Published May 10, 2014 | By Greg Hodgson-Fopp
What are you having?
It’s the first question you get asked when you tell people you’re having twins. You all know it. You all asked it, thought it, and were delighted to find it out. These days we have ultrasounds, so we know long before the children appear in our lives, what will be between their legs.
And I think this is actually part of the problem.
We’re anticipating babies. It’s the most life-changing thing we’ve ever done. It will rock our world, then completely destroy our world and we’ll make a new one from the pieces (and vomit, formula milk, excrement, brightly coloured predatory animals and lost pieces of Lego).
Anticipating the event takes up a lot of brain time, a lot of thought. A lot of planning and a lot of preparation. I’ve spent whole days and nights unable to sleep just ticking over in my head all the things we’re looking forward to (and/or scared to death by).
And the single fact that we know about these children is their sex.
And that makes it important, doesn’t it?
When we’re spending all this daydream time, thinking about what the new life will be like, we wonder what we can expect, we envision what our lives will be like, and as we do this – we only have this one fact to cling to.
At the risk of repeating – it’s the only thing we know about the kids we’re having, and so it’s central to everything we imagine we’re getting.
We can’t yet picture their hair colour, their eye colour. We can’t imagine their little voices, or their facial expressions. Will one have my dark, broody eyes, or the solid blue of Matt? Or will they both have the crystalline green eyes of their egg donor? We can’t imagine what their interests will be. Will they be shy? Will they be a playground tyrant? Will they be introspective and a deep thinker (my mother says I was – she used to call me “her little thinker”, and many other things as well, I’m sure). Or will they be a cannonball, ricocheting off the walls at every opportunity in hyper-manic bursts of energy?
Because we can’t know any of this, we place an unrealistic and disproportionate amount of importance on the one thing we do know – their gender.
So without them even being born yet, I’m having to consciously repel stereotypes in my own head of what they will or will not be like. We’re making decisions and buying things based solely on their gender.
Kids absolutely do pick up on this
The little people in our lives are built to learn. Their brains are hard-wired to recognise categories in the world, assign them importance and react accordingly. It’s survival instincts at play, and the baby years are when they learn the most.
They see us adults divided neatly into men and women. They see that this categorisation is somewhat arbitrary and they don’t quite get why people join one category and not another. But by the time they are two or three, they will have learnt that the world is divided permanently and meaningfully into two major sub-groups of people.
They will also understand that they belong to one of those subgroups.
And they think this is really important because we reinforce it everywhere (sex-typed clothing for adults, long hair and no beards for women, pink clothes, pink bedroom, flowers instead of cars on the t-shirts, girl-specific toys, female-specific toilets in shopping malls, the list is endless).
Because we place such an implicit importance on it, they will learn that and assume the following:
They will assume that gender is the most important thing about them
Not whether they are smart or dim. Not whether they are quick or slow, or even white or black.
The first question everyone asks when they see you pushing a baby:
“Oh, is it a little boy or girl?”
Every time they hear that question, they are being told “Your gender is the most important identifying trait you have”. Every. Single. Time.
And that’s why we’re having Kids not Girls
We all know that what’s between their legs is not their most important identifying characteristic. And yet though our choices, our actions, and most importantly of all, our language, we are sending the subtle message that this is the case.
I can’t stop people in the street saying “What a lovely little girl”, but I can combat it my own way.
So I will find ways to self-edit my language, de-categorise the world and change the way I speak to our kids.
I will not buy everything in one colour. I will reduce the amount of times gender is used as an identifier on clothes, books, toys, furniture, everything. I will make sure to talk to the kids in a gender neutral way, and I will compensate for the inevitable flurry of gender-themed clothes, toys and gifts by buying alternatives, so that they have both to choose from.
My kids will assume ownership of every colour in the rainbow.
When they get to the reading stage, I’ll be sure to get a big fat pen out and cross out “fireman” and replace with “fire-fighter”. I will make sure that books with Doctors and Nurses don’t always feature male Doctors and female Nurses. I will notice gender stereotypes and have conversations with them about it, explaining that some stupid people seem to think Girls can’t be Scientists, Engineers or Professors.
And most of all, I’m not going to identify them by their sex constantly. It starts so early and is so easy to do. I could easily hear myself saying things like:
“How is Papa’s little princess?”
“Who’s a good girl today?”
Everyone of these statements reinforces the idiocy of gender being their primary and most important trait.
Yes, that’s right folks. I’ve become “That Parent” already.
This is going to be so incredibly annoying to my poor husband.
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