The other day, my partner took our daughter for some fast food. At the drive-thru window, the cashier asked if he wanted the girl toy or the boy toy. From the back, she answered “girl toy.”
This is what showed up in her meal.
When she opened it, she said “thank goodness I got the girl toy.”
This was a good laugh for us, and so much proof about the lie of what is associated with gender. In preschool, she knows she is one of the girls and she regularly works to separate the class by gender. This is actually one of my greatest struggles in teaching her, breaking the outside view of gender. It is everywhere.
I once learned in a child development class that young kids build boxes of information. When they experience something new, and it doesn’t obviously fit into a box, without the guidance to create a new box, they instead fit it into the one’s they’ve already designed. I have found this with her. We have people in our lives who identify as transgender, gender-queer, non-binary. She has created a box for each of these individuals, but so far these boxes sit separately from her boxes on gender. She is unintentionally “othering” these folks because she has no other way to do it. I regularly talk with her about gender and when she mentions “boys and girls”, I offer additional options. But I see her really struggling, as not many others around her offer alternatives because we are all socialized to see the world split in two.
We were once in an airport and she had to go to the bathroom. She wanted my partner to take her, but I explained that I had to. There was no family restroom and she is getting too big to go into the men’s room. She kept asking why, and I explained to her that there are bathrooms in many places that are meant for boys and girls and that since she and I are both cisgender girls, we had to go together. Sitting on the toilet, she looked at me and asked about one of our gender-queer friends. “Which bathroom do they use?” she asked me. I told her what a great question that was and that when there are only two choices, people have to pick. Even though both of the options are not their choice.
Bathrooms, toys, television, clothes, friends, schools, shoes, even fast food meal toys. It’s all one or the other, no in-between. It’s nearly impossible to fight this. I am trying and I won’t stop trying. And I admit that I too am far from perfect.
A few days back, I gave a gendered pronoun to our soon to be second kid. In the middle of playing, without looking at me, I heard her say “Mommy, we don’t know if it’s a boy yet. It just has boy parts.”