When I was little, I used to play with the boys next store. One day while we were playing dress-up in my basement, we thought it would be funny if we all dressed as members of the opposite sex! Digging through my dress-up boxes I quickly discovered a pair of black pants with a matching black top. I tucked my hair into a cap and put on a green vest. My neighbors found some of my old dresses complete with lace frilling around the edges and put them on. They continued to accessorize with some kitten heals and strands of plastic pearls. Giggling ferociously, we went to find our parents. They boys shuffling in their over sized shoes, while I kept trying to shove my unruly hair back under neath my cap. Finlly arriving in the kitchen we found our parents smiling from ear to ear. I can't remember exactly what their reaction was, but I do remember the sound of boisterous laughter. I think it was my neighbor who took the picture. Two boys in blue and green dressed standing next to a girl in a pants vest combo ages 8-12 all dressed in drag and completely happy.
I still smile when I look at this picture, and at the three beeming faces, but I wonder how happy our parents would be if we had been just a few years older. What if my neighbors were 13 and 14 year old boys who were trying on their neighbors dress? Would they have been so quick to pull out the camera?
Gender roles in America are pretty straight forward. Young boys are tough, mischievous, and active. While young girls are cute, charming, and little. Grils have tea parties while boys play monster trucks. But what about the little boys that play with Easy Bake Ovens, or the girls that want Hot Wheels for Christmas instead of Malibu Barbie? Does that make them any less of a boy or a girl?
No. The little girl is still a girl, but we might call her a tom boy, and the little boy is still a boy we might call him confused, yet what happens when they grow up? Suddenly the girl is butch, and the boy is effeminate.
Our society says that boys should be this way and girls should be that way. This is the way Americans have constructed our gender identity. Gender is not a concrete idea, in fact every culture has its own ideas about what is masculine and feminine. In Japan the famous tea ceremonies were only conducted by men until the late 1800's before the country began to welcome western influence. It was considered a very masculine job, and only male members of the higher class could enjoy. Nothing is inherently masculine or feminine, it is societies influences that tend to push aspects of life like work, looks, dress, and costumes to be associated with gender.