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…gender roles…

August 26, 2011

Today, as has become my norm, began with a quick look at to get a gist of the news of the day.  I usually hit the front page, poke at headlines that I find important/intriguing, then over to the opinion pages to see what’s being said by people.


All too often it is the comments, on either the articles or the opinion pieces, that stick with me.  This was just as true today.


I had read most of the article about gender equality rankings of various governments and what it meant, then skipped down to the comments.


Not surprised by rude comments or those meant to inflame or those expressing vastly different opinions from my own, I was, however struck by a comment that made me think.


Now, anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a proper feminist, nor am I politically correct…I am, perhaps an individualist in that I do not believe in judging a person’s abilities/skills/talents, or what-have-you, based on their gender, skin color, religion, etc.  I much prefer to treat people as people, and be surprised and amazed by the things they can do.


However, amidst all of the talk about how men are better at X, Y & Z while women are better at A, B & C, someone commented about how outdated that thought was, because as girls and boys have access to things they didn’t 50 to a 100 years ago, they are developing differently and it got me to thinking about another news article a while back about a couple not telling anyone the gender of their child…and how very much our notion of who we are is shaped by the world we live in and the labels we apply to ourselves.


This goes well beyond women being better at jobs that require a certain skill set and men being better at physical things, etc.


So much of what we accept as gender definition is actually put on by societal expectation.  Gender roles are taught by parents and reinforced by schools and society at large, not something that is innately born within us.


There is a family I know that is far from traditional.  They are polyamorous, with two men and three women inter-“married”.  Between them they have twelve children that range from three years old to a junior in college.  The kids were/are homeschooled until junior high and are then offered the option to continue homeschooling or attend public school.  The same offer is made every year after that.


They have a single play room where all of the kids play, regardless of age or gender.  None of the toys belong to any one child and all are allowed to play with anything.  It’s an intriguing experiment to watch unfold.  Little boys play “ironing” and “vacuuming” and “truck driving” and “cops and robbers”.  Little girls play “cooking” and “construction” and “cowboys and Indians”.


Gender roles are discouraged and each child has chores equal to their age, not their gender.


It is interesting to note that when the children as a group want to approach the parents of the group regarding rules or chores or changes, it is one of the middle female children who is generally elected to be the diplomat, but when they, as a group want to lobby for a family outing to a movie or the beach, it is one of the older boys that they send.


Now, obviously this is only an anecdote.  This is one small group of people, and not proof of anything.  But it makes me wonder, what would be the outcome if we stopped teaching our children that “this is women’s work” and “this is men’s work” and started encouraging them to pursue what they loved?  How would the world change if we stopped telling boys to suck it up and not show their emotions?  How would it be different if girls were allowed to be physical and intelligent?


What would the world we live in look like if equality, real true actual equality were to happen?  If every man and women were judged on their merit, rather than the color of their skin or what is (or isn’t) between their legs?  If we let passion guide us rather than societal convention or disapproval?


Maybe I’m just dreaming….but that is a world I would love to live in.

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