Julie Bindel: Boys aren't born wanting to wear blue

Girls are socialised into loving pink and Barbie. It isn't biologically determined

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When Sasha Laxton was born five years ago, his parents refused to disclose his sex to avoid gender stereotyping. Until Sasha started school recently, when it proved too complicated not to attach a label of "girl" or "boy" to the child, he was simply encouraged to like the colours and play with the toys he favoured, as opposed to those deemed suitable by the gender police.

But reading some of the angry comments generated by reports about Sasha's unusual upbringing highlights how obsessively the gender defenders fight their corner. A Canadian couple insisted they would also raise their baby, Storm, as a gender-neutral child last year, prompting outraged voices who said it was almost becoming "fashionable" to "dupe" people out of the precious information as to whether or not a person is male or female – but unfortunately not.

These days we appear to be more entrenched in notions of gender than we were 10 years ago. Despite the "mad science" behind experiments to attempt to "prove" that there are different male and female brains and that inherent characteristics exist, there is no evidence. Yet, strangely, there is little dissent from those who normally tear apart such quackery like rabid dogs.

People regularly confuse sex with gender. Sex is the biological and physiological characteristics that define male and female. Gender is socially constructed and learned behaviour that society considers appropriate – a set of rules laid down to benefit males and keep females in our place.

As a feminist I want to see an end to the tyranny of gender. I am sick of the way girls are socialised into loving pink and Barbie, and how boys are forgiven the worst behaviour because "boys will be boys". Characteristics and behaviours of boys and girls are not biologically determined. However, females are severely punished for stepping out of line if we behave in a manner not suited to our gender role.

It used to be fairly non-contentious to argue the feminist point that gender is not innate. However in recent years we appear to be returning to the bad old days where it was assumed that humans are hard-wired to be masculine or feminine in behaviour, rather than socialised into it. Only a handful of radicals today dares to challenge the meaning of gender and remind us that it is constantly and wilfully substituted for "sex" by essentialists who wish to defend the notion of a "real man" and "real woman".

Many a reasonable person will no doubt argue that what Sasha's parents have done is a cruel experiment that makes him a sitting duck for bullies. That may be the case, but only because he lives in a world which has become crazed about gender. What a shame Sasha, whether he likes Lego or angel wings, is the exception, and not the norm.

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