I read an interesting article today about gender based attitudes and teaching styles in schools. It talks about how a specific teacher dealt with a gender variant child and what they learned about their themselves by carefully examining the issues once they became personal. I liked it a lot. Gender is an extremely important concept for small kids (and everyone else, too!) and no amount of simply ignoring the issue will keep their minds off of it. Wendy and I decided before we had Elli that we would raise her as gender neutral as possible: No pink outfits, no Barbie dolls, and no gender based expectations of her. Fat lot of good all those intentions did! She only wants to wear pink, is interested in nothing but shiny sparkly princess unicorn ponies wearing fancy crowns and jewellery, and wants to wear dresses all winter inside her snow pants.
Moreso than her obvious acceptance of societal gender norms though she is desperately interested in gender roles in all ways. When a boy does something she talks about how boys do that thing. When I tell a story about an ogre she wants to know what gender the ogre is. Any time she describes something that happened to her she is careful to frame it in terms of gender roles and stereotypes. We do our best to tell her all the things we want her to believe (and which we believe) about people being able to have whatever sort of life they want regardless of gender and that gender roles and tendencies are never requirements or universal but our words fall on deaf ears. She *wants* to divide the world into simple boxes and gender is an easy way for her to divide up people.
That isn't to say I think teaching these things is wrong or even hopeless. I am sure in her later years when she is capable of more nuanced understanding she will recall our attitudes if not necessarily our words. We have had conversations with her about homosexuality, transgender people and other such topics that she doesn't have a close personal experience with and I hope that this will convince her to eventually believe that is it okay to be nonconformist even in these most fundamental ways. Right now I think she would be quite comfortable with gay people or gender variant people but she would probably be completely unable to square that with her day to day habits of defining everything in terms of boy vs. girl. Aside from trying to shove a bunch of LGBT people into our daily lives I don't see a lot of ways to accelerate that reckoning; eventually she will have to reconcile her incompatible ideas when it hits her in a really personal way, as we all do.
For the moment she is still a very stereotypical girl who is interested in growing up, meeting a prince and becoming a mommy. Not that finding a heterosexual partner, getting married and having kids is so bad (I quite like it, thanks) but someday we hope that she gives up on being rescued by Prince Charming for other dreams, whatever those may be.