Is that a boy or a girl?

I have recently had some encounters that made me think more about gender, babies, and pronouns.

I was sitting on the bus a few days ago and the person next to me was interacting with the baby. She used he/him/his for awhile and then asked me if the baby was a boy or a girl. I said that she was a girl and this person proceeded to tell me that at first she thought that the baby looked like a boy but now she could clearly see that the baby looked like a girl. I was shocked. When I was telling someone about it later I came up with the best response: “How can you tell she looks like a girl? Is her vagina showing?”

Because to me, at this age, really when someone asks, they are asking about genitalia. Because seriously, the gender socialization has only begun, there aren’t different hormones like during puberty, so what difference does it make? And she isn’t old enough yet to make any of her own decisions about her gender identity and presentation.

But I am also seeing that people ask because it dictates how they will respond to the baby. Many times it is the first question people ask and then follow up with, “oh she is so cute,” or “what a beautiful baby.” These things are all true, of course, but what would there response be if I said she was a boy? How handsome? How strong? What else?

This came up with my “moms who lunch the other day” as we constantly, I think without thinking about it, comment on how cute our babies are. One of the moms was commenting on how cute my baby was and then corrected herself by pointing out that she is also smart and clever. True, she is already smart, clever, brilliant, and perfect. I think the earlier we get in the habit of using language that reinforces positive personality characteristics, as opposed to looks, the better. See this awesome article for more on that.

I think having a baby truly embodies the way in which people use gender and gender norms to relate to one another. It is as if folks don’t know how to relate to her, or me, until they figure her out. It is also very interesting when folks call her a boy and then I use she/her/hers and they are so apologetic. As if getting it wrong is the worst thing in the world and I will be horribly offended. Why is that?

This is the world I constantly walk around in with my baby. It gets exhausting and frustrating, not to mention depressing when I think about her future. So it was a breath of fresh air to go to my volunteer meeting with her the other night. At the beginning of each meeting we say our names and what pronouns we use. I introduced myself and my pronouns. And at the end my friend said the baby’s name and that “the baby would let us know when the baby decides on their pronouns.”

That is the world I want her to live in.

-Rachel

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4 comments on “Is that a boy or a girl?

  1. I really liked this post. I’m glad I came across your blog tonight. Seems like we’re thinking about a lot of the same thing – gender attitudes and stereotypes and how socialization contributes to our concepts and behaviors. Looking forward to more of your reflections. 🙂

  2. hemasara says:

    I’m thinking about this line….

    “I said that she was a girl and this person proceeded to tell me that at first she thought that the baby looked like a boy but now she could clearly see that the baby looked like a girl.”

    It’s also upsetting to me that people feel like they’ve committed some kind of grave error when they get gender “wrong.” I think it shows just how entrenched in /accustomed to a state of constantly policing gender…

    I mean…seriously…people get all awkward when they realize they’ve used the wrong gender pronoun for my puppy…come on….

    What responses can we have that get folks off their “oops i said something inappropriate trip” and actually send the message that it’s no big deal…that the baby doesn’t really doesn’t care what gender pronouns are used right now and neither does their mom…?

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