Next Generation Gender Policing

I’ve spent a fair amount of time this summer watching tiny humans interact with one another. I’m a gender theory junkie so maybe I’m just programmed to notice this more, but I couldn’t believe the young age at which some of these children already have a death-grip on gender roles.

I teach a junior golf clinic and one of the prizes we give out are bracelets which the kids can earn by accomplishing certain achievements. They’re color-coded into levels (like karate belts) to encourage goal-setting and practice. The first level offered two colors, but no choice. Wanna guess? There was pink for girls and blue for boys. (Hmm.. I wonder where these kids could be learning their gender stereotyping? Clearly I was not involved in the planning process because I would never have allowed that!)

Brb - I think I just threw up a little in my mouth

It broke my heart to bits when I overheard Ben, a 6-year-old curly-cue with eyes wiser than his years, whisper to his friend that he wanted a pink bracelet. The friend replied, “Ew! Why do you want pink? Pink is for girls.” (“Girls” was said in the same tone one might use to describe a rat infestation or sewer leak.) Ben, brave one that he is, piped back, “Boys wear pink sometimes!” But he took the blue bracelet.

This scene replays over and over again. Like when 4-year-old Blake came to golf in (heaven forbid) pink sneakers and another boy had to ask, “Is Blake a girl?” Hearing “no,” he continued, “Then why is he wearing pink shoes?” His voice carried in it some combination of sincere curiosity and biting sarcasm, so I immediately responded, “Because anyone can wear pink.”

Then just this morning I had to shut down a conversation between two boys ages 7 and 11 who were calling each other “gay.” I swooped in to remind them that “gay” isn’t a bad word, “So let’s not use it that way.”

Whenever I have stepped in, the kids have always responded respectfully and sometimes even with apologies, but I just don’t know if I am making any kind of impact. It sort of feels like I’m blowing against a hurricane.

All of this gender panic – at ages 5 and 6 even! – it’s all from boys who are afraid of being seen as or called girls.

These kids are young and already they are learning that the worst thing anyone can possibly be is feminine.

That’s where words like “effeminate” come in. Did you know there is no masculine equivalent for this word? Nothing that conveys the negative connotations that “effeminate” carries. That’s because “masculine” gets associated with all the “good qualities” – strength, loyalty, morality, etc.

And what scares me is how young this is striking; these boys are learning it from somewhere (home, movies, TV, video games, golf clinics that give out pink bracelets for girls and blue for boys…) and they’re going to grow up to think commercials like these are not only acceptable, but funny:


These boys aren’t living in a vacuum either. While all this gender policing is happening, the little girls next to them are intuitively learning that they are worth less than boys. I mean, telling a boy he’s a girl is the worst possible insult. What is this teaching girls about their value, and the value of the feminine?

It’s this ubiquitous concept of masculinity being better, stronger, smarter than the feminine that femme lesbians face within our own community. We’re doing it to ourselves! It’s little things like Whitney on The Real L Word describing “pants” as “able to swing a hammer.” And it’s bigger things, like the following video, in which a masculine woman treats the more feminine as a sex toy and uses degrading terminology. This isn’t reclaiming, it’s recycling. And it’s the same old shit.

I don’t know y’all. I’m feeling a little down today. These little kids I’ve been teaching – they’re the future, and they’re exactly the same. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re learning from us.

What are we gonna do about it?

Related Articles

Return to homepage

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Femme Theory, The Archives

7 Comments on “Next Generation Gender Policing”

  1. August 11, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    You are already doing part of it. Then learn more about strong women in strong positions and hold them up to the young ones. For example one of the stars of some show called Baywatch that used to be on has a twin sister who is a San Francisco Firefighter. Strong, tough, brave woman. Diana Nyad, the same. Look at some of our women in congress but be careful which ones teach the little ones,teach Feminist Herstory. Teach them about strong, femme, successful Transwomen (volunteers to the tribe, if you will)
    Finally, keep doing what you are doing. We are not winning yet, but we are sure as hell gaining on them.
    Thanks for your blog, I love it

    • August 12, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

      Thank you so much for the support. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog!

      Also I LOVED that link. What an incredible collection of strong and beautiful transwomen.

  2. August 12, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Great post! Really made me think.

  3. andryfemme
    August 12, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    Yes, yes, and yes. As soon as the “sex” of the baby is known the little neophytes are treated “like girls” or “like boys,” whatever that looks like. (Is it even possible to really “know” a sex?) How about we do our best not to shove the amorphous small ones into the round and square holes of what they are “supposed to” be. I do my best to challenge the assumptions of the teenagers and adults around me (I’m not around little kids all that often), but most of the time I feel like I’m talking to a wall. More people than I care to think about simply don’t understand social constructionism. *sigh*

    • August 15, 2011 at 3:04 am #

      I hear ya.

      I think it’s a lot easier to teach people to think openly before they reach their teens. If they are close-minded by then, it’s really difficult to turn them around externally. Internally there is still plenty of time for self-discovery at any age. But external forces – like teachers trying to help you break out of gender stereotypes – have less effect as time goes on. Changes later in life, I think, have to come from within.

      But then again it’s 3 in the morning so I’m not sure I’m even making sense

  4. Renata
    August 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Wow….great insight and very true. I know whenever I have kids I will hav versitle colors (green my fav)never a big pink person. I wish parents would do better with this. We should be the generation of change.

    • August 15, 2011 at 2:58 am #

      Green is my favorite color too. Green and yellow everything for my future little ones!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: