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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What did gendering (or not) your kids teach you about your own gender identity?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (38863 points ) April 24th, 2012

For the purposes of this question, let’s assume you and I agree that gender is a social construct that we socialize our children into – that is, we mimic to our children how to be proper girls and boys and then women and men, respectively or, perhaps, we teach them that gender norms don’t matter and they can do whatever, etc. What I want to know is how does your specific way of teaching your kids gender affect (if at all) your own gender identity? Your answers are really important and I will clarify whatever details but, again, let’s not make this into a thread about whether or not you think gender norms are good or bad or how not teaching them is the worst thing since Satan.

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23 Answers

wilma's avatar

I’m not sure I fully understand what you are asking but here goes.
I try to teach my sons how to treat women with respect and kindness, because that is the way that I want to be treated. As a woman I want men or at least the men in my life to treat me with respect and kindness.
My daughter, I tried to raise her with opportunities that I felt that I didn’t have, but wished that I had. I think that I tried harder with her, to not stereotype her with too many gender norms, or at least not nearly as many as I was raised with.
Is that what you want to know?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@wilma Yes, in a way. If, for example, you think to be a man is to treat women with respect and to be a woman, for you, is to be treated with respect by men and have opportunities, then it is helpful. I am wondering if raising a boy and raising a girl in the way that you have affected how you feel, as a woman.

wilma's avatar

I think that my grown children have affected me in that my daughter has in some ways, both good and bad, emulated me. She has in many ways followed the path that I did. (with some differences) I have mixed feelings about that. In some ways I am happy and think that I have been a good influence for her. In other ways she has made choices that I would not make. She is her own woman, and that is good, I don’t try to control her. I’m glad that I tried to show her that she had opportunities, I’m not sure I was as successful as I had hoped. As a woman, I try not to let other people determine how I feel about myself, but I suppose that it is probably inevitable.
My grown son is a good provider and treats his wife with respect and I believe that he is kind to her as well. I am proud of him and hope that with all the ups and downs of parenting, that I was a positive influence in his life. That makes me feel pretty good.
My other sons are still a work in progress.

Pandora's avatar

I never was the womans lib kind of gal but when raising my daughter I realized I resented being treated different from my brothers. I saw they had freedoms that I wasn’t allowed because I was a girl. So everytime I saw my daughter was being told she couldn’t do something because of her sex or ignored because of her sex, then I would step in. Unless it was something I knew she wasn’t capable of doing, than I encouraged her to do what she wanted. My parents had certain expectations of me being a girl, and although I did not mind doing girl things, I didn’t like it when they try to keep me from discovering what I may be fully capable of. So I think I did my best to teach my daughter to love being her sex and to not be afraid to challenge society if it kept her from doing what she loved.

Today she is a computer programmer. There are not many women in that field but it is getting bigger. For a while she would dress frumpy to fit in with the men who also seemed to think geek=frumpy. But I taught her she could still girly on the outside with the mind of a man. (I’m not saying men are smarter) But that is societies concept. A woman who is well groomed simply can’t be as smart as a man. She realized she could make them notice shes a woman and notice even more how smart she is. She can navigate a mans world easily and she doesn’t have to sacrifice her own idenity to do so, nor appear to be a bitch to get her point across. Its a fine tightrope she walks and she has taught me that it is all possible.

CWOTUS's avatar

Frankly, it never occurred to me to “teach gender”.

I always thought my son was a little ‘soft’, but I never – not ever – said a word to him about that, because… I was soft as a boy, too. That is, shy, self-effacing, deferential, mostly compassionate and empathetic, an occasional target of bullies.

My daughter, on the other hand, was always more aggressive, more willing to take risks, more athletic and a much better student. I never tried to steer her into more ‘girlish’ pursuits; I encouraged her to consider risks, and then go ahead and take them if she wanted. I coached both kids’ soccer teams.

It just didn’t occur to me to teach the kids to be this way or that, only to be the best versions of themselves that they could be, given their personalities and attributes.

I couldn’t be happier about how they’ve turned out. He’s now a tech sergeant / crew chief in the USAF, happily married and the father of two, and she’s a small business owner / caterer / cook.

I will say that the phase they went through in high school where everything they didn’t like was ‘gay’ – how I hated that dismissive term! – taught me to be more thoughtful about my own use of language, and to be respectful of people as they came.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@CWOTUS And what did the process teach you about your own gender identity?

CWOTUS's avatar

I couldn’t say. The term is essentially meaningless to me. I’m just not conscious of what “gender identity” means. I yam what I yam.

I know that I have a lot of attributes that are commonly associated with women: I’m pretty empathetic, I can appreciate (and share) a lot of the ‘complicated’ ways that women think about things (I frequently have to shut myself up from ‘explaining’ things). I like chick-flicks, because they’re usually just better movies; but I still like Blazing Saddles (well, not as much as I once did, I guess). Most things aren’t black-and-white to me, as they seem to be to a lot of my male friends, co-workers and former classmates.

On the other hand, there are a lot of female engineers where I work, too, and they tend to think in a more “typically male” way sometimes: they raise their voices in strong debate, adopt a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality and like big, fast, powerful machines.

Is any of that ‘gender identity’ or is it just being aware of surroundings and differences between and among people, and having essentially equal aptitudes for language and math?

bkcunningham's avatar

As hard as I try, and as interesting as it is to me, I also don’t really understand what you mean by teaching your kids gender. Do you mean like putting a newborn girl baby in pink and a boy in blue? Buying baby dolls for girls and trucks for boys? Reading little girls princess stories and little boys books about kings?

YARNLADY's avatar

I always thought of my son as a boy, but I never restricted him to boy type toys or such. My favorite story is when his dad took a business trip on an airplane, my son, age 8, with long, blond hair, was given a tour of the pilots cabin, and addressed as sweetie. He later said, “That guy thought I was a girl”.

fluthernutter's avatar

I buy both “boy” and “girl” toys for my kid. While she likes to play with her tool box and pound her hammer, there seems to be a preference for her kitchen and play food.

I’d chalk that up to everyday observation. She sees me cook more than she sees me in wood shop. It’s not like I can have her hang out in shop while I bust out a miter saw or something.

I also buy her both boy and girl clothing. When she was younger, she was sometimes mistaken for a boy. Didn’t bother me too much. Pirates and monsters are cute.

But as she’s gotten older, she’s gotten ├╝ber girly all on her own. Not just dresses and skirts. The kid is already into accessories. Headbands, necklaces, bracelets and purses. She’s also obsessed with these sticker earrings. Sometimes it’s the first thing she says in the morning. Earrings!

Considering that I don’t have my ears pierced, I don’t wear make-up and rarely carry a purse (unless you count my diaper bag), I have no idea where it all comes from.

Before, whenever I saw little girls in girly get-ups, I just assumed it was mostly the parents pushing it on their kids. Now I realize that kids just do their own thing from an early age. And sometimes, those things just happen to coincide with gender norms.

geeky_mama's avatar

We aren’t intentionally teaching gender to our kids. We never specified certain colors, toys, hair styles or types of play to our (young) children.
As for learning from our example..my husband is now the primary stay-at-home parent while I am more frequently away from home for work. (It was exactly the opposite when the kids were very little and still nursing.)
We split most all domestic chores..so my kids would be hard pressed to say what is a “boy job” vs. a “girl job” around the house. (My husband prefers laundry, scrubbing the floors and does most of our meal preparation and grocery shopping. I do the dishes, clean the bathrooms, pay the bills, mow the lawn and do the baking.)

Our first child (a girl) loved nothing more than plastic animal toys and stuffed animal monkeys. She is now in High School and loves graphic design and manga. As soon as she was given the opportunity to decide her hair cut she’s decided to keep her hair very short. She’s been mistaken for a boy (recently, by her high school teachers) and found it very humorous.

Our next child (another girl) loved baby dolls and building things – especially Legos. She is now a keen scientist (she collects specimens in our rural backyard and puts everything under her microscope) and she also loves archery. At age 11 her favorite things are Legos, books, her bows & arrows and her science experiments. She prefers her hair long but typically does not like to wear dresses. (Actually, neither of our girls really like dresses. When they have to dress up for a formal or semi-formal event they request we buy them dress pants.)

Our third and youngest child is a boy. He loved wearing a pink tutu and dancing to “Bella Bella Dancerella” DVDs until about age 5. He still loves dance, music and video games above all else. He prefers his hair short and he is gregarious and outgoing..but as of 2nd grade he’s started saying he doesn’t want to wear pink or purple because other boys might “kick his butt” at school.

Probably the only real gender delineation we’ve had is that our son routinely wants to do things with his older sister’s Girl Scout troop and he can’t (he’s not allowed to go with us to camp, for example)..and similarly, his sister (the 11 year old) wishes she could join the Cub Scouts for every activity they do..but realizes she can’t always. (Dad is the Den leader for the 2nd grade Cub Scouts, I’m the co-leader for our Girl Scout troop of 11 yr olds…so the siblings do get to share in some of the events for each..)

ETpro's avatar

My parents certainly had expectations about gender, but they didn’t teach me gender, and yet I knew the inner conflicts I had with societal expectations and the expectations they held. Therefore, I tried not to teach my children gender. I let them work that out for themselves. They are what nature intended them to be; modified, if at all, by what the society around them modeled for them.

Shortly after striking out on her own, my daughter was diagnosed as bipolar after a run-in with the law. She kept starting fires in her room at a motel, and was picked up by the police walking down the middle of a busy street totally nude. When I visited her in the psychiatric ward, she swore space aliens were in the adjacent yard communicating only to her, instructing her what to do. With lithium therapy, she stabilized and became quite sane. She married, and gave me a granddaughter that is the spitting image of her, but she died of complications from the birth several days after delivery. Was the mental illness my fault? Her mom’s fault? Just the luck of the draw? I will never know.

My two sons have done fine and I am enormously proud of both. That’s how parenting goes. However many rule books you read, you have no idea which is right; and in the end you are never sure whether you did the right thing. You just do the best you know how.

YARNLADY's avatar

I’m not convinced you can avoid “gendering” your children. Boys cannot help but notice Mama doesn’t pee the same way they do, and her breasts are much bigger than Dad’s.

Pandora's avatar

@YARNLADY You have a point. In the end children will mostly observe and identify with the gender that resembles them most. Clothing is not the main issue. I was closer to my father growing up and liked doing boy stuff but I felt and knew without anyone saying anything that (I recall) I identify myself as being most similar with my mom and that she would be the only one to understand what it felt like to be a girl and understand the way I think or what I need better than my dad. My dad saw me as a daughter, someone to be protected from the world. I always felt my mom understood the real me only like me she was raised to accept that girls had to accept the role they were born into because it was a man’s world. But she didn’t see me as being weak or defenseless.

downtide's avatar

As my own gender identity was already in question I was very aware of the impact of “teaching” gender to my daughter, and tried not to do so as much as possible. Once she started school and made friends and saw what other kids had, and what they wore, she made up her own mind which she liked and which she didn’t. She had a brief “pink princess” phase round about the age of eight or nine because that’s what her best friend liked, but she soon grew out of it.

Parenthood DID teach me a lot about my own gender issues. Being pregnant was the most dysphoric part of my life ever, even worse than puberty. Afterwards, going to the local “mum-and-toddler” groups, I felt so totally out of place, like I had absolutely nothing in common with any of the other women. I felt like the only Dad in the room.

wilma's avatar

Interesting answers. @downtide I especially find your feeling about pregnancy and motherhood interesting. For me, pregnancy, breastfeeding and motherhood was where I felt and feel most comfortable. Where I felt the strongest, most powerful and the most alive.
I have other interest and dreams for myself. I have other accomplishments, but none as important to me as creating and nurturing a another’s life.
As my children grow and leave home I am moving on to other things. Perhaps there are even better and more important joys ahead for me, but I can’t imagine them.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@bkcunningham Sure, yes. All that, at the very least.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@YARNLADY and @fluthernutter and how did your parenting decision (around gender) affect your own gender identity, how you think of yourself?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@YARNLADY The things you’re talking about are in the realm of the biological, rather than the social which is where gender (for the most part) resides. Note: I was not, in this question, discussing whether one can avoid gendering their child.

YARNLADY's avatar

For myself, I was always teased about being a tom-boy and I envied boys, who got all the privileges. When I became a teenager, I had the body most girls (and boys) dream of, but I was socially inept, to put it mildly. I always felt I would grow up to be a wife and a mother, and possibly as teacher, and that’s what happened.

As an adult/parent, I wasn’t concerned about what toys they played with (sons and grandsons). I’m glad I never had a daughter, because I believe I would not have known how to treat her. Truthfully, I’ve always been afraid of girls, except my younger sister.

fluthernutter's avatar

I think having a girly girl has helped me get over my hang-ups about frilly pink things and princess castles.

It’s made me more aware of my own biases. In the beginning, I have to admit that I was secretly more pleased when she chose more classically boy or gender neutral toys. I cringed a bit when she showed interest in princess and castles.

Now, I’m just tickled that she has her own opinions and interests. Besides cupcakes* and twirly skirts, she’s also really into break-dancing and Japanese bento boxes.

* Why are cupcakes only marketed to little girls? Who doesn’t love a delicious cupcake?!

bkcunningham's avatar

As hard as I tried to get my daughter to let me braid her hair or pull it into a ponytail and to wear bib-overalls, ropers and flannel shirts (because I love them); it never worked. She was into dressess, crinolines, patent leather shoes and having her hair curled (she let me put a million little braids in her wet hair so it would be fluffy when she took the dried braids out).

When she was in sixth grade, she wanted to try out for cheerleading. I would not allow her to drop band in order to have an open slot for cheerleading. We compromised and she tried out and made the basketball cheerleading squad. Basketball games didn’t have cheerleaders so it didn’t comflict with band.

My husband worked out of town and wasn’t home very much. I remember once when my daughter and two sons were really small taking a bath together, my husband came in to talk to me and saw the kids playing with dolls in the tub.

He didn’t like that the boys were playing with dolls. I laughed it off and said, “What, daddies don’t bath babies?” Instantly, my youngest son said he didn’t want to play with the doll and asked if I’d get his GI Joe. He is a people pleaser and the most tender-hearted, soft spoken gentle, empathetic person I know.

Thinking about this, I think my issues and beliefs reflected more on my children in the way of social class issues, structure and perception, not so much gender. I was overweight and teased when I was young. I always wore big floppy flannel shirts and oversize jeans trying to hide my weight. When I lost weight in junior high, boys took notice and I hated it. I thought, fuck you, you didn’t like me when I was fat. I over compensated for my appearance by being sarcastic and funnnny. I still do. I may have tried to put that into my kids.

If my answers are anywhere near what you are looking for, @Simone_De_Beauvoir, it should be noted that my children did not come through me, they came to me. My two sons were not quiet two when I adopted them and my daughter was just barely three.

keobooks's avatar

I’ve been androgynous most of my life. I loved dolls but hated dresses. I loved climbing trees and catching frogs, but I hated sports and rough housing. I thought “girlie” vs. “tomboy” were too few options.

I was kind of surprised when I found out I was pregnant, the first thing I did was start craving a girl in a bad way. I wanted to buy everything pink and I wanted frills and tiaras. I was never into that as a kid, but suddenly I wanted to go berserk on the pink stuff before I even knew the gender of my own child. I had to work to psych myself up for a boy just in case she turned out to be one. When I found out she was a girl, I didn’t believe it until she was almost born. I was convinced that it was too good to be true and I’d find out she was a boy after she was born. I thought this was totally weird behavior for me. Perhaps it was the hormones. A few months after she was born, I finally got over the pink fetish.

I have never really felt comfortable as a female until I started breastfeeding. I think that helped me get in touch with my feminine side. I’ve always felt genderless. Even while pregnant—I felt too uncomfortable to feel much of anything. But breastfeeding does lots of stuff to a woman’s hormones and I felt more girly than I’ve ever felt in my life. We still breastfeed, but I think most of the hormones are gone. The “amazing miracle of woman” feeling has been replaced with “geez quit biting and pinching my damned boobs already”

Maybe my daughter is just too young to “gender”, as you say. But I remember learning more about gender from television and random passersby than any formal training from my parents. I thought to be a good grownup woman, you were supposed to be insanely obsessed with a clean toilet and very concerned about the taste of peanut butter brands. My family members were all slobs – nobody taught me that.

I wonder what my daughter is learning about gender identity and I have no idea that it’s happening right now as we speak. I don’t think it’s realistic to think I can shield her from it. You don’t know what kids get just from reading books or walking around in public.

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