Well before it dawned on him, Alex Hinds’s toddler twin daughters knew that they were girls.
Defiantly so. Rebelliously so.
And, not just girls. The twins were girly girls. In time, they would love ballet and reject any activities that felt boyish. They preferred dresses to pants and insisted on pink and purple bicycles. The refused categorically to ride on anything that was blue or green.
Stay-at-home-Dad Hinds had learned about gender in graduate school. Naturally, this is a fate we would not wish on anyone.
And he bought whatever his ideologically-driven teachers told him. He embraced the notion that gender was a mere social construct and that children of both genders needed to be liberated from it, as soon as possible, by force, if necessary.
For those few people who believe that I caricature these theories, I quote Hinds himself:
I was in graduate school, involved in a lively discussion about the rhetoric of architecture. The details of the conversation are unimportant, but it ended with me appealing to my fellow progressive eggheads, “We all know gender is socially constructed anyway, right?”
I think, at that moment, I actually believed what I had just said. Not just that the notions and valuations of “masculine” and “feminine” were tools of patriarchal oppression; but that all gender differences aside from the obvious physical ones were constructs created and perpetuated, consciously or otherwise, to reinforce social structures.
“… the rhetoric of architecture…” whatever could that mean?
Probably, Hinds was taking an advanced seminar in how architecture reinforces gender stereotypes by creating different rest rooms for men and women.
In fairness, Hinds had no choice but to accept the reigning leftist dogma. Had he rejected it, he would probably not have received a degree.
If ever there was a situation that was ripe for oppression, it’s graduate school… and not just graduate school. The power of the GPA makes students, even as early as elementary school understand that if they do not hold the right opinions they will not be at the top of their class, will not go to the best schools and will not get the best jobs.
And so it went, until Hinds’s wife gave birth to twin girls. As it happened, said wife practices medicine, and therefore, as best as can be discerned from the column, is barely present in the home or in her daughters’ lives.
I state this as an observation, because nowhere in his article does Hinds suggest that his growing daughters have anything resembling a relationship with their mother.
Parenting on his own, Hinds fell back on what he had learned in graduate school. He decided that he would bring up his girls to be anything but girly. The last thing his addled brain wanted was for them to cave in to conform to a stereotype of what girls should be.
His home was filling up with girly presents to celebrate the births, but Hinds resolved to fight:
The profusion of pink paraphernalia only strengthened my resolve to undermine society’s gender messages. I would make parenting into a subversive act by encouraging my girls to be rough-and-tumble, grass-stained, fort-building, frog-chasing, risk-taking, dungaree-wearing, princess-shunning adventurers!
It did not take very long for him to be mugged by reality:
At eighteen months, my daughters started caring about what they wore. A lot. And what they wanted was pink and purple, to the exclusion of every other color. The occasional yellow or red was acceptable, but the suggestion of a blue dress was met with distress, and brown was anathema. For a while, I could get them to wear jeans or shorts with t-shirts; and then they realized that if they screamed enough, I would relent and put them in dresses.
He had only to trust what he observed:
Early on, we had been conscientious about providing them with gender-neutral toys like blocks, balls, and puzzles. But as they learned more words, they began to gravitate toward narrative-driven, imaginative play, and became less interested in running and throwing. These predilections corresponded to the kind of research about gender differences in children that I would have dismissed as flawed or irrelevant in my social-constructivist days. In fact, I didn’t need to read any studies to see how misguided I had been—I only needed to watch, at self-segregated parties and preschool, boys the same age as my girls as they wrestled, threw mulch, weaponized inanimate objects, and obsessed over machinery while the girls colored, talked about clothes, and pretended to be families of kitty-cats or ponies.
Apparently, Hinds is not the only parent who discovered that the theories he learned in graduate school were lies:
Likewise, many of our progressive-minded friends and relatives had little kids who were also developing very gendered interests. The young son of a gentle, peacenik, sports-agnostic couple is a rabid football fan who revels in the violent theater of the gridiron. The daughter of two moms who dressed her in brown until she started caring now wears princess costumes pretty much every day. Of course, not every kid fits neatly into one gender profile or the other; but at least among preschoolers, the differences are very pronounced. And while it’s certainly true that even preschoolers pick up on social cues about gender norms, it’s hard not to believe that there’s something more than peer pressure drawing them to distinctly different areas of interest and activity.
Hinds’s epiphany feels like reinventing the wheel. And yet, he has not entirely rejected social constuctivist theories. He still believes that there is some value in trying to force girls into unnatural roles:
So, I have come around—belatedly—to what everyone else seems to have known forever: that girls and boys have, in general, some different interests, tastes, and aptitudes. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that I’m now going to become a Pageant Dad and discourage my girls from their burgeoning interests in astronomy and paleontology. But my dunderheaded journey from social constructivist to believer that social and biological elements interact to create what we know as gender traits has been valuable. I can see the danger of gender determinism. It’s tempting to get lazy and automatically push girls toward ballet (ahem) and boys toward football, without letting them know that there are other options, and the same goes for academic pursuits. If I hadn’t tried and failed to subvert gender stereotypes in my early parenting, my girls would probably still have the same color bikes and go to the same ballet class; but I might not be teaching them to pound nails and build electrical circuits as well.
Obviously, no one has ever had a problem with girls hammering nails. But, Hinds just did what most parents do with less self-torment: he learned to respect his daughters’ wishes and predilections.
Thanks to his graduate education he created more drama than need but, but it is good that he allowed reality to teach him a lesson.
Had he not done so, had he done what his graduate studies wanted him to do, he would have been more patriarchal oppressor than loving father. After all, forcing your children to be something that they are not is a an insidious form of oppression.