Gender mismatch and the culture wars

Gender mismatch and the culture wars
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By Jenny Enos

For the past few years, the United States has been waging an unprecedented “culture war,” and contemporary issues of race, class, sexuality, gender, and abortion (to name a few) have deep historical roots, and our current hyper-polarized climate. has fueled each of these debates to the point that each side believes it is their own existence he is threatened by another. Recently, we have seen many times how this sense of threat has turned into violence: since January 6. rebellionth In 2021, parents protesting at local school board meetings, deadly massacres fueled by white supremacist ideology.

One of the most recent, explosive developments in this culture war is the debate over children’s sexuality and gender. Just this year alone, an unprecedented number of bills have been introduced across the country that aim to “undermine protections for transgender and gay youth” and limit discussions of gender and sexuality in classrooms. The legislative push comes as parents and politicians accuse teachers of “indoctrinating” or even “seducing” students, worried that discussing sexuality and gender identity will rob children of their innocence. A growing effort to consolidate more power in the hands of parents to make decisions for their children — the so-called “parents’ rights” movement — has forced school districts across the country to change curricula and even remove books from the curriculum. school libraries, which are considered inappropriate by a minority of parents. The argument is that parents, and only parents, should decide if and when to discuss “sensitive topics” with their children, not teachers.

Meanwhile, parents on the other side of the debate welcome and even encourage their children’s “gender nonconformity.” As opposed to strictly adhering to social rules about how boys and girls, for example, should behave and dress (what sociologists call gender norms), gender nonconformity refers to behavior and expressions that do not conform to society’s expectations of how a person of a certain gender should behave. From birth, some parents raise their children as neither boys nor girls, allowing children to explore and figure out their gender identity on their own. More often than not, parents have to adjust after their children identify as gender non-conforming or transgender. Interestingly, many parents of gender non-conforming children often report that it is the negative or dismissive reactions of other adults to their child’s identity—from other family members, friends, or teachers—that is the most difficult part of raising a gender non-conforming child. Of course, in many cases those negative or repulsive reactions also come from the parents themselves, who may not approve of their child’s gender nonconformity.

Sociologically, how can we explain parents’ attitudes toward their children’s gender nonconformity? And in what situations do parents more often support their children breaking gender norms? In a recent article sociology forum, Lawrence Stacey conducts a survey experiment that shows that parents are more supportive and less upset when girls violate gender norms than when boys do the same. The author suggests that this discrepancy is the result of societal belief structures that favor masculinity over femininity, so parents feel more concerned when boys behave in a feminine way than when girls behave in a masculine way. Because of the high value of masculinity, boys “lose more” by not conforming to gender roles, and parents are more concerned about gender nonconformity for boys than for girls.

Importantly, this research shows that much of the narrative of ‘concern’ about children’s gender identity is ultimately rooted in patriarchy and misogyny. If society didn’t devalue femininity and women as much as it does, perhaps gender nonconformity would be more accepted – especially for children born male.

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