How Can I Convince My Four-Year-Old That Gender Binaries Are Artificial?

My four-year-old child persists in thinking that certain things are okay for girls and not okay for boys, despite numerous attempts on my part to clear this up for her. The voice of her friends is stronger than evidence I have displayed to the contrary or me just flat-out disputing her claims. How can I convince her to understand this? How worried should I be about this?

Dear Good Parent (because you are),

It is so vitally important for us to raise children who can challenge the Patriarchy, and although I think it’s important for all genders I can see how it can feel even more pressing when you’re raising a girl.

But here’s the thing: four-year-olds are ASSHOLES.

I mean I’m sure your daughter is lovely and brilliant and cute and blah blah blah but deep down inside, developmentally, I mean: she is an oppositional, cranky, defiant little demon who can only see the world in extremes and black-and-whites. This is part of how we grow our brains for some unpleasant reason.

It was not long ago that people were just hairy blobs that fed her or didn’t, you know?

So kids are learning how to distinguish between types of people in all sorts of ways, some of which are on a spectrum and/or artificial: tall/short, old/young, strong/weak. And one of those things is male/female — an artificial binary to begin with. And our culture heaps a bunch of stuff onto this artificial binary that is, as you note, factually incorrect if not damaging bullshit.

So I guess my answer is: I think we should be concerned about this — very concerned about it — globally, but in this particular instance? Flat-out contradicting her is just going to feed her oppositional need to push against you and say yes it is TOO only okay for girls to wear pink!

You’ve got her whole life to show her through your actions (and through the narratives you teach her in stories, books, etc.) that this is a bullshit lesson.But maybe wait ’till she’s five to try again?

I do give you permission to laugh at her and keep putting books in front of her like Jacob’s New Dress in the meantime. And maybe roll your eyes now and then.

This letter originally appeared in on November 12, 2015.

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