boy, child birth, coming of age rituals, femininity, gender, gender expectations, gender expression, gender non-conformity, gender stereotypes, girl, girliness, man, manliness, masculinity, sexuality, woman
You knew this post had to happen sometime. And be sure that many more will follow.
These thoughts originate in the context of birth and babies and baby registries and mountains of pink and blue and Disney Princesses and the Lion King. More of these thoughts arise from my relationships with gender non-conforming individuals and gender conforming individuals and the kinds of people that everyone are.
First with the pink and blue. Girls get pink and princesses. Boys get blue and the Lion King. This I learned at Babies R’ Us and in other places. Right from conception, new people are bombarded with very loud, very definitive expectations and limits for who they are and how they will live. Expectations chosen strictly based on their anatomy. Girls should be girly, boys should be boyish. When they grow up, there’s a certain way a woman should be, dress, speak, relate to others. Men must take certain jobs, dress a certain way, relate to others in a particular way. Male and Female are forever irrevocably different, separate, exclusive people-types and individuals are only proper if they exist within those differences. Culture begins this shaping process from before birth with simple shades of pink and blue.
Being aware of how gender stereo-types have hurt many people, I’m not comfortable with this. So I voiced this thought, that I want to discover ways of celebrating the femininity of my daughter or the masculinity of my son in a way that celebrates their gender without being tightly prescriptive of how they express their gender. A boy should grow up to be a masculine man and a girl should grow up to be a feminine woman, but who’s to say exactly what those expressions of masculinity and femininity will be? I don’t think I have the right to tell another person how to be who they are.
Granted, I can tell a person how to be healthy and compassionate and how to relate to people with love and most of all how to seek after God. These things I am committed to doing, especially with my own kids. But seeking God, being compassionate and having healthy relationships are all things that men and women both in many different ways.
In response to my thought, I was asked what I think are gender specific traits or pursuits.
My first response was, “Well, childbirth is distinctly female…”
I thought, well men can tend to be warrior protective compared to women being nurturing protective…but then there are many nurturing men and many good men who are not warriors. Likewise there are many warrior-type of women who are also very good.
I thought, well women are often graceful and beautiful and gentle…but then many men are also graceful and beautiful/handsome and gentle.
Men and women can both be leaders.
Women and men can both be servants, even to the point of self-sacrifice.
Artistic things, philosophical things, mathematical things, politics, leadership, spiritual disciplines, caring for a home, teaching, adventuring, fighting, sports, medicine and healing arts, science…even war…none of these things are really gender specific except in the ways that different cultures make them to be.
Honestly, the only gender specific things I can think of relate to childbirth
Women give birth to babies.
Men father babies.
Is this the essence of gender difference?
Our conversation led to coming of age rituals and how we mark when a boy or girl becomes a man or woman.
With women, we could point to when they begin menstruating. When this happens, their bodies are now ready to birth a child. They are women. Obviously there is more than that to becoming an adult emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and relationally, but on a physiological level, this is an easy point to identify.
What about with men? Is it when they first father a child? If this is the case, some boys won’t become men until their late forties, if they do at all. Yet there are and have been many good men(including some Biblical authors) without children.
(Sometime, there will be a blog about coming-of-age rituals, something our culture is severely lacking)
In the meantime though, why not go back to physiology. A boy’s first ejaculation. What would it be like if this even could be marked as something honorable and exciting if not at least perfectly natural? Most, if not all, men that I know experienced their first wet dream as something shameful and dirty that needed to be hidden. That “Shame” sense usually goes on to have a profound impact on how a boy-becoming-man experiences and expresses sex and sexuality. How much better if that change in a boy’s body were recognized as something special and momentous?
But I digress. We were talking about what things are distinctly masculine and feminine and how should masculinity and femininity be pursued and developed?
Here is my idea.
Women give birth to children.
Men father children…and support the mothers in giving birth and raising children.
This is the distinction between men and women that I believe is beautiful and worth celebrating.
Women must grow in understanding of fertility and nurture and health and all that leads up to bringing new life into the world.
Men must grow in understanding of how to support a women and keep her and her/his offspring safe and healthy, including how to speak well to a women, be compassionate and nurturing to his family.
Perhaps all of the differences in masculinity and femininity stem from these few specific roles. What true differences there are between men and women are hugely significant and remarkably few.
So what about people who don’t have children? Single people. Same-sex relationships.
I’m gonna say that all of these skills and strengths that prepare a man or woman for their role in childbirth are still hugely profound in every other relationship they will have. A woman can be nurturing and life giving in how she relates to other men and women. A man can be supportive, even self-sacrificial in how he relates to other women and men. These masculine and feminine skills have no determining influence on what type of work a person does or how they clothe their body or what they do for fun.
In the end, masculinity and femininity have some core differences…but not many. And each boy and girl becoming man and woman must discover for themselves how they will express their gender and sexuality and identity with their role in childbirth as a foundational element.
This difference is physiological, not cultural, not even religious(though it is surely spiritual!) This means that men and women have tremendous freedom in who they will be and how they will relate to each other.
In my writing this, my goal is to not impose on my child a cultural understanding of their gender that may quite possibly just not fit. I want my son or daughter to grow up knowing what it means to be compassionate and nurturing and supportive to all people and that the way they way they nurture and support life in others is the true mark of whether or not they are gender conforming.
I have no prescription for how you, the reader, should be, except that you be nurturing and supportive to other life around you. That’s the point. There is so much freedom! Go be at peace with God and with who He made you to be!
In all things, may we be compassionate with each other. May we listen well to the other and always endeavor to nurture the souls around us. May we be quick to lay down our lives and interests to protect the other person. As men and women, may we live as beautiful souls before our Creator…