Gender Price Tag

by Ben Dennis


For six years, my home has been a foster home to teenagers in foster care. During those six years, my partner has only ever wanted to care for a girl of preschooler age. Just one – that’s all my partner asked- one girly girl to spoil with cuddles, glitter and dolls.

Then it happened, the first preschooler ever to be placed into our care. Lisa was the girl my partner always wanted – too bad for us that Lisa refuses to be a girl.

If we have lunch at McDonalds, Lisa asks for a boy toy to go with her Happy Meal. Boy shirts and shorts were Lisa’s theme; pretty dresses made her want to scream.

I won’t lie, my partner was disappointed. Then along came Halloween, and the costume Lisa picked for Trick-or-Treating killed my partner’s hopes of ever raising a girly girl from pre-schooler age, right up to being old enough to attend college.

“Wow, look at you kooky, spooky skeleton,” said a lady at her front door, dropping mini-Mars bars into Lisa’s Trick-or-Treat bag. “Your son is very creative. You must be very proud of him dad?”

I smiled, too polite to correct the lady, then moved onto the next house with my “son.” Trick-or Treating kids were all around me, the girls easy to spot as far off as the end of the street. If I was looking at a Disney princess or a wicked witch, I was looking at a girl.

I glanced at Lisa, whose identity was hidden by a skull mask, a grey wig styled like Rod Stewart’s hairdo and a skeleton onesie. She looked like all the other boys roaming the street as Batman, Ironman – oh look, another skeleton – or that masked killer from Scream.

I won’t lie. I was disappointed as I glanced at a passing Disney Cinderella, all fairy tale elegance, than back at the macho Rod Stewart skeleton beside me.

What had happened to Lisa’s gender? Why is she so gender confused? Didn’t anyone teach her, at an early age, the significants of pink and blue?

I believe that a girl or boy’s tendency towards a gender will depend on how much money their parents or guardians will spend on gender.

My sister-in-law finally gave birth to that girl she had always wished for. Mind you, it only took the birth of three boys before her wish was granted.

From the day they arrived home with their newly born daughter, and every day after that, my sister-in-law and her husband spent thousands of dollars on all things pretty in pink, so no one would ever make the mistake of thinking that their daughter was a boy.

Lisa’s life was a life of poverty before she came into foster care. Her mom, an unemployed single mother of four, was on a welfare allowance that payed for food and rent and nothing else. Just like Sony, Apple or Adidas, a child’s gender was a luxury that mom could never afford.

Poor Lisa, no wonder she’s so gender confused. Her gender is second-hand. All her clothes and toys were hand-me-downs from her older brothers, just like how the clothes and toys her brothers owned had been castoffs donated to a church charity.    

How much money should my partner and I spend on Lisa’s gender? How many times should we swipe our credit cards to have Lisa denounce blue and embrace pink? Wait-this is insane! Why does a child’s gender have to come with a price tag?

I discovered the answer to my question while visiting – of all places – an art gallery. The art being exhibited was oil paintings depicting the life of medieval peasants, painted in a contemporary style. Why a mix of the very old and the very new was chosen, and what the images had to say about today’s society, only the artist knew.
“Are they boys or are they girls?” a redhead in a vintage dress asked her boyfriend as she squinted at a painting.

Boyfriend snorts at the question. “How should I know? They’re children; they’re androgynous.”

The Boyfriend’s comment enabled my eyes to gaze at the painting through the filter of Lisa’s questionable gender. All the children in the painting wore the same loose woollen tunics, had the same bowl haircut. They were miniature, sexless replicas of the grubby adult peasants working in a potato field. The painting revealed to me the medieval attitude towards children and gender: Children don’t get married or start a family. Why would children need a gender? As far as peasants were concerned, Children and gender was ludicrous.

I could easily see Lisa existing in this painting. Same as it is with these children; Lisa’s gender is anyone’s guess. It would take more than a glance to figure out her sex. Lisa’s devotion to wearing only boys wear and playing in dirt puts her in the blue corner, while wearing her long hair in a high side ponytail nudges her toward the pink corner.

My partner and I have embraced this medieval attitude towards children and gender. Pushing Lisa’s gender into the pink? Why that’s just ludicrous.

Now, we just step back, allowing Lisa to put her own spin on pink and blue. Mixing and whirling the gender colours together until Lisa creates, for herself, a whole new colour.


© Ben Dennis

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem