Sunday, June 9, 2013

Labels Equal Limitation

Labels - we seem to need them; labels that categorize and subsequently prescribe response. We need to know if it is a boy or a girl so we can plan. Plan for what -- pink or blue? Ballet or hockey? Playhouse or racing track?

Do we realize the limitations we place on our kids when we genderize them? It's shocking to me how many people are completely unaware that they do this - or how many don't really believe there is such a thing as genderizing. Do we really think little girls are born with a penchant for pink or that little boys have a love of trucks in their blood? Really?

Once, a long, long, time ago, I was a little girl. I was born free to be --- whatever I wanted to be. My parents didn't have the means or inclination to decorate a nursery so I was spared the frills indoctrination. I had a mother who had been athletic, strong and who loved adventure and my dad was the same, so it was natural for them to leave my sibs and I enough breathing room to decide for ourselves what we liked and what we were interested in. 

As a young child I had little to no interest in dolls, frills, pink or my mother's high heels. I did enjoy dressing up and playing Ivanhoe (mixing bowl on my head and all), had a fascination with pocket knives I couldn't manage to open, loved the sandbox and my friend's Tonka grader and when I got older, I loved building forts. Huck Finn was my role model and later on, Anne of Green Gables with her daydreaming, dramatic ways. And the best times of all spent with my sibs were pooling our imagination and talent (imagined and otherwise) and putting on shows. Throughout my childhood, I can't recall hearing my parents dragging gender into the division of chores or leisure. There weren't girl jobs and boy jobs -- just jobs that needed to be done. We fished with our dad, piled wood, played outside and shared our toys - whatever they were. My brother enjoyed our play kitchen and we all enjoyed his hot wheels (the tracks from which substituted as swords from time to time).

How different life would have been for us if we had been raised under an umbrella of presumption of what constituted femininity/masculinity - if
my mom had insisted that I wear a dress instead of a suit and tie for my band performances; if my sister hadn't been encouraged to play boy's baseball when there wasn't a girls team for her to play on; if my brother had been forced to play hockey when what he really loved was playing in the school band.

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
fem·i·nin·i·ty: the quality or nature of the female sex

Why impose what those "feminine" qualities are? I can tell you that I never felt more feminine than when I was exerting my leadership and running for student council, or in later years, asking for a raise, or caring for sick child or parent. My notion of femininity had little to do with the height of my heels, how well I accessorized or how attractive I appeared.

Simply put -- had we been born to parents with rigid, preconceived notions of gender, we wouldn't have been free to express all that we were and grow to be the people we are today. My parents created a safe space for us to experiment, explore and express ourselves and  helped us feel that we were just fine the way, and who, we were. No labels required.

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