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The Non-Nature Of Gender

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Our culture is littered with phrases such as "Boys will be boys" and "It's a girl thing," but what do those sayings actually mean? What does is mean to say that a child with male genitals is being a "boy" or that individuals with female genitalia are all part of a common "thing." These terms in our society often go overlooked and accepted, but with very little thought for what it actually means. Gender in the current United States holds very powerful connotations, but no clear definitions as to what differentiates one gender from another. It is one thing to determine if a being is male or female, or their sex, since all you must do is check the reproductive organs, but that knowledge is meaningless on its own. Gender is the personae that an individual ascribes to, usually based within what has been deemed acceptable by society for someone with their genitalia. For some people gender is an immovable fact of life, something that universally and simply is, and because of that, gender based attributes are viewed as natural simply based on physical sex characteristics. However, even within our society views of gender and gender roles are radically different, and are constantly evolving, disproving that there is something innate about gender. In order to accept gender as a concrete fact of life, it would have to remain as static and definable as the organs within the human body. Since gender is in no way static, it in no way can be considered a natural occurrence, such as hair color, but rather a cultural phenomenon, like a hair style.

It is not uncommon to encounter hostility when attempting to disprove the innateness of gender, since gender has become so entwined in the social fabric of our society. When someone oversteps the boundaries of "acceptable" gendered behavior, the response is at best mocking, and at worst violently aggressive. A biological male wearing a dress is looked down upon because he has stepped beyond culturally appropriate behavior and is socially punished, and others will question whether or not he is of sound mind. These emotions do not come from deep within ourselves, but are reinforced as early as preschool. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the highest authority on early childhood education in the United States, and in 2002 they published a book titled Healthy Sexuality Development , a book that outlined basic guidelines for teachers on what is appropriate behavior for developing children. There is no distinction between the physical sex of someone, and their gender, blurring the lines between physical development and gender development, essentially arguing that the two go hand in hand. The book states that preschool boys are naturally more likely to "prefer outside play, [be] rougher, more physical, [be] more competitive" and that they are more likely to portray "heroic characters" and "righteous combat (Chrisman, 44)." Unsurprisingly preschool girls should "prefer inside play, [be] more cooperative, show concern for others in distress," and will choose themes for play such as "family, nurturance, and adornment (Chrisman, 44)." These are considered good indicators of a preschooler's social development and development of gender identity, reinforcing that a healthy child will demonstrate these play behaviors, based solely on stereotypically observed behaviors of preschool children. There are no documented observations of the described behavior, and seems to fuel its claim on recollections and assumptions of adults with their own engrained gender bias. This flawed book limits how freely children will be allowed to develop their own gender, thus perpetuating the western notion of the modern day gender dichotomy. The text neglects to mention the influence a child would have from observing its parents and mimicking the observed behavior.

Sociologists Alexa Albert and Judith Porter conducted a thorough investigation of 1264 four, five, and six year olds in city preschools from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds to examine if there were any outside influences to their gender development or their perceived gender roles. They concluded at the end of their study that across all backgrounds, the development of a child's gender identity is from their social environment, and not from within themselves (p. 186). Many parents will attempt to enforce a more egalitarian view of gender, equalizing what girls and boys should or should not do, but unfortunately, despite what a child may be told or directly presented with, they will still emulate what they actually observe. If a girl observes her mother at home, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children, then the concept of what a woman, a woman that they will become eventually, is supposed to do, will become part of their psyche. Along with parental influence, as the child develops, media stereotypes, as well as what they are taught from their peers will continue to saturate how they believe someone physically like themselves should act. It's no wonder that the literature provided by NAEYC observes that over time children appear to naturally develop a certain collective gender identity.

Albert and Porter were also able to document concepts of gender in preschool aged children based on socioeconomic background, a significant find considering that it also means that a child has learned gender from his or her surroundings. They found that "there is some evidence that blue-collar children gender stereotype occupations more highly that do their white-collar counterparts (p.188)." It was also documented that African American children were less likely to gender stereotype parental roles in a household than white children, but that the reverse was found in regards to sex stereotypes regarding occupations (p.188), probably because the more powerful and white collar one's job is, such as lawyer, the less distinction there is between a man's job or a woman's job. That is not to say that there are not still biased obstacles to overcome, but simply that the observed behavior of adults by children from higher class families with two white collar parents will be different than that of a child from a lower socioeconomic situation. The children in this study were clearly drawing their conclusions about what gender roles are appropriate based on what they observed in their surroundings, and is subjective to their situation

Co-authors Susan Golombok and Robyn Fivush wrote Gender Development , a book which is considered by most to be one of the first scholarly examinations of gender from a purely developmental perspective. Gender identity, the concept of one's self as male or female (Golombok, 3), is generally consistent with [one's] biological sex, meaning that a female



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