most we simply haven't ruined how he already was. Neither one of us feels particularly moved to take credit for the facts of his sunny nature (although we do both wonder from where it came, since neither of us has those personality traits).

For months before my son was born I was a little worried that as a feminist, maybe I wouldn't be such a good parent for a son. After Maiyan was born, though, my worries about that, at least dropped away (I have a whole new set unrelated to gender, but that's another post altogether). I have to say that in some ways, I do think that having a son may even have been better for me; if I had a daugther, I'd always be concerned that I would try to fix my own mistakes through her, or that I'd try to force her to want for herself what I want for myself. Having a son frees me from that.

Over the months watching Maiyan, the way gender figures into the lives of children has become extremely clear. Particularly because he's such a pretty boy, has a gender-neutral name, and because we (his abba abnd I) rarely correct pronouns (Maiyan certainly doesn't care, why should we?) it's interesting to see how the same behavior will be madly differently interpreted by people who know he's a boy versus those who think he's a girl. Some of my favorite interactions when he was very tiny were with a particular person who determinedly interpreted extremely age-appropriate behavior (for both boys and girls) as whaqt they considered "boy-appropriate" (oh look, he wants to throw a ball, or, oh, look, he's interested in cars, when he was almost certainly not, since the likelihood of a three month old having the idea of cars, or even of throwing, seems rather slim). But the best was when someone who knew him would interpret his "boy" behavior, and a few minutes later, someone on the street would praise her delicacy and prettiness, and understand the exact same behavior in terms of its girliness.
Yep, gender in children. Mostly in the adults watching them. It is, however, very clear how gendered behavior gets reinforced. No wonder we can't get rid of the biases.

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