At her first birthday party, Ainsley received a lot of things: toys, books and especially clothing. The unwrapping ceremony for a one year old requires a lot of parental and sibling involvement from gathering the gifts to actually opening them.
Ainsley showed mostly passing interest. She would peruse the odd book, explore the notable toys, but then there were the clothes. With each new outfit, Ainsley would squeal. She’d throw aside the previous item and immediately struggled to dress anew. There was unbridled glee with each discovery. And that was it: she had taken on a stereotype of her gender, out of nowhere, without prompting.
And I was baffled.
I’ve long desired to present my kids with options for who they want to be (within various levels of reason). All societies are awash in gender stereotypes, but (taking the long view) today’s customs are simply the most recent trend of what’s considered “male” or “female.”
I’m fairly traditional in my presentation, but if my kids want to try on mommy’s heels, have fun. If my son wants his fingernails painted, go ahead. If my daughter wants to get disgusting in the mud… well, I draw the line — not because she’s a girl but because I don’t want disgusting children.
That’s why I was so surprised to see my one year old daughter being such a girl. I shouldn’t have been. Ian pulled the same trick on us with cars and trains. We bought him cars because he wouldn’t stop playing with them at daycare. Just like a boy.
Ainsley did this again with the creepy doll she acquired from my Grandma Harriet. We were in Big Stone and someone walked into living room with a baby older than most of us in the room. Ainsley clutched it to her shoulder the rest of the night. She fell so deeply in love that it came home with us. Now she has three babies. Just like a girl.
I’ve developed some possible explanations. The children spend all day surrounded by other children. They may be emulating these playmates. There’s also a natural component. Gender is a biological trait that has profound and common effects on our physical and psychological development. These stereotypes start somewhere.
Modern culture is struggling with issues of gender identity. We are beginning to draw a distinction between genetic gender and psychological gender, and it’s far less straight forward than we’ve been treating it. We’ve spent centuries elucidating rules to identify who is what gender to distract away the nuances we’ve long stifled.
What does it matter if my daughter puts down a doll and picks up a train? Or vice versa? Or if my son takes off his Spider-man costume and wears an Elsa dress? It won’t change who they are or how much I love them. These silly gender traditions are all arbitrary and gray. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with gray. See my hair for details.