About ten years ago began to think deeply about the ways I was gender-typing my children. Though I’ve always been a fairly open-minded parent, I could see that my gentle teasing to my son about his interactions with the cute girls in his class, or my suggestion to my daughter that she style her hair a particular way were based on the gender stereotypes that I didn’t necessarily agree with ideologically. And while I saw that my academic language was evolving to me more gender-neutral, sometimes I had to work hard to be more inclusive with gender-based ideas in my parenting and other daily interactions. This wasn’t because I held gendered expectations about my children per se, it was more due to the pervasive way in which it was unknowingly embedded my behavior and speech.
When I recently went through the SafeSpace training for Chapman University, we participated in an exercise that caused us to reflect on the many ways our society creates and reinforces sex-based binaries. Since then I’ve made note of each time I’ve been forced to declare my gender and wondered how awkward it might feel if my gender assignment at birth and my gender expression were different. I’ve marveled at how frequently those Male/Female questions are asked on forms for travel, medical care, employee benefits, and financial records. When possible, I’ve stopped declaring my sex, but I rarely see this as an allowed option (and I hate that word “other” on sex-based questions–how dehumanizing that seems).
Because I think so much of the way we experience gendered expectations on a daily basis is subtle–so subtle we don’t even notice it–I am going to try an experiment in a few weeks and hope you’ll join in. On September 1st, I’m going to tweet every moment in my day that I experience a gendered interaction. Whether it’s the choice of a restroom to use, an interaction where I’m callled “ma’am,” a time when I’m forced to make a choice on a form that asks for F or M, or any other moment where I feel that gender plays a role in my day. If you’re willing, I’d like for you to join me in this exercise, and also participate in reflecting on the experience either here in the comments of this post or on your own blog. For easy searching I’ll be marking my tweets with the hashtag #genderd (shorthand for “Gender Day”), and will collect all the tweets into a twapperkeeper for archival purposes.