There has been a recent debate in this blog about whether parents should strictly adhere to gender norms by raising masculine men and feminine women. I agree with Lady Lazarus that raising your children to be gender aschematic would in fact be beneficial. I agree with the argument that this would be the most ideal environment for a child and would provide a child with the best mindset. Drizzle’s post clearly disagrees with this sentiment. Instead, Drizzle argues that while this gender aschematic way of living may be possible in one’s home, gender aschematic values and habits might steadily erode as the child grows older and matures. In other words, it’s just not realistic, because once the child goes out into the real world he or she will experience gender categorization from many other institutions of society (e.g., school). It’s not going to work, so why try.
As Lady Lazarus has done (here), one can easily argue against Drizzle with the following logic: the attempt to raise a gender aschematic child—even if we can’t ultimately deter the child from acting in gendered ways—is a worthwhile endeavor. Children who have been exposed to gender aschematic ideas might be better equipped to become independent thinkers. They would be less inclined to simply accept the usual gendered explanations about how the world is supposed to work, and they will grow up having experienced what a world might look like if all people were equal and not stratified by gender. After all, isn’t this what the United States has been aiming toward for centuries?!
Those who would side with Drizzle would like us to acknowledge that Sandra Bem’s gender schema theory is a description of a utopia—which is “of course” a problem because our world is an imperfect one. Utopian ideas don’t work in imperfect societies, so again, why even try?
This bit about our imperfection garners no disagreement from me. Take, for example how people today look toward ads and commercials for clues about how to reach their ideal gendered look. It is as if we are parrots and institutions like the media and the state are our owners. We are a docile lot and easily manipulated. We watch and observe others’ behaviors, and pick and choose which to imitate depending on some advertiser’s notion of perfection.
We’re also imperfect because we’re power hungry. That is, when we’re not being manipulated, we’re attempting to manipulate others. It seems that we look for every instance to be superior, and do so by ridiculing even the smallest behaviors. For example, many times it comes down to how well someone performs their gender. Gendered norms are such a large part of our society and have been in practice for so long. They are are useful for keeping people in line, and they are reinforced by media representations. Surely, gender schema theory is bound to fail. In fact, trying to make it succeed would only be a waste of energy. Perhaps this is why some people feel so threatened by the prospect of raising their children in a gender aschematic environment. Perhaps they’re just convinced they will fail.
But say we make some headway and are able to reimagine what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man. Say a sizable number of parents adopt this idea of raising their children without the usual gender stereotypes. I suspect Drizzle would still remind us that we are just so imperfect and so power hungry as a society that even if gender ceased to be the means of determining superiority, another trait would likely fill its absence. I imagine Drizzle would shake his/her finger, saying “One cold reality of this world is that people are fond of status hierarchies. Nothing will change that. If not gender, we’ll find another category with which to make ourselves miserably stratified.”
If we adopt Drizzle’s apprehension and if we fail to try simply because we are convinced we are bound to fail, then our fate is sealed. We will almost certainly condemn ourselves to perpetual inequality. But at what point do people stop justifying the status quo because alternatives seem too remote to even contemplate? Even if it is true that we can never escape creating status hierarchies—and I don’t believe this is true—isn’t a better society one that tries to address injustice? In the end, even if we are only able to create a single day free of prejudice and discrimination, isn’t that far better than refusing to try?
~ Country Girl
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.