growing a human

Gender Stuff, Part 4

When I was obviously pregnant, people invariably asked, “Do you know what you are having?” My answer was the same every time.

“A baby.”

I knew that people wanted to know the sex of my baby, and I wasn’t playing. I didn’t know then, and I wouldn’t have shared if I had. I just wasn’t interested in people making assumptions about my baby even before her birth.

When Kristina was born, I was determined that she would have a gender-balanced upbringing.

Not gender-neutral: gender-balanced.

I didn’t buy that “boys will be boys” and that boys were inherently rougher.  An argument that subtly promotes they be rougher, chastising boys who are more cerebral.

I didn’t buy that girls were soft and sweet and inherently “the gentler sex.”  An argument that subtly insists they be weaker, passive even, ruling out all sorts of interesting pursuits.

It’s the old nature vs. nurture argument: culture vs. genetics.

Physiology is inherently male or female. It could be argued that elements of psychology are inherently male or female. But why does our culture insist one is better? (And it’s a different one, depending on the circumstances.) Why do we focus on the downside?

I’ve known many, many people who will argue into the ground that boys and girls are different and you cannot raise them the same way.

They are, but I’m not so sure you can’t.

I think the challenge is to meet each child and learn who they are and what they need to develop – regardless of their gender.

Kristina didn’t ask for dolls. She had puppets and trains and magic wands and a sandbox and books and art supplies and friends and a puppy.  As a little girl, she liked wearing dresses, but not fussy ones. She also liked climbing trees, so she wore bicycle shorts with her dresses.

She spent mornings building elaborately engineered train sets, and then set up every person and animal she had to populate the town; she’d tell stories into the afternoons about what was happening there.

She dug in the ground for worms to put in the garden, proudly holding them up with grubby fingers. She helped me bake cookies and bread, adding ingredients and shaping dough.

Was the building a boy thing? Was the storytelling a girl thing? Were worms a boy thing? What about baking? It didn’t matter. She had never been told one way or the other, so she just had fun with her hands and her imagination, discovering her world.

Now Kristina is a young woman, a teenager straining at the boundaries of life.

I don’t want her to be afraid of boys or men. I don’t want her to be afraid of girls or women. I don’t want her to be ambivalent about herself.  I want her to feel free to be and explore who she is, completely, and without restrictions based on the mutation of cells that determined she’d be female.

I want Kristina to be celebrated for WHO she is: her strength and her tenderness; her intellect and her wit; her charm and her sense of humour; her stories and her compassion.

And I want her to celebrate and embrace her humanity.

listening to: Miranda Lambert, Me and Charlie Talking


  • ‘Physiology is either male or female’… not always true. And the folks who don’t fit the sex binary end up feeling even more marginalized by the cultural gender binary.

  • Interesting point. Are you referring to those who are born with both male and female anatomy, who identify with one or the other more strongly once hormones kick in during puberty?

    This has come up on a couple of the medical dramas lately, creating a larger awareness of gender mosaicism (the presence of both male and female ‘parts’.)

  • Thank you, Holly – what a wonderful compliment for a mother, from a mother. She thinks you are pretty fabulous, too!

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