barbies, builders & beyond . gender socialisation

Feature image is of me three years apart!

Gender socialisation is an ongoing process of social norm and value internalisation. In the West, this is typically based on individual assigned gender (determined at or prior to birth) that drives social behaviour, though it is critical to remember how biology affects the outcome, for instance, physiologically. Fundamentally, gender draws upon multiple influences, social and biological, that all play some role in development. And with knowledge around areas such as epigenetics growing each day, nothing can be discounted yet.

There has been a dominance in nurture theories in the contemporary world that cannot be ignored, however, with much sociological research centred around primary and secondary socialisation. For instance, effects on children and adults who fail to conform to stereotypes vary widely, though many still report ostracisation as the West has a wholly-binary mindset that fails to adequately encapsulate those residing beyond. In the modern-day, few countries legally recognise non-binary identities (I use this as an umbrella term as there are numerous forms of gender non-conformity), with the Netherlands and Canada being rare exceptions of countries that do. In the context of passports, anyway.

I talk about the system of gender socialisation as, coined in the mid-1900s, its archaic mindset lies stark. Though somewhat relevant to the realities of child development, its binary mindset lets it down. By reducing experience down to what toys, treatment and clothing colour is presented in early years, it highlights a dangerous implication; one that suggests those with conventional childhoods are fundamentally gender-congruent while the inverse betray the natural order of things. Hence, discourse around gender deviance, transvest*tism and abnormality lingered well into the twenty-first century. Whether it intended to or not, classical Functionalist socialisation theory reproduced the idea that there is a conventional way of doing things, and an abnormal. Which is inherently bigoted.

We know that conformity (and non-conformity) drive mental health as individual experience is shaped across one’s life. No wonder then does black-and-white ideology generate such rifts. Though there’s controversy in the exact age, the life expectancy of trans and non-binary folk is, nonetheless, decades less than those who are cisgender, amplified if also a person of colour. They are disproportionately likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, poverty, rape and suicidal inclination too. Which makes ideologies against the idea of fluidity and holistic gender all the more toxic.

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