On Kids and Gender Schematicity

From birth, we give children all these signals that gender is a very important, significant means of categorizing people. But we don’t tell them for *years* why we’re grouping girls and boys apart, or even how we define what a boy or a girl is. They’ve got to be totally confounded by it.

We use different words for boys and girls, when it’s not really necessary.

We give boys and girls different kinds of names, and associate them with different colors.

We line them up in class “boy girl boy girl”, or we have different lines for boys and girls.

We divide clothing, books, tv shows, toys, occupations, and traits into “boy” and “girl” categories.

We have different restrooms, locker rooms, and sports for girls and boys.

We give them all these implicit signs that being a boy or a girl is really really important, and that the division must always be signified and maintained, for some mysterious unspecified reason (that is ultimately arbitrary, but they don’t know that). I think this causes children to place a ton of importance on gender, and on meeting gender expectations.

Kids are very good, neurologically, at inferring rules and following them super rigidly. Think of a child just learning to use past tense. They figure out, implicitly, that putting an “-ed” on the end of a word makes it past tense. So they start doing it to every word. I eated an apple. I swimmed in the pool. Etc. This is called “overgeneralization”, and it’s an actual stage of children’s development.

Kids are great at forming and adhering to really blunt stereotypes. And gender stereotypes? We inundate kids with them, intentionally or not. Kids soak up every bit of gender-relevant information like a sponge, because they want to follow the unspoken ‘rules’. No wonder we end up with girls who love princesses and boys who love trucks or whatever, even if we’re fairly egalitarian/feminist teachers and parents.

I really believe that eliminating the gender binary bullshit in early education and child rearing would make an incalculably huge difference on the gender identities and sex stereotypes children harbor, and would make them less sexist, cissexist, and gender schematic adults as a result. If we could just expose kids to world free of arbitrary gender segregation and coding, we could at least start to chip away at the rigidity and fake inevitability of gender roles that children are presented with.I think it’s the single most important change we could make to promote gender equity and make the world less toxic to trans people, really.

Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.

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