Gender constraints are harmful to children


Heather Gann, Staff Columnist

This past weekend, I attended a birthday party in honor of a 6-year-old girl and was somewhat surprised by the decorations. From ceiling to floor, the entirety of the place was decked out in Starbucks decor. I thought this was a little odd, especially considering that the child was 6 and had never been exposed to Starbucks coffee. 

Nonetheless, the party was a success. All of the children in attendance were running around on a cake and soda high, and the adults were all indulging themselves while sharing idle gossip. At some point, the women at my table started discussing the party decorations and how cute of an idea they thought it was. 

Then the birthday girl’s aunt leaned in conspiratorially and said, “Yeah, well, originally she wanted a Minecraft party, but we obviously couldn’t do that. That’s for boys. So her mother told her ‘no’ and we kept going down the list until we got to Starbucks, and that was what she was allowed to do.” She and the other woman laughed at the apparently ridiculous notion of a young child wanting a party themed after something very popular with her age group because “that’s for boys.” As a young woman who was raised in a rural Southern town before today’s feminism, I am all too familiar with this phrase. 

It will never cease to amaze me how eager people are to squeeze even the most minute interests or objects into a gender-conforming pink or blue box. Even the colors pink and blue, sported by nearly all newborn babies, are an immediate marker of everything they are expected to do and be from the moment they are brought into the world. 

I know gender prejudice and heteronormativity have a long history in American culture and throughout the world, so they aren’t things that are going to disappear overnight. But I propose that we as a society start small and stop gendering every single small thing in a child’s life so that we can let them just enjoy their childhood. I remember being an 11-year-old girl and asking to play the tuba in my school’s band, only to be questioned repeatedly if that’s what I really wanted. Was I really sure that I wouldn’t rather play the flute? 

Even now, almost a decade later, myself and the single other female in the tuba section of the University’s band are always met with a hint of surprise and then an odd sort of patronizing congratulations that seems to say, “Wow, way to go. You beat the odds, you little rebels. I guess you’re just one of the boys.” 

Girls should be able to play tuba, have a Minecraft birthday party or dress as Iron Man for Halloween, and boys should be able to do ballet, play the flute or dress up as Disney princesses without questions or ridicule. Society needs to let kids be kids and stop trying to push every ideal we were raised with onto the next generation.