It was a late Friday night with friends and for whatever reason, maybe too much sugar or exhaustion from a long day, we started talking about gender.
I asked my friends, both age 17, how much gender mattered to them. They responded quite casually with a “not much” and an “I don’t really care.” I knew from my gender studies course there was probably more to it than that so I brought up a specific scenario to see if we could get a more satiable response. Here’s what I asked them next:
“well, let’s say in 10 years the both of you have a baby boy and while shopping for his kindergarten clothes he points to a pink frilly dress and says ‘I want to wear that one for school tomorrow,’ would you buy it for him?”
Suddenly they cared, they both quickly replied with a “hell no!” One of them was simply afraid of seeing a boy, their boy, in a girly dress while the other was more focused on the I wouldn’t let my son wear a pink dress to school because others would care reason, and who knows, maybe he also subconsciously didn’t feel comfortable seeing his boy in a dress. Either way, they cared and either way there seems to be a stigma surrounding people that identify with an alternative gender. It isn’t an implicit bias by any means. More than a few dozen times at work and school– just about anywhere really–if there’s a woman that might actually be a male or vice-versa people stare, people comment, people criticize. Gender fluidity more often than not evokes a loud, repulsive, gag-inducing response. And why? I asked my friends why themselves or others should feel repulsed by a young human with a penis wearing a pink fabric, they didn’t know. It’s like we acknowledge there are faults in this discriminatory logic but at the same time we enforce it like good social law abiding citizens.
Some of you may be wondering why this topic matters because like “why the fuck should we care? Is this all cause you wanna wear a dress!? FAG!” Well not necessarily, although it would be nice if I had more choices for attire because jeans and cargo shorts get super dull after 20 years (and also, seeing women at the Oscars wearing those awesomely creative and colorful dresses while the men wear the same carbon copy dress shirt and tie gets on my nerves). No. It’s more than just broader choices in attire that has me writing about this because gender is more than just a look, it’s a way of acting, it’s a way we expect others to act, and ultimately it dictates our life experiences. It’s the wage gap, it’s rape culture, it’s domestic violence, it’s gay marriage, it’s a negative body image, it’s less than 8.1% of women in positions of power, it’s high male high school drop out rates and suicide rates, it plays a role in fucking everything okay? What society (that’s you and me) and media (that’s also you and me) tell our kids about what boys and girls ought to like and do play a significant role in what boys and girls end up liking and doing. And in that sense these messages act upon us in a few ways: as an internal barrier firstly, the voice in our head that says no you can’t do that cause you’re a girl and girls can’t do that, and a practical barrier, an employer or teacher telling you the same sort of thing. It’s limiting. And until I hear otherwise, it’s pointless.
Here are two positive examples of how gender has existed in other societies to show how a more gender fluid society can work:
Native American Two-Spirits
Gender fluidity isn’t strictly some 21st century concept I came up with on a whim, it’s been a part of American life in the past and has its various places in human history. “Two Spirits,” was a reoccurring theme among some Native American tribes. Transgender people were not only accepted, they were praised for identifying with multiple genders. In fact, Natives looked towards two-spirits for wisdom and guidance since their versatility granted them access to a larger perspective. PBS documentary, “Two Spirits,” explores how the tradition has died over the years. The documentary revolves around the life and tragic death of Fred Martinez, a two-spirited Navajo that grew up in modern times.
“In another time he would have been honored, instead he was murdered,” says a historian on the death of Martinez, “in the life of this place we call America, there is nothing more traditional then two-spirit people.”
In other words, there is nothing more traditionally American than transgender people (try that one on your conservative friends). A more gender fluid America is possible, especially since it’s been done before. Somewhere along the mass genocide of the Native American people and their way of life, the tradition was lost. We must rekindle it or at the very least, abolish the hate and prejudice we’ve developed since then. If anything, the LGBQT rights movement is an outcry for this age old time of acceptance and love. Let’s not stop now.
Sweden’s Gender Equality Movement
Traditional Native Americans aren’t the only groups we can learn from. Today there are many countries that have devoted themselves to a brighter future. With an ambitious vision and the willingness to change, Sweden is one of the leading countries in gender equality. Their fundamental belief is that “everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, to balance career and family life, and to live without fear of abuse or violence.” Here are 3 ways they’ve pushed their country forward:
What makes Sweden so special is their efforts to change not just their social structures but their social behavior as well. Here are a few images from a Swedish toy company’s Christmas catalog:
It’s crazy how easy it is for us to identify what’s “wrong” with these ads. They are nothing like what we see here in America, but they make all the difference. With ads like these, kids won’t be scrutinized or discouraged from playing with any toy of any color in any way. This level of freedom of expression can lead to many more opportunities for these kids as they grow older.
Like many languages in the world, there are very specific pronouns used to address gender. Like “he” and “she” in the English language, Sweden too has these strict gender-based identifiers in “hon” and “han.” This can be problematic for individuals that may not identify as one or the other and unfortunately changing or enhancing something like language can be difficult, time-consuming, and controversial. At least, that’s what we’d say. I wasn’t kidding when I said Sweden’s gender equality movement was revolutionary, they actually did it. They added the gender-neutral pronoun, “hen,” to their National Encyclopedia to help address people that may not identify with any one gender. It’s been around since the 60s, but it’s only recently been offered up as an alternative to gender-based pronouns. It isn’t completely mainstream as of yet. There are still lots of Swedish people that are averse to the strange use of the word, but the country’s official acknowledgement of the word has made its use in future generations possible.
One of Sweden’s greatest achievements (and perhaps a huge reason why their country has so willingly adopted such radical changes) is the close male to female ratio in their government. In this department, Sweden is a world leader. After 2010, 45% of Swedish parliament were women. Today, out of 24 government ministers, 13 are women.
That’s the Minister of Defence, Karin Enstrom, on the left and the Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, on the right.
Right now, Sweden is rank #4 on the Global Gender Gap Report while the United States settles at a meager rank #24. There is nothing other than ourselves stopping us from being #1. We can have a country where anyone regardless of sex or gender has the opportunity and the resources to excel in any dream or ambition they so choose. So let your son wear a dress, let your daughter be superman for Halloween. Who knows? Maybe your cape crusading daughter can become a real life superman as a political leader, maybe your son can become a kind and compassionate father as a caregiver. Or maybe they won’t, and that’s fine. But at least they had the chance and support to have become those things. If you absolutely can’t stomach that, then accept the children who’s parents have. Surely, we can do that.
Marc Lemont Hill said advocates for social change are in it for the long haul, significant social change doesn’t happen right away. Martin Luther King Jr. once claimed to have reached the mountaintop, to have seen the promised land, and then died the next day. That is to say, you and I may never have the privilege of living in a society that embraces freedom of gender and expression. Human beings weren’t made to last that long. Our actions, on the other hand, are a different story. They mold and shape our entire future. Changes like that last forever. Let’s make them right.
“We belong only by doing, and we own only by doing, and we love only by doing and knowing. And if you wanted an interpretation of life and love that would be the closest thing i could come to.”
Good Idea? Or No? Thanks for reading.