The first question we are asked when we come into this world is often: Is it a boy or a girl? This question begins a multitude of assumptions for the individual. These assumptions include their favorite color, the sports they will play, the job they will have, and who they will date. This is all within a matter of seconds upon entering the world. This past January 2017, National Geographic published the Gender Revolution issue focusing on the shift in gender expression in our society. This particular issue of National Geographic goes into understanding terminology as it relates to gender, how society prescribes gender to children, how fairy tales impact young women, equality between men and women in the world, how different societies establish gender roles, and individuals who identify as something other than cisgender. “Cisgender” means a person whose gender matches the biological sex they were assigned at birth (i.e. someone born with XX chromosomes and identifies as a woman in life.)
Before understanding this article, is important to note that when discussing gender that it is not confused with sex. When discussing the sex of a person, this refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that we have defined as men or women. When referring to gender, this is the social construct created to establish behaviors, activities, and attributes that are considered appropriate for a man or woman based on a binary experience. This for example would relate to boys only wearing blue and girls only wearing pink. The concepts discussed briefly below are not new topics, these are experiences that go back to ancient times but they were underground or hidden in most cases.
An article in this issue of National Geographic entitled I Am Nine Years Old: Children Across the World tell us how Gender Affects their Lives, explores how children see how gender affects their everyday experience through their own language and not being told by an adult. Many children have stated that they “hate how things are boy stuff or girl stuff.” Children are looking to experience the world through an array of objects and trials regardless of the societal label given. In most countries, children describe gender through what violence would be afflicted upon them. For example, in Rio, girls are not allowed to play outside due to dangers such as “stray bullets.” The children unanimously discuss how putting gender into only two boxes, boy or girl, they are continuing hatred and violence due to how someone wants to dress or act. This becomes even worse if an individual is not fitting into a box (i.e. a boy who wants to wear a dress.)
Society also struggles to separate gender and sexual orientation which creates more violence and hatred. Society has stated that a boy who wears feminine clothes must be a homosexual which increases the violence and hatred they experience. However, these two concepts are completely separate from an individual’s experience. In many cases, children have experience child sexual abuse as a way to “correct” this gender expression or perceived homosexuality. Sexual violence has been reported based on an individual’s gender expression (40% of non-binary individuals experience physical or sexual harassment.)
Children in this issue have asked that adults educate themselves on what these concepts mean including the other concepts brought up in the article such as transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender queer – just to name a few. Children do not want to feel pushed into who they are based on society’s standards. Allowing children to safely express themselves allows for a deeper development of one’s self-esteem and confidence in who they are in the world.