“What are you watching? Those are pretty dresses!” My niece has entered the room with her nose in my business.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“Yup, you remember”
“But why is he in girls clothes?”
‘Because he is playing pretend. He likes the pretty dresses and hair”
“Boys can do that?”
“Yup, and so can girls. Anyone can play pretend”
And that was all it took for my five year old niece to understand Drag Queens.
Now, I fully understand her understanding is contextual: she loves to dress up too. She seemed very satisfied that adults can still dress up and pretend. BUT the nimbleness of her mind is evidence that the rigid social lines of the past were mostly constructed and imposed rather than inherent and natural. I grew up thinking sex and gender were basically the same thing. Girls had vaginas and that meant they were different. Since the difference was clear, it made sense that other differences must exist between the sexes.
It was not until college that I began to learn how little I knew. Apparently what is taught in grade school is not the full truth, and it requires sophisticated nuance to understand the science behind sex and gender. It turns out sex isn’t just male/female either– the spectrum is quite vast! Chromosomal diversity helps us see the realities beyond XX and XY.
So, if we have more than XX and XY, that must mean our social evolution is on a spectrum. Today, many young people are like my niece: anyone can be anyone they want. If I want to wear a dress, nothing about me changes. If I want wear a blazer, nothing about me changes.
AND perhaps we see the breakdown of arbitrary gender orientations because our parents raised us to think we could do anything.
If I can do anything, how could it be possible that my gender has some inherent restriction on possibility.
Now, some will say that men are stronger than women. Sure, that is generally true. BUT I also know we socialize women to avoid activities that build strength. So, is it the chicken or the egg?
And even if men are stronger than women, there is no reason to deny a woman anything without giving her an equal try– she should fail on her own merits, not that of an arbitrarily delineated grouping. I recently saw that the Navy Seals had their first female qualify. This is a good thing, and shows that gender means little.
And it should mean little.
We should be who we are at our cores.
BUT tradition dies hard. Some scholars argue the “gender gap” began with the move from hunter/gatherer to agrarian civilizations. Women played an equal role while tribes were mobile. Once tribes settled permanently, brute strength became more necessary leading to male dominance and patriarchy.
This makes tremendous sense. It is further supported by the “crisis of masculinity” occurring today. Civilization has shifted from the brute strength of men to the finesse of women. The rigid gender binary has swung sides: traditionally feminine skills are in demand.
And so now men are suffering (and growing beards).
But millennials are bucking that trend. Younger men are starting to reject the toxic masculinity that demands so much from them.
Younger women are blossoming and taking over.
What I see is a messy process where men and women are starting to view themselves on a spectrum– where you are not masculine or feminine, but rather just …a person with interests. And our parents aren’t sure how to handle it all the time. But they do love us. And they want us to love ourselves.
Cause, if you can’t love yourself how in the hell are you gonna love someone else?