The Gendered Influence of Parents on Their Children

A conversation about being raised by parents in a gendered world. Trying to mimic what we saw as well as what we saw being enforced on us.

Alexandra: Let me take control of the narrative.
On a peculiarly sunny autumn day, a young-looking man steps into the quirkiest bar in Amsterdam, holding the leftover posters he was supposed to hang up throughout the city. He spots a young-looking woman sitting at a table, lazily dragging her finger across a book’s pages. Eager to find a distraction, she starts looking through the posters he just laid on the table for the owner of the bar to see. She embarks on a journey to satisfy her curiosity as she asks him about his job. He then asks about her book and a few minutes later they dive into debates on the existence of god and on strangers being open to discussing the existence of god. She attentively listens as he starts unravelling his belief in energy and, especially, the separation of feminine and masculine energy. Next, an eyebrow is raised, as she starts forming her own argument carefully in her mind. The masculine is readily equated with an aggressive, possessive, and toxic force and the feminine, he says, is caring, nurturing, and sustaining. Shyly, more questioningly than imposingly, she throws the idea over that perhaps that is his own experience, but it cannot be naturalized as an inherent characteristic of energy. Energy can’t be gendered. 

The city lights reflect in the canals as she swims in her thoughts. She denies that such a binary exists. “Man” and “woman” are just social constructs, empty labels we use. In this state, she is running away from her own personal associations, ignoring the complexity of the problem by just throwing around philosophical half-thought-out “universal truths”. It seems much easier to her than to ask herself why the young-looking man’s theory stung deep down.

Multiple images flash through her mind: 
A young-looking woman as a young child, picking up tissue after tissue as she waits for the screams to die down.
A young-looking woman runs away from a rough childhood in a toxic home. She throws the script of her prophecy in the trash can just before boarding her plane.
On the table in her new home, she finds that damned piece of paper. In a whisper in the dark alleyway, and written between the lines of every graffitied wall, it shows itself: distrust, fear, abuse.

I will not make the same mistake as this young-looking woman. I will not give you any of those “half-thought-out universal truths”. There is an intrinsic human desire to see the naked truth, unaltered by any filter of perception, but we are fundamentally unable to reach that ideal, instead being constrained to our own experience. Therefore, as soon as we strive for the objective and look outwards to find one single, totalizing answer, we are lost. This article holds only my personal inner brain-wiring regarding gender, specifically how my parents shaped, or plagued, my perception of the opposite sex.

Jeremy: Who was our role model growing up?
As Alexandra pointed out, subjectivity abound, there is no single answer, only the answer that Alexandra and I can give you. For me, it was my father. Since as young as I can remember it had always been my father. Some men have taken a higher place over the years as role models, nowadays there is no one in specific that I look to as a role model. Not in the same way I did as a kid. Where everything my dad thought and did was seen as gospel. Where his opinion became my opinion through zero critical thinking of my own (many have pointed out that this might still be the case but let’s just pretend for now that I have my own opinions once in a while). 

Growing up I never had a female role model, partly because of my antiquated views of women when I was younger. I used to think women were naturally unfit for leadership as a kid. This was the ultimate unhealthy thought I grew up with as a kid and I can’t remember exactly when it had developed, only that it really stuck around towards the end of high school. I was raised in a religious (enough) household and youtube provided the perfect gateway towards all the atheist master debaters ready to embrace me into their anti-religious circlejerk. 

“Why Are you So Angry?” By Innuendo Studios (an amazing YouTube series based on understanding the anti-feminist outrage of GamerGate) discusses how coming face to face with previously held beliefs and taking equal extreme decisiveness towards its ideological opposite only makes you an antagonist, as in you not #woke. In his second episode of “Why Are you So Angry”, he portrays how these “people select NO because they feel derisive towards the part of themselves that wants to say YES” and how this could explain “why a lot of prominent atheists are… well… ASSHOLES”. And lo and behold so many of the atheist YouTubers that have provided me with sound reasoning and logic to fight against religion suddenly escaped all logic in their backlash towards feminism. The reason for why I had listened to their arguments was based on this shared feeling that all religion was terrible and there could be nothing salvaged from it. This hatred wasn’t in any way based on reasoning and logic (hatred like this is further explored in my latest article, “It’s Not Your Fault You’re Self-Loathing”) though its smoke and mirrors provided that belief and shrouded me to the radical shift in topics that went from anti-religion to anti-feminism, to which I followed blindingly along.

I grew up looking like a boy, talking, walking and acting like a boy. So why wouldn’t my role models be other men? When I compare my faith towards the actions of a role model like my dad when I was young to how I was able to spiral into the anti-feminist YouTube stinkhole, there is a pattern of uncritical thinking and complete trust towards men who want to act as role models. Perhaps there is an association between blind leadership and antagonism that began from the very first time I told a sexist joke to try and make my dad laugh? What about you Alexandra? Who was your role model, your mother?

Alexandra: While I understand why you would assume this and I suppose intrinsically we all encode our same-sex parent’s behavior and subconsciously try to copy it, I do not quite resonate with this one. I have spent many hours trying to find the answer to those questions and trying to trace back my character traits in an attempt to construct a certain identity I could cling to. I did not manage to identify with my parents when it came to what I feel are my deepest feelings and values. After a week of synchronized mental breakdowns and taking turns in playing shrink with my friends, I have come to a conclusion. I do not recall viewing my parents as role models or trying to mimic their opinions or behavior. Ever since I can remember, I was perpetually confused, feeling like an alien thrown into chaos, silently trying to make sense of things that no child should think about. Instead of my parents, my brother took the title of role model. When we were kids, he was the person I looked up to, who protected me, taught me how to act in society and how to stop being so goddamn stupid. His words, not mine. Wouldn’t want my shrink to know I’m talking so negatively about myself. 

Jeremy: Your brother. Well, there’s a shocker. In a sense I should be relieved that you were able to inspire yourself from men, become a part of their groups as you rebelliously joined their ranks. I’m also a little jealous that you were able to break free from such stereotypes in your own way, despite the lingering effects they left on you and the constant fear that you had to grow up with. It’s weird, when we talked about the influence of our parents there were so many examples I could talk about but the general feeling of being raised by two distinct genders is so much harder to describe. To find the root, maybe we should go beyond the simplicity of saying “he was my role model so now it’s his fault”. 

Alexandra: I cannot remember a time when people around me did not try to separate and gender things that should be left the fuck alone. I remember being in kindergarten and playing with dolls with my best friend, who was a boy. I remember other boys coming to pick on him for acting “like a girl” and I remember standing up and telling them the child equivalent of “fuck off”. A large amount of my childhood was spent in my grandma’s village, where kids would meet at sunrise, and would spend the whole day playing outside, except from when your grandma would come and drag you away from the street to feed you. Whenever she came, she would frown at me and scold me for playing with boys. I can still hear the words “boys play with boys and girls play with girls”. Now, who knows, maybe I took these words a little bit too literally and can blame my grandma for my gayness. God knows what she would do if she found out that me and a bunch of boys would take our pants off and pee in the backs of our neighbor’s houses… Kids tend to rebel against society’s norms in the strangest of ways. 

Jeremy: Christ. So it’s the toys that are to blame for Trump’s piss tapes[1]? The general reaction of a kid who wants to rebel is usually nonsensical in that touching a plate that was warned as being “way too hot” is seen as a great act of anti-authoritarianism. When I grew up, swear words and mix gendered parties were a big no-no, as if the two shared some sense of taboo or decadence. Could you imagine being raised to think that children as young as 8 have to be separated by gender because of how they might *gasp* interact with each other. It’s this type of divide that most definitely played a role in games like “cooties” (a game where the only rule was “don’t touch or get touched by girls”) or “throw a boy into the girl’s bathroom” (seen back then as the ultimate taboo). Alexandra, you and I were both lucky enough to be raised alongside a sibling of the opposite gender and through this realized that there are so many ways the world can view us differently even when we do the same thing. 

Alexandra: It pains me to know that the girls’ bathroom door represents such a dividing line for many boys. My experience with girls’ bathrooms is radically different, almost magical, but it does not compare to my public urination rebellion. By far the most impactful gendered notion I’ve been fed was the idea that boys are free to explore the world, while girls need to be disciplined. I was treated as if I was vulnerable and weak, as if I needed to be closed off from the world. I had a much stricter curfew, and everyone treated me as if I was incapable of choosing things for myself. They had no trust in me. My brother could go to all the parties he wanted to, and when he was told ‘no’ he would just climb out the window and I would cover for him. I hardly asked because I knew the answer, and so much fear was instilled in me I never dared climb out that window. 

The lack of trust both from my parents to me and from me to my parents translated into me leaving home to find something different, something of my own, only to find multiple experiences that let me down, as one does. The world is filled with assholes, after all. The only part that continues to surprise me is that, in my mind, I went straight back to the place I was desperately running away from: home, my comfort zone of being locked in, over-analyzing, misconstructing reality, pointing all the daggers at myself. I went back and told my mom, my grandma, society: “you were right! The world is scary and men are assholes!”

What led me to those categorizations? Fear? Of course. But also bitterness, and the fear of fulfilling the same prophecy the young woman was running away from: turning out as my mom, as my grandma, and possibly her mother and grandmother as well. I’m afraid of being blindfolded by love and ending up trapped in a toxic relationship, I’m afraid of losing myself and being limited by a man. It feels like a chain of dominoes crashing down on me, and I’m trying desperately to stop it, to push against it with all my force.

Of course, this is a risk every person is subjected to, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. This illusion of mine about men goes to show how much trauma moulds your perception, and how your idea of gender can be affected. My associations stem from a place of fear, mistrust, abuse. Sound familiar? Surprise, I am the young woman in the beginning, and so are many other women and men. 

Jeremy: It was only later in life, after leaving high school, that I became a feminist. Though the ideology had surrounded me growing up, one place where it was crucially missing was home. There is an idea that liberal households have the least controversial books possible lying around in their living room so that their guests never become too engaged into a political discussion. I feel like that was emblematic of me growing up and even when talking to my parents now, there is a barrier of “let’s not get too political”. Feminism is politics and some great points have been taught to me by my mother but I was to embrace them later on in life. Though you were that young woman I am just a bouncing baby soy boy who has so much to learn about how my upbringing was gendered to heck. Actively trying to go against it isn’t always the option that makes the most sense either. Having to go through the past and reflecting on whether or not what I’ve been left with is healthy and useful is much more difficult than outright rejecting this heritage of beliefs but in the end leads to a stronger understanding of the self and the world that surrounds me.

Alexandra: You’re definitely right, it’s a confusing and tough process, but to me it’s necessary. An open conversation like this one feels like the key to me. Personally, I want to let go of this gendered paranoia and be able to trust. I keep my doors open even if I am afraid, even if I’m always on edge. Maybe the true strength lies in being able to trust and move on. And even after getting burnt, not letting stereotypes be confirmed. Maybe someday I will be so strong I will have faith in myself that I will know how to protect myself. I am not a young woman anymore, as avoidance does not seem like the right answer anymore.

[1] Absolutely Every Single Thing We Know About the Pee Tape by Madeleine Aggeler

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