Grace Ramsay, LSRJ Summer Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) Intern (’16, Smith College)
I spent the past weekend at a family friend’s in northern California, with no internet/phone access, and around 40 children ages 5 months – 10 years. To many — myself included — this sounds like a nightmare. I have never considered myself a “kid person,” and tend to feel uncomfortable when interacting with children. My friends always seemed much more natural than I did when communicating with toddlers and pre-schoolers. I didn’t understand how you could relate to someone whose age was yours divided by four. So I was completely taken by surprise when I started forming relationships with several of the younger children over the weekend. Boys and girls alike wanted to hold my hand, to run around together, and to tickle me to death. Maybe it was because the parents at this weekend are fairly progressive, but I noticed right away that both sons and daughters were held to the same social expectations. One moment in particular struck me: I was talking to a boy and a girl, and the boy kept interrupting her. She turned to him, said “Excuse me!” and finished her sentence. She didn’t let him cut her off again. During my stay at The Land (the official name of the house upstate), I watched kids of every gender get dirty playing outside, decorate papier mache bunnies, and sing along to folk music.
It’s no secret that gender socialization exists, and it starts right from when the doctor proclaims, “It’s a girl!” The gender binary is coded for far more than difference in “biological sex,” a term debated today. Girls and boys are expected to talk, dress, and play differently. Gender differences are exaggerated to the point that activities are often gendered — girls get to play dress up, boys get to run around outside. The socialization of boyhood and girlhood forces children into very distinct pink /blue boxes, leaving little room for gender expression outside of their assigned identity. This limits cis boys and girls to either “girly” or “boyish” expressions, and completely disregards trans children’s possibility of living authentically.
Fighting gender socialization is a reproductive justice issue. The right to parent with dignity goes both ways; children deserve to self-express in ways that make them feel comfortable and safe. Returning to San Francisco after the weekend away, I was bombarded with gendered ads for young people. Maybe a world without gendering childhood is only possible during a hippie retreat. But from now on, I’ll keep on helping little kids play however they’d like.