On Growing Up: ‘childhood’ is a better word than ‘girlhood’

By Grace O’Malley. 

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In a conversation with my uncle last week, I mentioned off-handedly that I had heard about “gender-neutral” preschools in Sweden. At these preschools, the staff avoid using the pronouns “he” and “she” and instead use “friend” to address and refer to all preschoolers. With the goal of freeing children from societal expectations based on gender, they try to avoid books and toys that present or reinforce traditional gender roles. It was pretty cool, huh? I said. My uncle scoffed at the idea, and at me.

“That seems so unnecessary. Unless you have some sort of gender identity disorder, I just don’t see the point of that,” he remarked.

His comment shocked me on many levels. First of all, his understanding was that there were only a few, and a very rare few, strange cases of individuals who do not fit the categories of Male and Female. Now I’m wasn’t qualified to argue biology with him, but he missed the part about the social expectations and traditional roles that are attached to the Male/Female binary and taught to children at a very young age. I was also shocked because he overlooked the fact that I had grown up hardly knowing I was a girl.

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