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Gender as a social construct; and how we can be more aware as parents

Let’s first conceptualise gender:

It is the socially constructed characteristics of sexed bodies.

Biological sex and gender are not the same things. Sex is the biological definition based on genitals or chromosomes (although this alone is too rigid for defining biological sex). Gender is the characteristics we, as a culture and society, attach to these bodies. Gender changes and adapts to the society and culture you live within, and the institutions within those spaces. Gender is the roles, expectations, meanings, and understandings we attach to gender, from birth (or the moment we find out the biological sex of an unborn baby).

Gender is also a binary social construct

Binary meaning, there are two social groups that have an unequal relationship of power and privilege. For gender, these two groups are men and women. The unequal relationship of power, privilege, value, and respect is shaped by the culture and society the individuals live within. This binary system doesn’t consider the spectrum of genders including transgender or non-binary folk and reinforces that within the male-powered binary, hegemonic masculinity is at the top of the hierarchy with women and more feminine males continually being disadvantaged.

Bringing this all together

Above is the briefest of brief explanations of gender as a social, and binary construct, but the following may support you in bringing awareness to the lens this places on us.

Consider a cis-male and a cis-female (cis being that these individuals identify with their biological sex at birth) standing side by side.

  • How would you naturally interact with each of them individually?

  • What would you expect from an interaction with a male compared to a female?

  • What kind of career would you expect the male to occupy vs the female?

  • Do they have children? If so, would you naturally assume the female is a stay-at-home mother?

  • Consider what you expect them to look like, behave like, dress like, and talk like.

  • How would you think or behave if they did not follow the cultural norms of their gender? (boy wearing a dress or makeup, female wearing tradesman boots)

Consider how these social constructs around gender reinforce ideas about femininity or masculinity and keep us stuck to rigid characteristics.

How this impacts pregnancy to parenthood

The molding of gender roles, expectations and meanings begins from birth, and sometimes before (if you find out the sex of your baby before birth). The way in which we interact with our babies, talk to them, dress them, and provide certain toys or games for them, begins shaping their gender.

We chastise young girls for raising their voices, or expressing emotion, and encourage young boys to be rough.

We encourage young boys not to cry or tell young girls to ‘be a good girl and do xyz’. As they grow, reinforced gender norms and expectations are continually placed on children. Girls are expected to be silent, and modest, but carry desirable attributes, boys are encouraged to utilise their freedom to come and go as they please, and are sold ideas of being the dominant sex, strong and independent.

Gender stereotypes can vastly impact the well-being of children, and leaks into their adulthood.

As parents, we can bring awareness to the way in which we may subconsciously create barriers or encourage gender norms for our children. There are inherent differences between the biological sexes of males and females, but as their core role models and guidance in their formative years, parents can provide the freedom to express and explore without placing restrictions.

This can be a confronting process, as we ourselves have been sold what are acceptable gender behaviours and characteristics. Allowing our son to wear a dress, or our daughter to ride motorbikes, can bring up uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. This is an opportunity to reflect, as our children are our greatest mirrors.

Through the social construct of gender, both males and females are pressured (consciously or not, a lot can be subtle messaging) to reflect certain characteristics of what society expects from them, based on their biological sex.

So, I challenge you to reflect on how you see gender, how you apply it to your own life and how you role model it for your children.

You can only do what you can in your own household and relationships, as institutions are deeply embedded in gender-based molding and within our patriarchal society. However, you, as their primary caretaker, are present in their most formative years, able to provide a healthy relationship and open communication around what gender means.

Some great resources:

- Diane Richardson

- Judith Butler on gender performativity

- Beyond the Bump podcast episode 123 'Gender stereotypes! How can we be kinder and more accepting human beings? with Scott'

Credit: Pinterest. No creator stated.


With a special interest in natural fertility, conscious conception, and conscious relating through starting a family, I offer birth support and related services to encourage more depth and awareness in your journey. I educate on the menstrual cycle and encourage women to reawaken their confidence and trust in their bodies, and show an understanding of how all of these experiences are interrelated and must be considered on your journey to starting a family.

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