Every spring when I was a child my mother and I would make the annual trek to the shoe store for my new pair of rubber rain boots. Every spring, I wanted a black and red pair like the farmers wore. Every spring, my mother dismissed my request saying “Those are for boys.” And every spring, I was exquisitely frustrated that something would be denied to me simply because I was a girl.
To be fair, it was one of the very few times my mother made overt gender-based decisions with me. That’s saying a lot considering she was a woman whose husband’s official, legal response to her request for a divorce was “Everything was fine until my wife decided that she wanted to be a person too.”
We’ve come a long way. But we still have a long way to go. The same sort of insidious gender biases happened to the next generation in my family.
My very young nephew wanted to be a bunny rabbit for Hallowe’en. His mother said no to the idea – it wasn’t appropriate for a boy. He was a cowboy instead. I wonder if my nephew felt frustrated then too.
These are just tiny examples of how our notions of what is gender appropriate play out in western society. As children we are instilled with messages about the most inane things and it builds from there until as adults the limitations and biases are ingrained, pervasive and damaging.
In an ideal world we would not make distinctions about people’s abilities or potential based on their gender. How do we move to that ideal world? What different language and actions could we adopt to create a gender-neutral world? I have to challenge myself every day to think and react in gender-neutral ways. Could you, would you do the same?