Hadley Freeman wrote in the Guardian that gender neutrality in children’s clothes should be about the expansion of choice. And Anything that reaches out to transgender teenagers is to be applauded. Hooray. Yet she says Eddie Izzard should not say he likes having a manicure “Because I’m trans” because men should be free to like that too.
There were 108 upvotes for a comment calling the article “drivel”- I think from a conservative perspective. Another comment said that clothes and interests should not define your sex. Women can be scientists. A reply said if teens create labels, and change them, they refuse to be pinned down on interests or clothes. They have to play with symbols as a way of finding themselves. It is a way of widening their possibilities.
There are the symbols, the interests, and the human interactions. Flowers and butterflies for girls symbolise their yielding softness. Toy cars and toolkits for boys show their practicality and strength. Strong, rational men become coal miners and scientists, but also listen to other men rather than to women because women should not bother their pretty heads about what they do not understand. (Irony alert!) The strength gives them the capacity for decisive leadership and mean that women should be attracted to them and satisfy their needs. Men get the work done, and women look after the men.
What really matters to me is the human interaction. I am gentle. I want reconciliation not conflict. I seek to understand not to condemn. However, for me as for all of us the symbols, strengths, and interactions are conflated. Someone like that must necessarily also be like that. My softness means floral dresses in bright colours, and a caring role.
The fact that we conflate them means I can communicate with symbols, to an extent. I dispense with masculine symbols, and ideally produce a first impression opening someone to value my pansy nature. Unfortunately it does not work by itself. I am not self-confident, and that is the stronger first impression. People judge me as not fitting the symbols- finding me masculine, or imagining I might be violent because they see me as a man- and are uncomfortable with my failure to fit symbols for either sex. I feel more uncomfortable.
It seems to me that when women take control they do so in less challenging, arrogant, flashy or domineering ways. It is that we have a common purpose being articulated by the woman, rather than we have a Leader. That is a style I would love. Men can, sometimes, take charge in an undemonstrative way. I would rather anyone used persuasion rather than force, winning my co-operation by showing the more excellent way.
Are penises and breasts symbols of masculinity and femininity? They have been for me, and for others. I was depressed. I had my operation, losing the prime symbol of my maleness, and my depression was cured. I was free to accept and explore myself as I had not been before. It saved my life. Yet I agree that while behaviour is gendered- domineering or winsome, rational or emotional- people of both sexes exhibit all genders. Most people exhibit all genders to an extent, though we favour different ones, as we show different personalities.
A toddler’s t-shirt, with a princess or a dinosaur on it, affects how adults respond to the child so moulds the child’s behaviour. A child may choose either t-shirt by seeing how the adults around her respond. That in turn produces responses from her.