Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free To Be?

Darleen Click at Protein Wisdom links to a story on a couple raising a child as an "it". I had some relatives--conservative Christians, no less--who were enamored of the "Free to Be...You and Me" thing back in the '70s. I was pretty young when I first heard, and I found it sort of creepy for some reason.

Which isn't to say that I didn't believe that gender stereotypes might not have been instituted or unduly enforced by social norms. Or don't, even. Obviously society is an influence. And as I've said, a sane society would encourage norms while tolerating outliers.

I mean, logically, one can loosen certain social restrictions when the mere basics of survival are not at risk, right? Maybe not, but the most easily recalled situations always seem to involve chucking morals out the window. And society follows.

But the '70s did a number on kids. A lot of girls grew up believing that the traditional female role--mother, wife, caretaker--was an unworthy pursuit. In other words, the "liberation" of women worked out to recasting them into yet another rigid mold which didn't even have any of the biological imperatives as an advantage.

This can be seen in lots of other areas as well, of course. Ending racism didn't actually mean ending racism, it meant changing who it was okay to be racist against. Sexual liberation didn't mean freedom to not be promiscuous. Indeed, few things (if any) sold as "freedom" in recent years have actually amount to more freedom.

I was sitting around the table with my mother and stepfather and sister this weekend, and all of us had, at some point or another, believed to some degree or another in an undue influence of society on gender. But as we watched The Flower and my nieces play--they had set up a dress shop, cobbled together with two decades of toys from various grandchildren--expressions of both femininity and entrepreneurism were as natural as breathing.

And this is with two completely different styles of parenting. My nieces were actually raised in some kind of limited tech Quaker-type community until recently. I've always encouraged the more masculine aspects of my daughters because, well, I'm a guy and that's what I know, but also because I think it's good for them.

So far as I can tell, all these girls are as girly as they started out.

And I daresay, we, all of us, felt a little cheated by this unsupported bit of dogma (society is the sole arbiter of gender roles) masquerading as enlightenment, expressed and regurgitated in so many different ways over so many years.

But I think this next generation is going to be themselves, no matter how uncomfortable their transgressive insistence on being very definitely male or female makes the old folks.

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