More and more, I’m realising how people use gender categories to explain everything, and it makes me want to laugh and scream in equal measure.

Some time ago, had a tense little discussion in my philosophy class where I proposed that the sex (I am not even going to make the gender/sex distinction anymore because the two words are not really that different. The sex categories – male and female – are constructs too, just as ‘gender’ is) is not really a thing, or at least not really a thing to be dwelled on, and got mini lecture from prof on how the human mind needs to think in terms of categories. Um. Well, yeah, but they can be more than ‘this’ and ‘that’ no? They can be ‘this’ and ‘this’ and ‘this’ etc. The need to stop at two is just …lazy.

Seriously, I think a lot of the time, people stick with the girl-boy explanation out of sheer laziness.

The other day, a mother in my building whose daughter used to go the Benji’s school, asked me if Benji’s birthday was coming up. I said yes, but that we’re not really doing anything, because I’m busy and Benji isn’t too bothered. Immediately, she writes back ‘yeah, boys won’t ask.’ Hello, it is possible that Benji is just a kid that doesn’t want a hoopla for his birthday. I say this because I was also that kid. I noticed last year that Benji was kind of stressed out before his birthday party, though he ended up having a good time. And this year, he’s been saying ‘do I have to have a birthday?’ and explicitly doesn’t want us to send a cake to school. I am sensitive to this, because only as a grown up I realised I hated being the centre of attention on my birthday. It took be 20 years to stand up for what I wanted. So maybe I’m a boy. (In fact, increasingly I think that’s the simplest way to explain my personality to people: ‘I’m a man … in drag.) Or maybe this explanation is just nonsense, and Benji doesn’t want a birthday hoopla because he is a human being with his own likes and dislikes that do not conform to a gender category, just as most people’s don’t if we could only give up our obsession with categorising.

Also my helpers. Often when they want Benji to do something, they go, “because you’re a boy”, or Mimi isn’t doing it “because she’s a girl.” It’s almost a reflex response. Often, they could well say “because she’s smaller” because that’s the real reason. But sometimes, it’s more complicated to explain why they can’t do something and they just go with the gender thing. It’s like gender is the new God, now that we can’t say ‘God will punish you anymore’.

The Mad Momma had once written about how if you really want your kids to internalise your value system, you can’t leave them to helpers. And I’m seeing this now. My helpers are awesome and most of the time, our value system’s match. Like, my helper has really taught Benji and Mimi some good habits. But the gender thing is a step too far for them.

My policy with my helpers is not to interfere too much because I have chosen to let them have a hand in raising my children, and I cannot micromanage. But the gender thing has gotten out of hand, and a couple of times, I’ve snapped, and I think now they’re realising that this is a sticking point with me. So at least in my presence, I don’t hear this boy-girl explanation. But obviously, ingrained mindsets are hard to break and I can’t say what’s going on when I’m not there.

Doesn’t help that V also resorted to the ‘let’s do boy things together’ dialogue. It backfire severely when Benji insisted V do everything with him, and Mimi just to be contrary said ‘I want Daddy’ and he had two kids hanging off his arms, both screaming at each other. I just sat back and crossed my arms. But the ‘boy and boy’, ‘girl and girl’ thing has stuck and I can only be the counter-current.

Even in my own house, I cannot break the dynamic. And I am a feminist. So sorry, I cannot buy the essentialist argument yet. Because even those of us with the best (non-gender-essentialist) intentions have to raise our kids in a society where people are obsessed with gender. We have no pure experimental environment to solve the nature/nurture debate on gender. Till such time, I’m leaning towards nurture.

Essential reading on this topic: The case of Indian athlete Dutee Chand.

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