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An accidental sociological gender experiment

I recently realized that I had been doing a science experiment! Ok, I haven't recorded any data, and there are no controls, but work with me here. The experiment is on people's expectations of gender essentialism. What's gender essentialism? Gender essentialism is the belief that certain behavioral traits are gender-specific: Men like sports, steak, beer, and fighting. Women like shopping, salads, wine, and gossip. Men are aggressive, women are passive. Etc.

For kids, it's similar: Girls like gentle play, boys like being rough. Girls like dolls, boys like trucks. Girls like bubbles, boys like dirt.

But we all know this isn't 100% accurate. There are girls who like "girl stuff", and boys who like "girl stuff". There are agressive girls, there are passive boys. There is everything in between, and some well outside.

Because while there may be gender tendencies, there seem to be so many exceptions that the "rule" no longer makes sense to keep around. Much like the I before E "rule", there are so many exceptions that it'll lead you to get it wrong far too often.

That's the reality. Of course, with humans, we never really get to actual reality, all we have is our perception of reality. People perceive the gender divide, so they think of it as a true, actual divide, and ignore the exceptions. Thus, my "experiment".


My son is almost 2 ½ . Except for trimming his bangs last year, we've never cut his hair, and so he has this great long blonde hair that reaches to his shoulderblades. Because we trimmed his bangs early on, his hair in front is not long enough to pull back, so we use a simple barrette / hair clippy to keep it out of his eyes. He also has a very pretty face.

So, of course, everyone new thinks he is a girl, and they refer to him as "she". We don't have a problem with that. Hair style is a cultural gender signifier, I get it. And we could always cut his hair if it bothered us.

So far so expected. The "sociological experiment" part is this: my son, behaviorally, is very stereotypically "boy". He runs, he yells, he climbs, he likes blue, he likes trucks, he loves firetrucks, he squishes bugs, he likes dirt, he likes sticks, he likes hitting things with sticks, he likes breaking sticks, he's rough, he's extremely high energy and extremely low listening-to-dad. He's usually in "boy clothes". His knees are always scratched, scraped, and bruised.

But, because of the hair and clip, everyone new refers him as "she" without hesitation. Even after watching him play with their children on the playground. No one has guessed he was a boy. And, when I (very politely) correct them with "he's a boy", no one has ever said "Oh, I thought so!" Nope, they just apologize a few times and I have to assure them that it's really not an issue: it's not an insult.


The thing is, everybody believes that these behaviors are innate to each gender, but even massive evidence of "boy behavior" can be overridden by a small metal clip. The clip is usually even black. But everyone also knows that his behavior is not all that unusual for a girl. It's not like they saw a talking dog: there are plenty of little girls who act like he acts. They just file it under "one of the exceptions" and move on.

But that's the wrong thing to do. The right thing would be to think something like "Huh, these rules aren't very useful."

When we're at the park, some of the little girls help him dig in the mud. Several of his boy friends are "gentle" and when we visit their houses, my son finds things to break and dangerous situations to put himself into which their sons never even thought of. Exceptions: they exist.


So, I know this isn't real science, but it is an observation.

2017-05-22 #gender  
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