When we moved to Victoria and saw the engraved lettering above one of the doors to Victoria High School (today’s door) which said ‘Girls’, I chuckled to myself. “How old fashioned.” It reminded me of the old, black & white photographs we see from the southern states of the U.S. prior to the civil rights movement. Water fountains marked “Whites only” or “Coloreds only.” As soon as my mind conjured up that image though, I wasn’t chuckling anymore because racism isn’t particularly funny and this strikes me as a similar kind of label.
Many books could be written (and indeed have been) on the topic of gender identity, but it’s probably best to keep this reflection brief and focused in order to make it easier to reflect upon without getting too distracted. It’s a good reflection for the season though, as we approach Christmas, and all of the shopping we tend to do in order to prepare for it.
If I asked someone to buy a toy for a 10 year-old, very likely the first question they would ask me, would be, “Boy or girl?” On the surface it would seem like a perfectly normal, logical question. And yet… Is it? Does it matter? And if so, why? It has less to do with the actual equipment we have between our legs as it does with the expected norms associated with it. People expect boys to have an interest in certain things that girls would not, and vice-versa. It’s probably also laziness in part. It’s far too challenging and time-consuming to expend the energy to find out what a 10 year-old, regardless of gender, might enjoy, or to ask more probing questions, like “What is this child interested in?” Instead, it’s far easier, armed with the knowledge of male or female, to wander blindly into the “pink” toy aisle or the “blue” toy aisle, and choose something that you know a boy (or girl) ought to find enjoyable.
Fact of the matter is, we live in a world that is rarely ever black or white. Society is finally starting to realise that gender identity isn’t a binary system. It’s a spectrum, and we all fall somewhere on that spectrum. It’s still a major point of contention though, as many people still would have a problem with someone who identifies as being a member of the opposite gender, to use a public bathroom that would be appropriate for them, and may not have a gender neutral bathroom to offer as an alternative, (which by the way, brings up another discussion altogether). And just for the record, a person’s gender identity, or their place on the spectrum, is completely independent, and has nothing to do with their sexual preference.
In 2011, international news attention was cast on a young, Toronto family who made the unique choice not to reveal the gender of their new baby to anyone. Contrary to many media reports, they were not in fact, trying to raise their child genderless, but they did want people to try and relate to their children in terms other than what they had between their legs, along with the expectations, norms, and baggage that would come with it. Their decision polarised people quite starkly. The reactions ranged from the surprised and encouraging, to the downright derisive and even hostile. How dare you not tell me what gender your child is? As if it were some kind of right, of which they were being deprived. If you haven’t read the original article, which appeared in the Toronto Star, I’ve linked to it here. Recently, the same journalist who broke that story did a followup piece in November of this year, which is also a worthwhile read. While don’t agree with all the choices the Witterick family has made, I do respect them, and it certainly gives us all some food for thought.
As you shop for loved ones this Christmas season, remember that it’s the heart of the person that’s the most precious — not whether they happen to be male or female. If you’re shopping for children, be they your own or others, consider making choices that show a desire to know who they really are, and not simply just shortcut to the pink aisle or the blue aisle. Last year, Harrod’s department store in London, broke new ground by opening Toy Kingdom, a 26,000 square foot toy utopia, that was specifically designed to be gender neutral, and whose toys were sectioned by theme and interest, rather than gender. Swedish retailer, TOP TOY put out their 2012 catalogue, depicting girls playing with traditionally boys’ toys, and vice-versa. It showed, for example, a girl playing with a toy gun, and a boy playing with a doll. Then, this year, Toys R Us UK went a similar route, and have followed suit and decided to drop gender-specific aisles. Question is now, will Canadian retailers have the same courage to do likewise?
So today, think about what doors like the one shown here, represent. To me, it represents an anachronism, which is why I chose to shoot the photo in sepia. Think about how we perceive girls and boys, and by extension, women and men. Does gender matter? Does not knowing an individual’s gender matter? Should it?
There’s also the physical manifestation of this metaphor of some doors only being open to one gender but not the other. Whether it’s a boy or girl, or an adult man or woman, does knowing that person’s gender make you treat that person differently? Why should it? How does God see us? Here’s a Scriptural passage to reflect upon and that may help answer that last question.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Within today’s Advent door, you’ll find a treasure trove of links on the topic of this issue that I found intensely interesting and entertaining. I hope you do too!