In this essay I will be discussing the different ways of how an understanding of gender as a binary, has an impact on the experiences of childhood and/or youth. I will be discussing several ideas/understandings of gender as a binary and review the influences on childhood and youth experiences. I will split this essay into three parts, starting with how binarism affects boys and young males, how binarism affects girls and young females, and the part will be how society, media and religion understand binarism and how this influences the experience of childhood and/or youth. Gender binary (also known as gender binarism, binarism, or genderism) is important because it focuses primarily on one’s innate identity irrespective of their anatomical features. The main point of this essay is to explain how the understandings of gender binary influence the experiences a child and/or a young person would go through growing up and the impact it would have on them.
The first understanding of gender as a binary is it is “a concept or belief that there are only two genders and that one’s sex or gender assigned at birth will align with traditional social constructs of masculine and feminine identity, expression, and sexuality”. For example, when a male is born, gender binarism may assume the male will be masculine in appearance, behavior, and character traits, for example, rough and tumble, naughty and more outdoors. The education system reinforces gender stereotypes throughout, from textbooks to boys/girls’ subjects to extracurricular activities. Connell (1989) discovered the term ‘hegemonic masculinities’, which refers to dominant, stereotyped and idealized ‘cool guys’, ‘swots’, and ‘wimps’ as dominant forms. Different forms of masculinity emerged as highly classed ‘cool guys’ getting into trouble as a response to exclusion from power. The gender gap is mainly the result of boys’ poorer literacy and language skills. In addition, boys’ leisure pursuits, such as football, do little to develop their language and communication skills, thus leaving an impact on boys’ childhood development and experiences. Tony Sewell reports that “schools do not nurture ‘masculine’ traits such as competitiveness and leadership”. Epstein et al (1998) identified three key discourses mobilized in the debates around the ‘gender gap’, ‘boys will be boys’, and ‘poor boys’. All these types of phrases are problematic, leaving a bad impact on a young males childhood experiences. However, some critiques may say what it means to be a man changes overtime, meaning not all males need to be ‘rational’ or ‘scientific’ to be classed as a man or a ‘real boy’ while growing up. Other critiques say, ‘there is no sex without gender’, (Judith Butler). Here we see how the education system and their understanding of gender as a binary and stereotypes influence the experience of childhood and the youth of boys.
Another understanding of gender as a binary is that “binary thinking about gender enforces a social system in which individuals with two X chromosomes are expected to develop female bodies, identify as women, and act in line with feminine stereotypes”, for example, emotional, well-behaved and caring – people focused. Growing up mothers do most of the reading to young children, in primary and secondary school the teachers are mainly females, why? Because as Tony Sewell reported, “education has become ‘feminised’”. In the education system females and males are expected to have different interests in the classroom, girls are groomed for caring roles. Ms.Nutt states that gendered practices in the classroom in the early years translate to women being more risk averse in later life and taking the route that feels comfortable. For girls the education system could be an advantage for young female’s child development, as educating girls saves lives and builds stronger families, communities and economies. “An educated female population increases a country’s productivity and fuels economic growth”. According to UNCICEF, “girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and … education systems empower girls and boys and promote the development of life skills – like self-management, communication, negotiation and critical thinking – that young people need to succeed. They close skills gaps that perpetuate pay gaps and build prosperity for entire countries”. So, unlike a male’s experience in education, for females there a more pros than cons. For females binarism has its advantages, however it also has its disadvantages, for example, if a young female in school was to want to play football or choose a ‘boy subject’ she would be looked at and treated differently, also affecting her experiences growing up, because people are afraid of getting bullied for being unique or different children begin to start living two lives – one at home and one at school, and it all boils down to binarism, gender roles and stereotypes.
The final understanding of gender as a binary is heteronormativity. M.Barker (2014) states, “Heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexual attraction and relationships are the normal form of sexuality. It is rooted in a linked essential, dichotomous understanding of sexuality (a person is either heterosexual or homosexual) and gender (a person is either a man or a woman) and the perception that these things are fixed and unchanging”. The media, religion, and society carry this understanding still. Religion tends to be male ordered, and it reinforces secular traditions and gender roles across a range of cultures. Research tells me “Major religions such as Islam and Christianity act as authorities for gender roles. Islam, for example, teaches that mothers are the primary care givers to their children and the Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination, only ordains cisgender men as priests. Christianity supports its adherence to a gender binary with the Book of Genesis in the Bible, where it is declared in verse 27 that ‘God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”. The media often portrays men and women in traditional roles stereotypical ideas about women are reinforced – beauty, ability, nature. Because of this, children believe ‘being good-looking’ is the standout characteristic. For girls, ‘being caring’ was second most important, whereas for boys, it was ‘being funny’. Butler (1990) also states “gender is inextricably constituted within and normalized through the process of ‘heterosexualization’ within children’s lives. Religion, the media, and society clearly have an impact on children and young people’s well-being. Research says, “Children learn by observing and imitating those around them. Their immediate family, relatives, friends, games, toys, and school influence their development, as do the media and society. The process by which children learn to assimilate values and norms, to live in society and to acquire knowledge is called socialization. This is decisive for them and their future since it is how they construct their identity”.
In conclusion, we see that the education system plays a significant role in children and young people’s experiences, we see that their expectations and attitudes are related to the gender of the child. For boys, it is ‘normal’ to be ‘troublesome’ and not really focused. People are surprised by well-behaved boys. And vice versa fir girls, in is not ‘normal’ for a girl to ‘give trouble’, this would come as a surprise to teachers. This attitude has an impact on childhood experiences, as these children grow up and become older they could find it ‘weird’ to hear about other genders which is not male or female, this could also cause children to have a closed mindset, so they are not open the new things, they have a very biased mindset. We also see that society and the media reinforce gender binary, with stereotypes, keeping women at a ‘glass ceiling’ (there is only so high a woman can go) and men on a ‘glass escalator’ (men are able to fly straight through). Throughout this essay we see that gender binary is very much linked to stereotyping. Stereotypes have unfavorable effects on children’s personality development and the types of activities parents allow them to do. Stereotyping also affects the careers young people choose (mainly due to ‘girl/boys subjects’).