Do you think having sibling/s of the opposite sex or gender* affects how we are socialized growing up? I believe that nurture, specifically the gender roles we are raised with, plays a big part in how we approach gender later on. You hear some people saying "I wish I had an older brother" or "I wish I had a sister" if they grew up without one; however, do you think it really makes a difference? If so, how and why?
Based on personal experience, observations or reflections, what do you think about the following:
- Does having a sibling of the opposite gender/sex make it easier to get along with and make non-family friends of that gender? I mean this especially during the ages where children tend to segregate by gender in groups.
- Does having a sibling make one more sensitive and aware during puberty? (For example, a boy observes how his sister goes through puberty, sees used pads or tampons in the trash, etc.)
- Does it make it easier to view the people of the opposite gender as just people just like them? (I say this because books like "Men are from Mars, and Women from Venus" or magazines like Cosmo tend to make the opposite gender like some different species or even aliens!)
- Do you think it makes one any more likely to reject or accept societal gender norms?
- What role does one cultural (religious, ethnic, socioeconomic, educational, etc.) background play in this?
*I used the term "opposite" to reflect the mainstream binary of "boys and girls"; however, I recognize and appreciate that people are transgendered, intersexed, and more. Do you think that growing up with a sibling who is openly transgendered, intersexed or not cisgendered affects how one sees gender? If this applies to you, what's it been like?
Actually, there are a large number of linguistic studies done on this topic. If you want, I can dig out my "Language and Gender" article collection from the depths of my closet and try to find you something, but, in the meantime, I can recall a few specific cases you may be interested in.
One group of scientists showed how boys interact with boys and girls interact with girls. They would place the two sets of children in separate rooms and watch how they interacted. The boys would sit side-by-side and talk to one another while staring straight ahead or looking at the ground. The girls would move the chairs so they could see one another and look directly at each other during the conversation - this happened consistently with many different test groups.
Another test revealed that children in rural areas who grew up only with their siblings (due to minimal contact with other children during early ages) developed linguistically different than children in larger cities. This is often seen through use of specific words and mannerisms tracked in speech.
Your first question about whether we get along or make friends easier based upon gender is, I think, an easy one to answer: we (meaning the "average") are often 'forced' into single-gender friend groups at a young age. Our parents give us certain toys to play with, so when we see other children playing with similar toys, we are drawn to their presence (ex. boys play with firetrucks at home, thus all the boys gather around the firetruck at daycare). I think, even if we have siblings of the opposite sex, it doesn't affect the fact that we will be forced into single-gendered groups (generally speaking). I mean, how often do parents allow their young, ten year-old to have three girls spend the night for a sleepover? Have you ever been to a little boy's birthday where the majority of his friends were girls? I am obviously aware of "exceptional cases," but we have to try to speak about the general population (in America).
In my family, we are all acutely aware of puberty for the two genders (my siblings consist of 1 boy and 2 girls, I'm the oldest). My family is, however, very open about this subject and sex in general - if someone has a question, we won't ridicule them for asking. I think having a sibling of the opposite sex makes one definitely more sensitive to puberty. All it takes is that one time when you forget to lock the door and your little sister comes barging in on you only to see you fully naked and caught unaware... that's a huge dose of sensitivity right there. People, as they get older, generally get more private about their... well, privates.
Your next two questions can be answered by saying that we are forced into gender roles. This is a huge issue (I guess would be the best word) for us right now - we are slowly overcoming discrimination, because of a lot of social stereotypes for specific genders. Men can't cry and women need to be in the kitchen... having a sibling of the opposite sex in your household doesn't necessarily mean you will be more sensitive. In fact, you may feel that your sister should make babies and treat her husband well, because that's what you were told. All of this seems to be highly based on how you were brought up and not on whether you are a boy and your sister is a girl.
Background plays a huge part - think about growing with a lesbian couple and then think about growing up with a conservative straight family, or why not even a conservative gay family? That will change your ideas about life pretty quickly. Some people don't have time to care, some people don't care and some people are told to care too much about how to dictate gender in their children.
[Hey B, thanks for taking the time to respond in such great detail! I'd like to reply but it probably will take me awhile to give your reply the attention it deserves. ]
Posts: 3318 | Registered: Jun 2003
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Hi, Lena! I apologize in advance for this convoluted message; I wanted to respond, although I haven't had much sleep recently and my thoughts are a bit foggy!
This is an interesting topic. I have a younger brother (he just turned 17), and we are only 3 years apart, so we were very close growing up. He is quite non-traditional in his gender expression, because he models himself on my academic father (who doesn't conform to any masculine stereotypes-- he doesn't enjoy manual labor or sports, for example). I'm not sure to what extent having an older sister shaped his interactions with otherwise gendered folk... although seeing me go through an eating disorder when I was younger was definitely difficult for him and caused a lot of anxiety. Since societal gender roles (the pressure to be "conventionally beautiful") played a role in that eating disorder for me, I suppose one could say that the societal pressure to be conventionally "feminine" impacted my brother as well, not just me. Because he loves me, watching me try to conform to a two-dimensional ideal hurt my brother. I'm not sure if this answers any of your questions, but I wanted to share my two cents!
I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe... I do, I do, I do. Posts: 140 | From: Montreal | Registered: Jul 2009
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