I’m the oldest in a family with four younger brothers and no sisters. Growing up with four brothers was a bit of a crazy ride sometimes (ahem, much of the time), but what really brought this to light for me was after I left home. I headed off to college in another state and often called home on Sunday nights. The noise level in the background while my parents tried to talk to me was unreal. Those four brothers of mine were whooping and hollering and wrestling and carrying on. 

In my inexperienced, late-adolescent state, I naively declared to my parents “I’m not having any boys!” (Can you see where this is going?) 

It’s 20 some odd years later…and I’ve got 4 boys of my own. No girls. (Of course I do. Poetic justice.) 

I love it, a lot, but let me tell you, my house is noisy! I’m told that houses with girls can be rather noisy too (but what do I know of that?!), but my house is full of roughhousing, punching, wrestling, and all the things you’d think a house with 4 boys might have. 

My husband and I have visions of what homes filled with little girls are like and it looks something like a scene out of Pride and Prejudice. Someone’s sitting on the chaise reading, a few are quietly talking in the corner, and someone’s embroidering a nice pillow. We don’t really think this is how it is, but maybe just a little…

In reality, I’m sure that just about every house with 4 or 5 kids (or even 2 or 3 kids) is like the ones I’ve experienced—a little chaotic and a little loud at times. 

But my reason for talking about this is twofold. 

First, there are some inherent differences between boys and girls, men and women. This is especially true from a biological basis.

Generally speaking (and this does not apply 100% across the board, I’m speaking in general terms here), men’s bodies are stronger and can do things like run faster, throw farther, or lift more weight than women.[1] Men have higher levels of testosterone which often means that they grow bigger muscles, and have a drive for physicality,[2] hence the wrestling brothers. (I am not a doctor and don’t understand medical things thoroughly, so I am keeping this very simplistic. There is more that goes into all of this.)

Doing GenderOn the other hand, women’s bodies, though typically softer (and frankly snugglier) than men’s, are not only capable of growing a human, but also of feeding it after it’s born. Women’s hormones promote things like connection and bonding (I’m talking about flooding of oxytocin when a baby is born or when nursing).[3] It’s like they are literally wired for connection.

Now again, gender and biology are complicated things, and this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, but there’s something to the idea that there are biological differences in men and women. From my own point of view, it seems that men are programmed to be protectors and women to be nurturers.

And frankly, maybe there’s a reason that I didn’t always want to join in the wrestling with my brothers (though I definitely joined sometimes and was just as athletic as any of them). I was usually more interested in playing school and making up dances to Michael Jackson or NKOTB songs, which I could sometimes convince them to do with me.

Different or the Same?

But my second point in all of this is more at the heart of the matter.

Beyond a few biological differences in how most of us are born, men and women are actually much more similar than they are different.[4]

In a lot of ways, we (incorrectly) consider men and women in our world to be pretty different from each other.

Men are considered strong, aggressive, confident, competitive, brave, athletic, powerful. And many men are.

Women are considered kind, gentle, thoughtful, tender, emotional, refined, graceful. And many women are.

But raise your hand if you fit one of those adjectives that’s NOT listed as part of your gender.

Many women are strong and confident and powerful. And many men are kind and gentle and thoughtful.

And many women protect (anyone ever seen a mama bear reaction from a woman whose child was needing a little protection?) and many men nurture (is there anything better than a man tenderly snuggly a newborn or reading a story to a toddler?).

Men and women do not fall neatly on one side of the masculinity/femininity spectrum that we’ve created.

So why do we try to box people in or fit them into a certain mold based on their gender?

We’ve got ideas of what women and men, or girls and boys are “supposed” to be like, and we expect it from them.

So though there may be some basis to some biological differences between us, for the most part, we are more similar than we are different.[5]

Who Cares?

Why does this matter and what does it have to do with authenticity?

When someone tries to tell you who you are or how you should act, it’s hard to hang on to how you really feel and who you really are inside.

So, if someone says, “boys don’t act like that” or “good little girls should be like this,” we’ve put that person in a box and created expectations for how they “should” behave or what they “should” be like.

And that’s a huge detriment to authenticity.

But you know we do this all the time. I’ve definitely fallen prey to it.

For example, when my now teenager was a little boy, he loved the color pink. (And who can blame him? It’s my favorite too.)

I remember one time when he was about 3 or 4, he wanted to get a t-shirt from my alma mater. (Go Cougars!) The one he really wanted to get was pink, but they had the same version in a nice blue (the school color). Did I let him get the pink one?

Sadly, no. (Though I did let him wear a pink polo shirt to church and he was so cute in it!)

There is no basis to not let the kid wear a pink Cougars shirt, other than societal expectations that pink is a “girl color.” (Luckily, he has a pink shirt t-shirt now and wears it proudly and his mom still thinks he looks so cute in it).

The pink shirt thing is just a small example, but in general, we’ve learned to “do gender.”[6]

“Doing gender” means that society has sent us a clear message about what our particular gender is supposed to act like, and we follow these prescribed behaviors accordingly—or in other words, we do it.

We do womanhood or we do manhood. And often we might not even realize we are doing it because it becomes so normal to us.  

So, what are some of these prescribed roles we often follow? There are a million of them and it would be hard to cover everything, but here are some of the first things that popped into my head for both boys/men and girls/women.

What We Tell Boys/Men to Act Like:

  • Don’t show your emotions. Real men don’t let anyone know that they are feeling sad, discouraged, or down in any way and they certainly don’t cry. Or hug unless it’s the man slap.
  • Be strong, both physically and emotionally (see above and not showing “weak” emotions). This might mean pushing people around a little or being overbearing because you certainly can’t let someone else be stronger than you.
  • Be athletic and love sports—but only the manliest of sports. Watch sports, talk about sports, dream about sports. On the flip side, things like playing certain instruments or liking artistic things such as dancing or acting are frowned upon.
  • Be slender but built. Have shredded abs and big biceps.
  • Always stay confident and in control. You’re a man, act like it by proclaiming your opinion and dominating the decision-making.
  • Be sexually aggressive and competent. As a man, you’d better know exactly what you’re doing in the bedroom all the time and want sex constantly.

What We Tell Girls/Women to Act Like:

  • Don’t speak your mind or share your thoughts too assertively or too frequently or others will view you as aggressive.
  • Be kind, loving, and nurturing all the time. Give of yourself and then give some more. You have needs? You’re tired or you want a break? Tough luck. Real women give endlessly, selflessly, and never stop to think about themselves.
  • Don’t complain about anything. Just go with the flow. (If you do complain, don’t worry. We’ve got a name for that, “Karen.”)
  • You’ve got to be thin but have big boobs, have your nails done, your hair perfectly attended to (and I don’t just mean the hair on the top of your head). And heaven forbid you’re not dressed to impress. Your worth is in your appearance, so make it good.
  • You are also defined by your relationships with others, so you’d better make sure you’re an amazing mom, a perfect wife, a wonderful friend. Always.
  • Be super sexy and appealing to the men. But also, don’t have sex with anyone because women who have sex are “loose” (or much worse words).

What in the world?! These are awful, aren’t they? They put us in a tiny little box and ask us to all act like each other rather than the wonderful, capable human being we are—whatever our gender, whatever our interests or characteristics.

Rather than allowing yourself to be put in a box labeled “woman” or “man” and then adhering to the rules associated with being in that box, what if you were just you?

What if you are a man who loves to watch football or throw a ball around with his kid but also loves to bake a chocolate cake and has a fun bedtime routine with his kids?

What if you are a woman who loves snuggling in her bed with the little ones on Saturday morning and then making them a fun breakfast but also has ambitions and dreams and wants to make a difference in the world by using her voice?

What if your son loves to sing and dance? Or your daughter doesn’t want to wear clothes that match and comb her hair?

We don’t have to fit in the boxes that others have created for us. The best thing we can be is ourselves, no matter where those qualities fall on the “gender spectrum” and then allow others to do the same.

Want to dig into this a little more? Here’s an article that looks at ways we silence our own voices as women (and men sometimes too). 

What is Self-Silencing?

"Doing" Gender: What it Means to be a Woman or a Man

[1] Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American psychologist60(6), 581.

[2] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323085

[3] https://www.ntd-eurofins.com/oxytocin-affects-mom-baby-bond/

[4] Baumeister, R. & Tice, D. (2001). The Social Dimension of Sex. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

[5] Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American psychologist60(6), 581.

[6] West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & society1(2), 125-151.

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