Let’s be a bit indelicate. You are out mall-hopping and simply have to take a leak. You look around wildly for the toilets. Ah! There they are! It doesn’t say which is for men and which is for women but you know anyway — the stick figure with the skirt is for women and the stick figure with the pants is for men. It hardly takes you a second to decide which toilet you have to enter, which category you belong to. Even though it’s common to find women in pants these days and there are men who wear skirts too! (What? Yes, buy a kilt one of these days!)
Gender is one of the fundamental ways in which we define ourselves. This identity, bestowed upon us from the beginning of our birth with the doctor’s announcement, ‘It’s a boy!’ or ‘It’s a girl!’, is a complex one. To start with, gender is not the same as sex. What the doctor announces is the biological identity of the baby or its sex but what it comes to mean to the baby and to everyone in its environment can be collectively known as its gender. Complicated? Just think about what follows the doctor’s announcement. If it’s a girl, the infant is soon flooded with gifts of every size, shape, and type but hey…they all happen to be pink! And if it’s a boy, the world is likely to be full of blues! Do you think a newborn will actually have a colour preference? They are just beginning to open their eyes and it’s highly unlikely that it will matter to them that they’ve been swaddled in the ‘wrong’ colour!
Next come the toys. Girls get the dolls. Boys get action figures (although these are dolls, too…having a gun instead of a purse doesn’t change that!). Girls grow their hair. Boys keep their hair short. Girls get their ears pierced and wear earrings. Boys, if at all pierced as babies, let the holes close and remain jewellery-less. Girls wear girls’ clothes. Boys wear boys’ clothes. And then, suddenly, before you know it, girls and boys are so very different from each other that one refers to the other as the ‘opposite’ sex. As if a boy and a girl are antonyms like strong x weak, big x small, hard x soft and there’s no common ground between them at all.
Your gender identity is a social construct. This means that it is constantly being constructed by society around you. It is a set of expectations and assumptions that people have/make in a given time period or culture based on the sex of a person. Statements like ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘girls don’t play sports’ reflect these assumptions. The truth is, girls and boys are people. And people come in so many different shades of colour that it’s impossible to see them as just pink or blue.