No More Boys And Girls? - LGBT Families Take On Gender

15/09/2017 12:07

School bags packed, lunches made, uniforms ready. Yes, it's the start of a new school year. It's also the end of eight weeks in our summer holiday bubble, and we're back in the social world of school again.

At the end of the holidays, we watched No More Boys And Girls as a family - my partner, me and our two primary-school daughters.

We were shocked, but not really surprised, by the programme's findings about the differences in expectations and treatment of girls and boys. And, it's hard to deny its conclusion: that these stereotypes affect how our children grow up - from the jobs they choose to the way in which they are able to express their emotions.

When I became a lesbian parent, my hope was that families like mine, ones with LGBT parents, would be at the forefront of challenging these assumptions. That we would be able to model new ways of bringing up both boys and girls to be the people they want to be. It would be easier for us - because we would know instinctively, and from our own experience growing up, that gender norms are there be challenged, not policed.

There are many LGBT families who do this. Having two parents of the same gender, or a single LGBT parent, can help children to see that their options are not limited by gender.

When writing Pride and Joy: A guide for LGBT parents, I interviewed Poppy, a lesbian mum with a young son; and Jacob, now an adult, who grew up with his lesbian single mum. They both explained how being in LGBT families has influenced their understandings of gender roles.

"Just by being together as a lesbian couple we've fucked up the reasoning that you need a man to do DIY and a woman to cook," says Poppy. "Sometimes she cooks, sometimes I cook, sometimes she cleans, sometimes I clean, sometimes she puts up shelves and changes light bulbs and sometimes I do. We show my son that you don't need a man to put up flat-pack furniture. I can do it all, my girlfriend can do it all, it doesn't matter who does what."

"I think my family structure intrinsically challenges gender roles," agrees Jacob. My mother had to fulfil the roles typically assigned to two differently gendered parents in a heterosexual relationship. The fact that this was the first thing I knew makes it difficult to understand the arguments of people advocating traditional family make-ups. I've simply never experienced one and don't feel like anything was lacking in mine."

Yet, I've heard just as many comments like 'typical boy, so much energy' or 'don't you look pretty?' (addressed only to girls, of course) from LGBT parents as I have from straight parents. It's often because those stereotypes are so all-pervasive in the culture we live in, but there could be other reasons too.

LGBT parents Naomi and Andy, deliberately trying to bring up their son without being forced into gender stereotypes, can perhaps shed some light on the matter.

"In our family, we are clear that there are no such things as boys' toys or girls' toys, just things we like," explains Naomi, who also allows her son to enjoy his love of dressing up and sparkly shoes.

"We understand people might have a problem with that, and we still have some tough years to go. We are trying to give him the language and the understanding to deal with any issues that arise. But I do worry about what people think of me as a parent - will they think I'm pushing a 'gay agenda' because I'm not pushing a straight agenda?"

Bi mum Marie feels a similar pressure: "I find the temptation is always there to overemphasise concepts of masculinity in a socially normative way, in order to offset the lack of male role models in our family."

This term, I've made a decision. I want to be part of the solution, not simply to moan about the problem. Even if this sometimes means being seen as the one 'pushing the gay agenda'.

So, here's my three-step new-term challenge - will you join me?

1. Watch my mouth. If I find myself coming out with a 'typical girls' (or boys) statement, I will stop myself. Gender stereotypes are so easy to unconsciously adopt.

2. Stop nodding. It's easy just to nod along when someone says something you disagree with. No more. I'm going to try to question what I hear, even when it's awkward and I'm tongue-tied and I don't want people to think 'oh no, there she goes again'.

3. Notice and comment. When I see boys doing 'typical girl' things, like caring for a younger sibling, or girls doing 'typical boy' things like conquering the climbing frame, I'm going to comment on what I see, to be clear that boys and girls are both capable of a full range of emotions and activities.

I might even make myself a star chart to go on the fridge. Every time, I stick it to the patriarchy, I will award myself a shiny sticker. Now, any suggestions for a suitable prize?

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