Every time I find myself watching my girls make choices that are stereotypically “girly,” I flash back to a scene just a few years before they were born. I was in graduate school, involved in a lively discussion about the rhetoric of architecture. The details of the conversation are unimportant, but it ended with me appealing to my fellow progressive eggheads, “We all know gender is socially constructed anyway, right?”
I think, at that moment, I actually believed what I had just said. Not just that the notions and valuations of “masculine” and “feminine” were tools of patriarchal oppression; but that all gender differences aside from the obvious physical ones were constructs created and perpetuated, consciously or otherwise, to reinforce social structures.
My belief that gender was socially constructed certainly had more to do with my politics than any review of the science on the matter; but as a childless grad student (and later, adjunct Rhet/Comp professor) married to a brainy, ambitious physician, I found no significant challenges to this element of my worldview.