I’m Trying to Dismantle Gender Roles, But Society Keeps Getting in the Way
“Lupin’s a boy dog, right?” my 3-year-old Tzivia asks me, about our fluffy rescue mutt. “Are there girl dogs?”
I stifle a laugh and give her the sex vs. gender talk again:
“We know dogs’ sexes, but not their genders, because dogs don’t care about gender. Remember how for humans, parents guess gender based on the baby’s sex, but as kids get older, they can tell us about their gender? Well, dogs never tell us, so for pronouns, we can just stick with the guess, based on their sex,” I recite, amazed she’s listened this long. “But, yes, Lupin has a penis, so his sex is male. Inkling, who we met earlier today, is a female dog.”
“No, no, no,” she says, insisting that, since Inkling kept jumping on her when they met, Inkling must be a boy dog.
“Because girls are calming and sweet.”
My jaw drops. My husband and I turn to each other, stunned. Where did she learn that?
Tzivia has a mom (me) and a dad (my husband), who have both managed to be mostly stay-at-home with her. Honestly, I take her to library times and playdates more than he does, but we both do it. We both read to her, take baths with her, cook for her, sing to her. We both co-slept with her (during my post-partum depression/anxiety, she mostly slept on his chest, woke to nurse with me, then right back to his chest again, because for a while, I just couldn’t).
We both laugh about farts with her and scream with her, and we both change the pronouns in books so sometimes that kid with the ponytail is a he and that adventurous bear cub is a she, and more than anything, we just use they for anyone who hasn’t told us their preferred pronouns.
Immediately, I want to blame someone — a grandparent? Another kid? I’d blame TV if she watched more than the occasional Daniel Tiger and Reading Rainbow. Certainly the rockin’ Sleater Kinney music videos we’ve brought her up on didn’t teach her this.