I've recently been watching a lot of videos from Laci Green, creator of Sex+ on Youtube. Her videos focus on all things sex education, and are amazingly informative and thought provoking. One thing which she has covered quite lot, and something I'd never really considered before, is gender identity and the idea of gender norms as a social construct. By this I mean the whole "pink, dolls and dresses are for girls" and "blue, football and cars are for boys" idea. We are conditioned from childhood to consider these things to be "just the way it is", so much so that if someone decides they don't want to conform, they are considered to be abnormal.
I have been volunteering at my local library this summer, helping children with reading. Last week a young boy told me he didn't like his book about mermaids because "it was a bit girly." I found it slightly worrying that the reason he didn't like the book wasn't because he found it boring or because mermaids weren't really his thing, it was because he thought it was for girls. I felt this way firstly because I think this kind of gender association is incredibly outdated. If a boy wants to read about princesses, why can't he? What is it that makes this particular thing only accessible to girls? Somebody must have told him that this was the case - we're not born thinking it. The fact that parents and teachers still seem to be prolonging this mindset is really unsettling. Leave it up to the children to make their own choices, and don't be worried by their decisions! I think there's a great - yet incredibly sad - likelihood that many parents, especially those of boys, instil this mindset because they are worried about the reactions from others to their children's choices. For example they may be worried that their children will be bullied for appearing to be homosexual (y'know, that life threatening disease.).
Gender identity and sexuality are not the same thing, yet they are often perceived to be. For example, as a dancer, the amount of times I heard "Ballet is for girls - boys who do it are all gay" is ridiculous. People assume that Ballet dancing would only ever be chosen by girls or homosexual/effeminate males (not all homosexual males are effeminate, and not all effeminate males are homosexual, but that seems to be slightly too much of a difficult concept for some people to understand.) Of course, just like with any profession, there are a number of homosexual male Ballet dancers, but there are an awful lot of heterosexual ones too! Ballet takes an incredible amount strength and stamina, yet once again it is resigned to the lesser "it's for girls!" category.
Now, you could call me a pedantic feminist for saying this (believe me, I'm not), but why is it that the perception of things being "girly" is usually a negative thing? If a boy cries or hurts themselves, you're almost 100% sure to hear a comment of "you're such a girl" from somewhere. This indicates and prolongs the stereotype that females are the weaker gender and that males shouldn't express themselves. Once again, this is an outdated concept! Women can be soldiers now, so where's the female action man? If we keep perpetuating this gender divide then the chances of women and men forever being unequal increases.
The moral of the story is: no one can be assigned a category. All gender really is is a balance of hormones. We like what we like and we love who we love - why is that still such a problem?