We are parents and educators committed to a just and equitable society. This blog is a forum to share ideas and resources to help us teach our children and ourselves about social equity issues.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gender Spectrum Parenting

Hello Parents and Teachers,

I have been thinking recently about how children develop healthy gender identities. Last year, Nathan Shara from Seattle Safe Schools came and spoke with our parent group about biological sex, gender identity and gender expression. What struck me about his presentation was that before it, I saw gender identity as a particular concern of the LGBTQ community. After however, I recognized that all of us, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, are restricted and harmed by rigidly defined gender roles.

 For most children and adults, our gender identities match our biological sex, so gender and sex appear synonymous, and this synchronicity is considered “normal.”  Gender therefore appears (incorrectly) to be a biological imperative, rather than a social construction. For many adults and children however, biological sex and gender identity are not the same and growing up in a world with tight definitions of maleness and femaleness is a profound source of painful non-belonging.  As I noted above, this pain does not just affect those who are gender fluid, but causes all of us to limit ourselves. What man or woman, boy or girl could embody all the “ideals” of maleness or femaleness, and at what cost? Last year I was surprised to see that our kindergardeners had absorbed messages about what boys and girls were “allowed” to do and had started gender policing each other. One of my son’s male friends had been teased at school for wearing nail polish. Another made the observation that, as the after school chess club was entirely male, “girls must not be good at chess.”

Our children have taken in since birth hundreds of messages every day about what boys and girls are allowed to be, (and indeed, the message that one is only either a boy or a girl,) so it should not have surprised me, as it did, that they use these messages to make sense of their world. Often it is parents who are knowledgable about LBGTQ issues through personal experience, or who find themselves parenting a gender questioning child, who educate themselves and proactively strengthen their child to resist these messages describing restrictive gender roles. However I might argue that every child would benefit from learning to question these messages, not only to prevent teasing and bullying, but to allow our children to experience their full humanity.

In this effort of education and inquiry, here are two resources which provide insight into these issues: Gender Spectrum, a website providing gender sensitive support for children and teens, and Sociological Images, which provides commentary and insight into the social messages we and our children receive every day. The links will bring you to specific bookmarks within each site which I found particularly helpful for this topic.


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