You’ve likely heard by now that Target will be ending the segregated, Apartheid-like conditions in their stores, getting rid of gender labels on toys, games, and most other products. They’ll also ban the colors pink and blue, and tear down the barbed wire fence that separated the two areas, which apparently made it previously impossible for a girl to enter the boy’s section or vice versa. For the time being, there will still be girl and boy aisles in the clothing department, but they assure us they’re keeping the labels because of “fitting and sizing differences,” not because they would presume to insinuate that only girls should wear dresses.
You can’t blame Target. They’re simply progressing with the times. The only problem is that, in this progressive age, you don’t progress by moving forward from one place to a better one, but in a more clinical sense, like dementia.
But if Target wants to set up their “gender neutral” stores according to the ideological dictates of lesbian gender studies professors, fine. If they want to throw all the crap in a pile on the floor, fine (works for Kmart). I don’t really care. I guarantee the vast majority of the country never gave their layout a second thought to begin with. A few hypersensitive, hyperliberal parents complained that gender segregation in the toy department makes kids feel “deflated” and “chastised,” and Target made the change to accommodate them. The sensitivities of the 0.0001 percent outweighed the concerns of the 99.999 percent, as usual. The whiniest and most feminist wheel got the oil, as usual.
The sensitivities of the 0.0001 percent outweighed the concerns of the 99.999 percent, as usual.
In any case, the specifics of Target’s politically correct marketing tactics don’t concern me. What concerns me, instead, are some of the ideas surrounding all of this. Not ideas Target pioneered (they’re far from the first company to make this move), but ideas that progressives have been pushing for a long time. Specifically, the idea that “gender roles” are oppressive, and that we should never, as parents, encourage our kids to conform to them.
Progressives see the toy industry like they see everything: an ideological battleground, another politicized arena to defeat traditional concepts of gender and usher in this new ambiguous dystopia where kids can live as amorphous, genderless, pansexual blobs of nondescript matter. I think this attitude was profoundly illustrated in one email I received yesterday:
Matt, you haven’t ranted about Target going gender neutral. I assume you’re against it but I’m wondering if you can explain why? Everyone is making a big deal about this. But why should gender norms be hoisted on our children? Do you really want your daughter to conform to her gender or do you want her to be herself?
Putting Target aside, it’s this question I’d like to tackle.
I won’t attempt to defend every gender stereotype or “gender norm,” but I do subscribe to the radical theory that boys and girls are different and distinct from one another in complex, concrete, and important ways, and many of the dreaded “norms” are, well, normal and biological. It is precisely our role as parents to help our kids “conform” to their gender, to their identity, and grow from boys and girls into well adjusted, confident masculine men and feminine women.
The email above, and society in general, create the strangest false dichotomy. They suggest that you have to choose between being your gender or being yourself, as if your self exists separate from your gender. This is nonsense, obviously. Your gender is yourself and yourself is your gender. Asking if I want my son and daughter to conform to their genders or be themselves is like asking if I want them to be warm-blooded bipeds or human beings.
I’ll take option C: both.
Yes, I want them to conform to who they are. “Conforming” isn’t some universal evil; it’s only evil if it conflicts with your principles and morals and common sense. But in order to identify this evil sort of conformity, you first have to have some idea of the good kind. You have to know what your morals are and who you are before you can know how to behave consistently with them. Don’t conform to whims and fads, but conform to what is real and truth. My daughter and my son’s genders are real and true.
And because gender is real and true, children are born with an innate desire to conform to this identity — their “gender roles” — which is part of the reason why boys and girls play with different toys, and thus why the toys were separated until the radical gender theorists decided to make an issue out of it. I know everyone can throw out their anecdotes here. I’m sure I’ll be told by an open-minded metropolitan mom that her 9-year-old son likes to dress up in princess outfits and have tea parties at the park, and that proves gender is neutral or whatever. But this is the exception, not the rule, and because I’m a terribly offensive person, I would even dare say her son should be guided away from that behavior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow a girl to have superhero bed sheets or a boy to play with a plastic kitchenette, but there may come a point when a child’s “gender non-conforming” interests begin to reveal a serious confusion.
Clearly, a 2-year-old boy putting on a tiara is nothing to be concerned about. He has no idea what he’s doing. But a 9-year-old boy spending his days dressing up like a girl is something to address urgently. He’s disoriented and he needs help. Similarly, if a toddler insists he’s a dog or a moose or a cow, you might play along. If a middle schooler frequently makes the same claim, you should probably stop playing along. Kids have an inherent recognition of who they are, but that recognition can become clouded, especially if they don’t have parents holding their hands and helping them navigate the sometimes perilous road in their journey toward becoming themselves.
My own parental experience has probably been more typical. I have a 2-year-old son and daughter. They’re twins. Raised, obviously, at the same time, in the same house, in the same way, and given access to the same toys. Yet, generally, my son will run to the toy chest and grab the truck or the dinosaur, and my daughter will gingerly pick up her baby doll and walk around the house cradling it in her arms, pretending to feed it a bottle or brush its hair. If my son picks up a doll, he’ll usually throw it at his sister’s head within 30 seconds (something we keep in mind whenever there’s a real baby in the vicinity).
We didn’t arrange it like this, it just happened. Why? Well, I think my observation of my own children reflects the observations of human civilization ever since the beginning of time: boys and girls are different. Girls are typically nurturing and caring, boys are typically more physical and aggressive. The former are feminine traits, the latter masculine. Of course, girls can have masculine traits and boys feminine, but these traits are rooted in the other sex.
Femininity is womanhood’s gift to the world, and masculinity is manhood’s gift. We need men to be masculine and women to be feminine so that women can also have masculine traits and men feminine. If you want to adopt some parts of the Italian culture, the process will be made more difficult if Italy doesn’t even have an Italian culture. Just like the pro-immigration types think America should open its doors to everyone, yet they forget that nobody can benefit from being American if America is not American itself. Now I’m getting sidetracked, but you get the point. Women can’t be masculine if men are not masculine, because then there is no masculine.
This is why it’s advisable for a child to have both a mom and dad around (revolutionary concept these days, I realize) so they can learn about femininity and masculinity, and gradually grow into a personality that’s influenced by both. A girl’s identity will be fortified by the example of her mother who demonstrates womanly traits, and the example of her father who demonstrates the masculine. Importantly, she’ll also learn how the two should treat and love each other, and what that looks like in practice.
This lesson will be essential later when she starts to date. If she has a good father, she can look at her boyfriend and ask, “would my father treat my mother this way?” If the answer is no, she’ll realize the boy is a jerk, and she’ll drop the loser and move on. On the flip side, if she has a bad or absent father, she’ll ask the same question of the same jerk, come to the conclusion that the answer is yes, and continue dating him.
Gender is not arbitrary or unimportant. Without a proper understanding of it, our children will be confused not only about who they are, but about how they should treat, and be treated by, the opposite sex. There is a certain biological and spiritual imperative that comes with our sex. When we teach our kids to reject it, we doom them to a life of failed relationships and internal turmoil. But, hey, at least they’ll be more comfortable shopping for toys, right?
When we understand the imperatives of gender, we understand that it’s actually incredible and poetic that my son runs to the truck and my daughter to the doll. Even at their young age, they feel a certain pull and calling that they can’t explain. I see this particularly in their relationship with each other. My daughter will help her brother wipe his hands and clean his face after they’re done eating dinner. My son will race to the rescue with a look of concern whenever his sister is hurt or crying. She cares for him. He protects her (except for when he’s throwing things at her). It’s beautiful. Who could have a problem with this? Who could be so ridiculous and superficial that they would try to drain these children of these impulses just because the impulses are “gender stereotypes”? Maybe they’re stereotypes for a reason.
We attack gender norms because they’re norms, but nobody ever explains what’s wrong with them.
We attack the gender norms merely because they’re norms, but nobody ever explains what’s actually wrong with them. Yes, when you’re dealing with such a broad subject, you can always find examples that truly are, as the feminists might say, problematic. But our culture has waged an assault on norms universally, and attempted to throw them all down the garbage disposal as punishment for existing in the first place. Yet, as liberalism conjures up its various gender theories, I still see, like so many billions of parents before me, a natural protectiveness and strength in my son, and gentleness and nurturing in my daughter. I’m told so often that boys and girls yearn for ambiguity, but here are my children, barely two years old, already reinforcing gender norms like a couple of right wing extremists.
Why shouldn’t I foster the masculine and feminine traits? Why shouldn’t I help them “conform” to these virtuous characteristics? Why should it be seen as a problem that these traits lead my children to enjoy different toys and do different things and act in different ways?
Nobody ever said that girls can’t be strong or boys can’t be gentle, but there is something automatic, particular, unique, and complimentary about the boy’s strength and the girl’s gentleness. And that is good. It’s who they are. It’s who God intended them to be. Liberal parents claim they want to avoid imposing gender norms on their children, but often they end up imposing the opposite of the gender norm. They create a new norm, which is defined only in the negative. The empowered modern woman is empowered not because she’s powerful, but because she acts like she’s not a woman. The enlightened man is enlightened not because he’s enlightened, but because he’s not masculine.
When all is said and done, as both genders run from themselves, hiding from anything that reminds them of who they ought to be, we finally converge somewhere in the grey, dull, strange middle, where men dress like manicured prepubescent boys who accidentally fell into a vat of women’s clothes on clearance at the thrift store, and there’s really no diversity left. Surprisingly, we come to understand that the line of distinction between genders is exactly what allows the members of both to express themselves in different and unique ways. Blur the lines, and we all end up like Jaden Smith.
Our culture doesn’t have any new ideas about genders, just prejudices against the old ideas. All you have to do, to prove the point, is skim through Google to find feminist mommy bloggers lamenting the fact that their daughters, despite their best efforts, still like to wear pink and dress up in tutus. I mean, what sort of selfish and arrogant parent goes out of her way to specifically avoid letting her daughter play with “girly” things? These are kids, not experiments in a sociology class. To steer your girl intentionally away from femininity is not parenting, it’s activism.
Disturbingly, there are many activists out there raising kids, and not enough parents.
And we wonder why nothing works in this society. We wonder why relationships fall apart. We wonder why families fail. We wonder why kids are declaring themselves “transgender” in elementary school. It’s because nobody has any idea who they are or what they’re supposed to do. Everything and nothing. Everybody and nobody. That’s the only answer these kids ever get.
So, for our part, we’ll give our kids an answer. You might not like the answer, but at least we have one. We’ll tell our son he’s a boy, and I’ll try to show him how boys are supposed to act. And we’ll tell our daughter she’s a girl, and my wife will show her how girls are supposed to act.
They’re not the same. They’re not androgynous. Their genders are not meaningless. And that is a beautiful thing.
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