Much of what we think of when we think of gender is superficial. Girls have long hair and boys have short hair. Men wear pants and women wear skirts. It is only seen as a cultural choice, a social evolution over time, when viewed from afar—like from a country where the dress code is much different.
We tend to think of social and sexual roles as natural. Even the trappings are seen as natural.
What they are, is socially-accepted.
Anthropologists describe a sexual contract, a division of labour between the sexes, the rise of language and the nuclear family. Much history has passed, from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to the age of iron and steam.
Skipping over all of that brings us to the modern family. When little kids are growing up, Christmas is a big thing, perhaps the biggest thing of all. Kids are taught their social roles from a very early age.
The little boy gets a little blue hammer, a building set. The little girl gets a pink dolly.
The little boy gets a plastic jet airplane. The little girl gets a toy stove, one that bakes a little cake and everything.
The messages received are not just about gender, they are about social role.
Little boys will tell little girls, “You can’t play with jet planes.”
The little girl asks why and they tell them, “Because you are a girl.”
They’re not very old when they figure this out.
They even know enough not to ask for the wrong gender orientation of toy—a little boy so rarely asks for a dolly, and the little girls so seldom ask for jet airplanes or tool sets.
At first, the little girl doesn’t have a problem with her new tea set. After all, she can now bake a cake and sit with kitty and her dollies, and they can all have a nice little tea party.
There is always this jealousy between siblings, isn’t there? And little Johnny better respect that tea set, or that little oven, or there will be hell to pay.
And that other stuff is his.
It is only when the little girl sees the little boy with his jet airplane that she even perceives that such a thing exists. She hasn’t been exposed to too much of that so far.
Because it is new, she wants to play with it. That part is truly instinctive, and a kitten or puppy will do the same thing for the same reasons. They are exploring their environment. They are exploring the possibilities and the hazards of their environment.
When a little girl gets a dolly, and everyone is making a fuss over her, and her brother is strafing the cat or something with his new jet airplane, and then the dolly pees on her, (Wow! Isn't that great?) she gets a certain message.
“Mommy. It peed on me.”
“That’s a good girl. Better get used to it…”
Yeah. Learn how to feed it and care for it and bathe it and comb its hair and dress it...the list goes on.
Much of woman’s role is imposed by biology and evolution. The rest is imposed by culture, tradition, and the passage of time itself. Much of what we think a woman is and should be is programmed.
Cultural programming stems right from birth.
It is imposed by the needs and prejudices of the day, but that isn’t necessarily to say that it is carved in stone or forever unchangeable.
Of all the animal kingdom, homo sapiens exhibits the greatest differentiation within species of any creature. All deer look alike, with very little in the way of individual characteristics. They rely on smell and not appearance to identify one another, sound as well. We know our parent’s voice and so do they.
The same becomes even more true the further one goes down the evolutionary ladder. Adult humans are big, small, dark and fair, heavy and light, ranging in skin colour and facial and cranial features that would be remarkable in salmon or mice or snakes. There may be deformed ants, but ones with big noses and no chins, or fat ones working alongside skinny ones would be remarkable. What is remarkable is their sameness—not the other way around.
Many other creatures exhibit social characteristics, humans have developed it to a remarkable degree.
It is for social reasons that we have seen the evolution of so many cultural modes.
And variety, as they say, is the spice of life.
It is also the spice, and arguably, the goal or end result of evolution.