Follow along with #genderd on Sept 1st

About ten years ago began to think deeply about the ways I was gender-typing my children. Though I've always been a fairly open-minded parent, I could see that my gentle teasing to my son about his interactions with the cute girls in his class, or my suggestion to my daughter that she style her hair a particular way were based on the gender stereotypes that I didn't necessarily agree with ideologically. And while I saw that my academic language was evolving to me more gender-neutral, sometimes I had to work hard to be more inclusive with gender-based ideas in my parenting and other daily interactions. This wasn't because I held gendered expectations about my children per se, it was more due to the pervasive way in which it was unknowingly embedded my behavior and speech.

When I recently went through the SafeSpace training for Chapman University, we participated in an exercise that caused us to reflect on the many ways our society creates and reinforces sex-based binaries. Since then I've made note of each time I've been forced to declare my gender and wondered how awkward it might feel if my gender assignment at birth and my gender expression were different. I've marveled at how frequently those Male/Female questions are asked on forms for travel, medical care, employee benefits, and financial records. When possible, I've stopped declaring my sex, but I rarely see this as an allowed option (and I hate that word "other" on sex-based questions--how dehumanizing that seems).

Because I think so much of the way we experience gendered expectations on a daily basis is subtle--so subtle we don't even notice it--I am going to try an experiment in a few weeks and hope you'll join in. On September 1st, I'm going to tweet every moment in my day that I experience a gendered interaction. Whether it's the choice of a restroom to use, an interaction where I'm callled "ma'am," a time when I'm forced to make a choice on a form that asks for F or M, or any other moment where I feel that gender plays a role in my day. If you're willing, I'd like for you to join me in this exercise, and also participate in reflecting on the experience either here in the comments of this post or on your own blog. For easy searching I'll be marking my tweets with the hashtag #genderd (shorthand for "Gender Day"), and will collect all the tweets into a twapperkeeper for archival purposes.


JohnR said...

Hmmm, I may be on board for this experiment.

Though what do you do when you're the "default" gender? Aren't even apparently neutral actions invisibly gendered?

jana said...

Well, I am sure they are in some ways. Or our perceptions of them are. I'd like to see what happens if we're all thinking with this lens all day long--maybe some new understanding of such actions will emerge.

C. L. Hanson said...

That sounds like a cool idea!!

What about personal interactions with people you know? Like when someone refers to my kids as "the boys" or when someone refers to my brother's kids as "the girls"?

jana said...

Sure, I'd say that you should tweet it all! Let's see how gendered our days are.

Craig said...

I'm really interested to see the results of this.

Jensie said...

This is a very interesting idea. All day I fight the urge to tell my daughter to "sit like a lady" but scowl when someone says that my son is "such a boy." Ugh. I would have to tweet my whole day!

As I have come in contact with more transgender individuals, I have noticed the same desire for society to have us categorize ourselves. Can't I just be me? What does it matter if I'm M/F or choose not to identify myself that way?

I'm excited to see what comes of this!

Tiffany said...

I was once fired for displaying a safe space sign in my classroom. I have a blog post I've been working on... Maybe I'll just go ahead and post it... Thanks for the inspiration!

Chandelle said...

This should be an interesting experiment. I'm trying to raise my children as "gender-free" as possible and yet I know that I still train them in a thousand tiny ways to conform to stereotypes. Recently it's been the issue with my little girl's buzz cut. We did it for summer so she'd be cool, and I'm troubled by the concern that she doesn't look as pretty as she could be. Which is SO bizarre, on many levels. She's constantly mistaken for a boy and that bothers me somehow more than my boy constantly being mistaken for a girl when he had long hair. I don't know why.

Generally I think my kids ARE pretty gender-free; at 4 and 5 they are both equally interested in dolls and trucks, nurturing and fighting, dresses and jeans. If anything my girl is more like what you'd expect of a boy - fierce, independent, competitive, easily distracted - while my boy is sensitive, empathetic, creative, studious. But things come up like my son wanting to wear a dress in public - do I let him violate social norms when the consequences could be quite severe? How could I explain why this isn't a good idea without letting him know - and my daughter, too - that "girl things" are shameful?

And that's just parenting - never mind the questions that come up for me, and my marriage, and my relationships with other people.

So I'll be interested to see where this goes.

Caroline said...

Great idea, Jana. I'll try to do it.

Erin G. said...

This is great! I often think about this type of thing. For example, here in NYC, I often see little boys with their mothers or nannies in the women's restroom...but I never see little girls come out of the men's room with their dads or nannies. At what age do we collectively (silently?) decide kids have to go in their own gender's restroom? How does that get figured out?

Tiffany said...

Alright, here's my post: http://picnicbasketcrafts.blogspot.com/2010/08/when-student-changes-teachers-life.html

Not sure if it really follows with your experiment, but at least you inspired me to hit "publish."

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be a naysayer, but why are we de-gendering instead of celebrating ALL genders?

When we talk about de-gendering what we are really talking about is the fact that the two genders (and people who don't quite fit in either one) are not treated equally - usually with males being regarded as being treated 'better'.

But not recognizing me as female undervalues the unique attributes that being female can bring to the table.

Undervaluing my being female doesn't make me more like males, it just makes me less like me.

Not recognizing that males have a different experience from females, and that the transgendered have a different experience from either devalues all those experiences. Gender does matter. It is biological, and influences the way that our bodies work and our brains work. That is not sexist, that is just physical reality.

I guess what I'm asking is why are we fighting to "unlabel" ourselves, instead of fighting to have each person valued for themselves no matter what thier gender is?

jana said...

Good questions, anonymous. I'm not necessarily saying that gender is bad in and of itself, or that it should be abolished. But I want to challenge the binaries that are created by M/F. I think those binaries are constructed by the value we put on them, and by the expectations we have of people who fit (or don't fit) into each category.

More than anything, I want to become more aware of the ways that my behaviors/experiences are infused with gendered expectations, so I can assess how it affects my life and the ways I interact with other people. In doing so, I believe I can, as you say, better fight "to have each person valued for themselves no matter what thier gender is" [or isn't].

jana said...
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Leslie M-B said...

I'm really looking forward to following your tweets on September 1. This is an issue that always chafes me, but has been really bothering me lately because of an incident with my son.

I like to think I've been raising my almost 5-year-old son in a multiple-gender-friendly (if not neutral), antiracist way. But we were at the store the other day, and he was really into these pink sparkly shoes with rhinestones on them. I explained to him that anyone could wear those shoes, but that usually girls did, and that because mostly girls wear those shoes, people would probably tease him or treat him poorly. I thought about getting them and letting him wear them around the house--he really saw them, I think, as superhero shoes, and he loves to play superheroes--but I also suspect I wouldn't be able to keep them in the house.

I really want to support him in all kinds of self-expression, but the former much-teased child in me also wants to save him a ton of pain. Maybe if he was a bit older, and understood gender norms a bit better, and made the decision himself to wear those shoes despite those norms, I'd be OK with that.