America not in a post-gender society, but parents, educators still making strides

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Babies are given more gender-neutral names, a woman ran for a major political party for president and major retailers produce gender-neutral toys. Is America heading towards a gender inclusive society free of gender norms? Not quite yet, but we’re getting there.

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By Jamie Brewer

Lizzy King’s son Ryan is two years old and has recently enjoyed playing with a baby doll and pink stroller. His parents aren’t concerned. Neither is his daycare and neither are other parents about their own children in King’s East Lansing, Mich. community.

King, like many new parents, is not scared of what her son’s chosen gender identity will be and plans to encourage him to explore his gender.

“We’re letting him be in the driver’s seat,” King said.

This recent phenomenon in parenting has increased over the years. It is a result of many cultural shifts, including the feminist and LGBT movements. It leads many gender equality advocates and scholars to consider the idea of a post-gender society.

A post-gender society is an emerging idea that may sound both revolutionary and normal, depending on one’s perspective. The millennial generation is ultimately changing parenting by abandoning typical gender norms.

Ginny Cangelosi has two girls, ages six and two, whom she plans to raise just like she would two boys.

“We don’t focus on the gender stereotypes,” Cangelosi said.

Most women’s rights and LGBT advocates strongly argue that the U.S. is far from a post-gender or gender equal society. Women are still paid 80 percent of what men are paid for the same job. Same-sex couples are still fighting for adoption rights. Transgender students are discriminated against in schools. Even though the U.S. broke down gender barriers by nominating the first female presidential candidate, the road to a post-gender society is still long.

In a similar context, President Obama’s presidency as the first black president did not usher in a post-racial society—88 percent of black people say there is still more work to be done for racial equality.

A post-gender society in the U.S. could look like: equal pay for women’s work, same-sex couples’ rights and less stress on gender conformity.

With efforts from millennial parents and their children, it may be the beginning for equality across the gender spectrum.

Children and gender

The awareness of the physical differences between boys and girls in children happens around two years old. By the child’s third year, they will easily label themselves as a boy or girl, and at four they have a “stable sense” of a gender, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Children will typically express their gender through hairstyles, clothes, toys, sports and activities.

King is just now seeing the subtlety of gender in her son. He owns typical boy’s toys and wears typical boy colors like blue, but enjoys playing house at daycare.

Parents and educators at Michigan State University are ignoring gender norms and encouraging children to self-identify.

The Spartan Child Development Center at MSU works to empower children, whether that be in gender, culture or race. King has taken notice of the child center’s mission to eliminate gender norms.

“They are very gender neutral in the way they approach playtime with the kids,” King said. “It’s not like the girls play with the babies and the boys play with trucks.”

Liz Lauren is the executive director of Spartan Child Development Center and helps to guide non-gender specific lessons. The center provides resources to children at a young age to learn through non-gender specific toys and books.

She works with her staff and parents to help foster each child’s self-identity, while supporting the individual parenting decisions.

“We provide books that will show dad as a homemaker and a wife as a police officer,” Lauren said.

Major retailers are also throwing out gender conforming toys and clothes to make way for inclusivity. Target announced in August 2015 that it would not label toys for boys or girls. Disney stores no longer label Halloween costumes with gender names and Amazon does not have gender based categories.

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For mother Lauren Gaines, retailers are not offering enough diversity in children’s clothing and toys. While shopping for her son, she wanted to purchase a baby doll, but was concerned with buying him a pink baby. Gaines said she would like to see toys that aren’t certain colors but are neutral—“just like a baby.”

“When you start looking for stuff for boys, things have trucks on them or they are blue,” Gaines said. “It’s more on the masculine side of things and something you wouldn’t choose for a girl.”

Gaines sends her son to the Spartan Child Development Center, which she said provides her son with a great early childhood learning experience.

In general, however, she has noticed the way boys are described compared to girls. Gaines said girls can be criticized for being hyperactive or excited, while the same behavior in boys is shrugged off with the common phrase, “boys will be boys.”

“We might be ignorant to say that everything is the same, but when you say things like ‘boys will be boys,’ it overlooks those similarities at a young age,” Gaines said.

Women in power affects children

Seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 years old are in the workforce—a 52 percent increase since 1975. Since the first female ran for president, the idea of women in power has continued to be a popular topic.

Hillary Clinton’s run for president encouraged young girls and boys to resist traditional gender stereotypes.

Dr. Susan Stein-Roggenbuck, assistant gender studies professor at MSU’s College of James Madison, said “women” is not a singular category and depends on age, race, class geographical location and religion.

Donald Trump’s strong candidacy shows that people still have a lot of discomfort with women in power, Stein-Roggenbuck said.

Clinton’s lost presidency, however novel, would not have immediately lead to equality across all genders. Stein-Roggenbuck said that having the first female candidate is bringing a lot of these issues to the forefront.

“It’s tapping into traditional ideas of what women should do,” Stein-Roggenbuck said. “I think we are certainly seeing a different gender dynamic.”

Cangelosi’s six-year-old daughter Mayra was devastated after Clinton’s presidential loss and confused about what it meant for her future.

“She asked what he would do as president, so we struggled to think of something positive that he would do that she would be able to understand,” Cangelosi said.

Mayra may have woken up on Nov. 9 disappointed by the news, but perhaps when she casts her own ballot sometime in the future it will be to ensure gender equality.