Why you need to talk to your kids about gender

Gender is made up of the gender we identify within ourselves and the ways in which we choose to express that to the world. Our understandings of gender are constantly shifting; however, we do know that identity is largely fixed by age 3 (although it tends to become more flexible in adolescence).

Seeing gender as binary means only recognising two ways of being that are opposite, masculine and feminine. The problem is that this is a social construct (made up!) which seeks to take the biological sex of an individual and then overlay a range of abilities and behaviours that should apply.

Accepting and reinforcing the idea that men are masculine and woman are feminine, and that because of this they have specific traits and abilities, underwrites many issues we see in society.

Rigid gender norms contribute to gender inequality, violence against women, and high suicide rates among men. Toxic masculinity is fed by adhering to outdated notions of gender.

We have an opportunity to raise young people to let go of these philosophies, to understand that people are people and some cry and some like pink and some run companies and some never marry. Raising kids to be accepting and respectful of diversity should happen from day one. Gender is an aspect of this.

Very young children should be encouraged to engage in all types of play and language should be used carefully to avoid supporting the ideas that boys are strong and adventurous and a girl’s worth lies in the way she looks. Play games with gender that challenge young children to think outside the box, colour isn’t gendered, boys can wear pink. There are some great picture books designed to break gender stereotypes ‘Jacob’s new dress’ by Sarah and Ian Hoffman is a good one for pre-schoolers and 'Julian is a mermaid' by Jessica Love for all ages.

This can then lead to conversations with primary school aged children about how gender is an expression of how a person feels inside and it doesn’t make sense to classify an entire planet of people into two silly boxes.

We teach kids that some people are funny and some are good at maths but we don’t teach them about the other ways that humans are unique. Many people worry that discussions need to include genitals such as ‘some girls have a penis’.

The truth is that worrying about what kind of genitals another person has isn’t appropriate behaviour in the first place. Stick to discussions that emphasise the way people feel and express themselves.

Talking to your children about gender opens up a world of possibilities for them and others. Gender should be an expansive concept about identity and self-expression and who wouldn't want their kids to embrace that freedom?