In western culture, there is one widely accept viewpoint on the issue of gender. When a newborn comes into the world, if that newborn is female she is a girl. If that newborn is male he is a boy. Even if within a specific family the newborn is raised with a gender-neutral effort, social pressures outside of the family will more than over power the efforts within the home and within the family. While the birth gender of the newborn will have an enormous impact on his or her life, I doubt many parents see the gender of the child as their all that important. To most parents, they are more concerned about the health of the newborn. I feel it would be fair to suggest that for most parents as they hold their newborn child in their arm on that blessed day all they truly want for their child is happiness, security, good health, a long life and a chance to be successful in life and uniquely themselves. I may be wrong but I do not feel I have said anything in this first paragraph that is even remotely controversial.
While I never personally experienced the joy, the blessing, the challenges, the frustrations of raising a child, as best as I can determine one of the greatest joy in life is watching your newborn child become who they are. Leading authorities on questions of child development generrally agree that over the course of the first five years of a child’s life, 80 percent of their identity is hardcoded and is largely unchangeable over the course of their lives. So using a rather arbitrary event in the life of most young children, when parents send their child off to their first day of school, all they still want for their child is happiness, security, good health, a long life and a chance to be successful in life and uniquely themselves.
To a certain extent, that child is going off to school as an unique individual. He or she has observed the world, ask question, formed conclusions, come to understand their place in the world, formed a personality, a character, a temperamet that is uniquely them. They have become who they decided to become. Oh wait, we forgot about that moment at childbirth when females were assigned the gender of girl and male children were assigned the gender of boy.
As such for no reason the least bit related to the gentalia that determined their sex, over the last five or six years they have been told:
- What clothes they were allowed to wear and forbidden to wear.
- What toys they must enjoy as they will be the one found under the Christmas tree and wrapped in gift wrappings.
- What colors they prefer.
- What games they like to play.
- Who their playmates will be based on the toys they own and the games they are encourage to play.
- If they are male, they will be chastined for girly behavior.
- If they are female, their tomboy behavior may be tolerated but only so far.
While the argument could be made that some gender roles are no longer applicable to modern society and the lives of men and women, it was not so long ago when to simply have been born a female and assigned the role of girl/woman meant:
- You would be denied positions of power in government and business.
- Your career options were limited to low income position that largely served the men who were in power.
- You were expected to stay home and care for the family while he went out and provided for the family.
- You could not vote.
- You could not attend colleges or universities.
- You could not own property.
- You had to be submissive and obedient as a wife.
I would suggest that an argument can be made that males and females should not use the same shower rooms. It could also to a much lesser extent be suggested they should not use the same restrooms. [On this issues I see solutions that include unisex facilities that allow for gender privacy and that is more of a design issue than an social challenge.] However, when parents and by extension society defines a child at the moment of their birth as a girl or a boy, they are imposing on that child the weight of social norms that may or may not contribute to happiness, security, good health, a long life and a chance to be successful in life and uniquely themselves. I am not necessarily suggesting we should abandon these social norms. Social norms can serve an useful purpose in the orderly structuring of a society. However for the most part, gender roles are not seen as social norms. They are seen as social rules.
For centuries, society has dictated whether one is a man or a woman based solely on their genitalia. However, at the same time, thoroughout most of this time, a strong case could be made for the division of gender roles. However times have changed and almost every social imperative for a divison of gender roles has faded into history. I have being transgender given a great deal of thought to gender roles. I can not determine a single reason why a newborn child should not be allowed to chose their own clothes, their own toys, their own activities and games. Am I also suggesting they should be allowed to choose their own gender? Not necessarily. I see the binary gender concept as imposing behaviors and attitudeds of children that may not be consistent with their identity. I think we should demolish the construct. However, I do not feel we need to replace it with a different gender system. What purpose would that fill? I prefer something closer to equality of all people regarding of how they may choose to express their individuality.