In my summer job I’ve had constant exposure to young childen (between the ages of 8 and 11) on a daily basis. Already, the traditional ideas of what makes a boy a boy and what makes a girl a girl have taken hold. One boy is constantly the butt of jokes and insinuations about his gender because his hair is long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail. Likewise, a young girl with a short haircut has been consistently mistaken for and intentionally called a boy. (I have to admit here that I made the same mistake, her hair, clothes, and voice all indicated a male child and I gave some serious thought as to my pronoun use before I addressed her fearing that she was actually a boy but was too shy to correct her peers that were referring to her as “her”. Bit of an overthink on my part that ended up with the same crappy result of mistaking her gender). Luckily, both children are mature and take the mistakes and the jokes at face value, not as a commentary on their masculinity or femininity. At the same time, being the butt of jokes is no picnic and the boy eventually broke down in tears after constant harassment from one boy in particular. As for the girl, after the first few days of camp, her parents sent her in pink tops and flowery prints and the misidentifications stopped.
The misidentifications served as an impromteau tool for bullying and served as personal insults to be used against the kids. Our identities are carefully crafted around our genders and failing to adhere to them properly enough rendered these kids easy targets. Fortunately, the kids saw the teasing for what it was, unfortunately the fact that one can even be teased for having a “boy” haircut or “girl” hair is problematic and sad. At the same time, it is difficult to step out of preconceptions about gender–even if you write for a feminist blog.
So how do you go about brining an end to confining gender stereotypes? Do you worry about confirming your gender id or that of your children? Would it harm your self esteem if someone mistook you for the opposite gender, and do you let that affect the way you dress or speak?