Douwe Osinga's Blog: It's a Chinese Kid!

Friday, July 29, 2005

If you talk to parents they often utter surprise about the fact that their children have started to follow traditional role patterns even if the parents never pointed them in any such direction. I usually try to make the case that parents might influence their children very subtely without even noticing themselves, whereupon the parents tend to point out that I have no idea what I'm talking about, myself having no children. So what's a poor guy todo? Blog of course.

I once saw a documenatry on the BBC where they let parents play with the children of others. The children were only 2 or so. But they had cross dressed them. It was very interesting to see. The parents would bring dolls to the boys and even though the boys were much more interested in cars, they would still push them on them. The girls were given the cars of course.

But it goes further than that. If you think about, our whole society is seeped in a light form of sexism. If we greet people, we say Ladies and Gentlemen. Why? What does this distinction matter? We don't say, Welcome Short People and Tall People. And before you think that doesn't matter and is only tradition, we do it a lot with children too. We say, oh what a sweet girl and oh what a clever boy. And since some words go better with some words, this leads very easily to making the boys feel clever and the girls feel smart.

If you think about it, why do we need words like boy or girl anyway? There's a famous essay by Hofstaedter about the use of he versus she. Instead of making the argument why this is bad, he writes from the perspective where there are different pronouns for black people and white people. It is very effective. Of course chairman is just a word and has nothing to do with the sex of the person, just as chairwhite doesn't mean the guy (there I go) is white.

Take the average birth card. It shouts something like: It's a Boy. Let's assume we there's a mixed black/white couple. What would we think if they would send out a birth card saying 'It's a White Kid!' Okay, I know it is hard to say when children are that young what color of skin they'll end up with, but what if they did some pre-birth tests to find out, wouldn't we find that a bit weird? But we care a lot about the sex of the baby even if we say that that doesn't matter either.