Father’s Day and Gender

Mary Scotton
4 min readJun 21, 2021
Photo of me and my son smiling on a sunny day with trees behind us.
Our happy faces as we completed the last leg of our bike tour (me on the left, mini-me on the right).

It was an epic week of adventure as I biked and camped down the coast of New Jersey with my family. My non-linear musings fluctuated between how housing and class intersect and what gender means. Gender won out this morning as this Father’s Day conversation kept popping up…

Father’s Day

“I want to ask you something, but I don’t know how to ask,” said our friend, humbly.

“You can ask us anything,” my wife replied.

“Well, where I grew up there was only one way and one religion, so I’m wondering … what do you do for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day?”

We smiled and answered, knowing that his curiosity was without animosity. And loving his ability to shift his thinking and open his mind to a completely different way.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Class Mom, Father-Daughter Dance, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts. So many of our rituals and experiences are gendered. Why? Why does it matter?

In college, my now 25-yr-old son wrote a long essay about gender as a social construct. And then declared his pronouns to be he/him and began taking “T” (testosterone). That was the beginning of my journey of learning about gender.

Gender

“I understand the desire to be considered as a person first, rather than a gender,” said an old friend, this week, as she shared that her college-age daughter’s pronouns are now she/they. “Kids these days,” I thought, in my ‘get off my lawn’ old man voice.

Kids these days know so much more than I did! My 14-yr-old recently shared 46 Terms That Describe Sexual Attraction, Behavior, and Orientation. In there, for the first time, he found a label that resonated with how he feels.

His growing up is so different from mine. I didn’t know there were queer people or more than two genders. It was not a topic in the news or media, it was not discussed at home, and not discussed by my classmates. His classmates are already considering gender nuances and society’s expectations of them. And pushing against those expectations. (Why is it so surprising when a boy paints his nails?)

When I quiet the old man voice in my head (Why an old man, Mary? Why is the voice gendered? Don’t old women want kids off their lawn, too?!?), I realize that I’m looking forward to the change this generation will bring — the impact their openness and gender fluidity will have on society. Heck, even if it just results in pants with real pockets for everyone, that’s a huge win! But I think it could be even bigger.

“Boys like trucks and girls like dolls. Boys like blue and girls like pink.” This is what I told my son when he was only a few minutes old. I sat on the hardwood floor, my back leaning on the dresser, and held him, his tiny head resting on my shoulder. I whispered to him a stream-of-consciousness monologue describing all of society’s gender rules. (That’s normal, right? Other parents do this when they’re nervous?)

None of it stuck for this child who attended a Sound of Music sing-along at the Castro Theater while in utero. And who we almost named Sarah Sally Scribble (he may yet take that as his stage name, it remains to be seen).

A Better Way

Last week, we rode through a million cute little shore towns, stopping for lunch and browsing in the shops. Being of Irish descent, I was drawn to Out of Ireland, a quaint shop in Smithville. There, I uncovered the truth about gender: Why God Made Little Boys (“someone to stand on the mountains and conquer the seas”) and then later thought to make Little Girls (“someone with laughing eyes and bouncing curls”). Sigh.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

“My grandparents didn’t raise me as a girl or a boy, but as a person,” said Carolina Ruiz, who grew up to be a Technical Architect, describing how she rode motorcycles and took computer programming classes when she was young. We had this conversation seven years ago, but it’s stayed with me.

So this Monday morning, I find myself agreeing with my oldest son — gender is a social construct that needs a rewrite. I know the voice in my head needs a new scriptwriter. Rather than trying to determine the gender of everyone I meet — from colleagues to restaurant staff to other people’s children (I mean, why do I even do this? Does it matter? Will I treat people differently based on their gender? Um…maybe?) — the work for me is to not care about gender, and to treat everyone equally, with respect.

My challenge to you’all this week: What if we all saw children (and adults) as people first, not as their gender? What would shift for us? For society?

p.s.

  • Happy Father’s Day.
  • Happy Pride Month.
  • Happy Juneteenth.

Resources

  • Curious about gender identity and want to be up-to-date on terminology? Read this.
  • A useful glossary from our friends at HRC.
  • What’s Juneteenth? Think you already know? Watch this & learn.

--

--

Mary Scotton

Technology industry leader, evangelist, and connector who cultivates inclusive communities. She/her. maryscotton.com