October 17, 2022

Gender Nonconformity and Culture Wars

Jenny Enos author photoBy Jenny Enos

For the past few years, an unprecedented “culture war” has been brewing in the U.S. While contemporary issues of race, class, sexuality, gender, and abortion (just to name a few) have deep historical roots, our current hyper-polarized climate has amplified each of these debates to the point where each side feels that their very existence is threatened by the other. We have recently seen this sense of threat escalate to violence numerous times: from the insurrection on January 6th 2021, to parents fighting at local school board meetings, to deadly massacres driven by white supremacist ideology.

One recent, explosive development in this culture war is the debate around children’s sexuality and gender. Just this year, an unprecedented number of legislative bills have been introduced across the country that aim to “erode protections for transgender and gay youth” and to limit discussions about gender and sexuality in classrooms. This legislative pushback comes as teachers are being accused of “indoctrinating” or even “grooming” students by parents and politicians who are concerned that discussing sexuality and gender identity will strip children of their innocence. As part of a larger effort to consolidate more power in the hands of parents to make their own decisions for their children – the so-called “parental rights” movement – school districts across the country have been forced to change curricula and even remove books from school libraries that a minority of parents deem inappropriate. The argument is that parents, and parents alone, should decide whether and when to have conversations about “sensitive topics” with their children – not teachers.

Meanwhile, parents on the other side of the debate are welcoming and even encouraging “gender nonconformity” in their children. As opposed to strictly adhering to the social rules about how boys and girls should e.g. behave and dress (what sociologists refer to as gender norms), gender nonconformity refers to behaviors and expressions that do not align with societal expectations of how a person of a certain gender should behave. From birth, some parents are raising their children as neither boys nor girls, thus letting the children explore and figure out their gender identity on their own. More commonly, parents find themselves having to adjust after their children express that they identify as gender nonconforming or transgender. Interestingly enough, many parents of gender nonconforming children often report that it is the negative or dismissive reactions of other adults to the child’s identity – of other family members, friends, or teachers – that is the most challenging part of raising a gender nonconforming child. Of course, in many cases, those negative or dismissive reactions also come from the parents themselves, who may be unsupportive of their child’s gender nonconformity.

In sociological terms, how can we explain parents’ attitudes toward their children’s gender nonconformity? And in what situations are parents more likely to be supportive of their children breaking gender norms? In a recently published article in Sociological Forum, Lawrence Stacey conducts a survey experiment that shows that parents are more supportive and less upset when girls break gender norms than they are when boys do the same. The author argues that this discrepancy is the result of societal belief structures that privilege masculinity over femininity, leading parents to feel greater concern when boys behave in feminine ways than when girls behave in masculine ways. Because of the high value of masculinity, boys “stand to lose more” by not conforming to gender roles, causing parents to be more concerned by boys’ gender nonconformity than girls’.

Importantly, this study suggests that much of the narrative of “concern” about children’s gender identity is ultimately rooted in patriarchy and misogyny. If society did not devalue femininity and women to the extent that it does, perhaps there would be more acceptance of gender nonconformity – especially for children assigned male at birth. 


It is an empirical question whether young boys are always being ridiculed for effeminacy and thus expected to act more masculine which tends to be aggressive. An important issue is where these attitudes are coming from concerning nonconformity: from the studies in social psychology regarding conformity by Asch or Milgram? What I find objectionable is that the biological information regarding sexuality is not being provided to young children who do not know what sexuality is all about. Another issue is the ecological relation between our overcrowded nation and alternative sexual strategies related to dispositions towards reproduction and family.

This article was amazing. Definitely a big topic in todays discussions and todays society. It is sad that boys are suppose to "look, act, and dress" a certain way, and vice versa for girls. Once they're older, many regret not "living in their own skin" sooner, and not coming out sooner. Its depressing that these kids get bullied, assaulted, etc just for being who they really are.

1.) The article I read was, Gender Nonconformity and Culture Wars, by Jenny Enos. This article touched base on a lot of topics/issues in todays society about the "gender norms". Boys should be boys and be masculine, girls should be girls and be feminine. There has been a huge rise in Asian culture violence for example. Attacks on Asian people have arose extremely. Race, sexuality, sexual orientation, and so on, have been issues for years and years. Fortunately, there has also been an uprise in parents involvement and standing up for their kids and their choices. Some parents shun their children, disown, etc., but these parents have been more active and vocal on changing societies outlook on the subject. The studies and topics in this article show how after all of these years, the United States still has yet to fully change society's gender norms, and that there is still a huge differentiation in opinions.

2.) The author of this article explains in great detail studies and facts on the rise of white supremacy, how your upbringing can affect your views of life, and culture wars over the last few years. "For the past few years, an unprecedented “culture war” has been brewing in the U.S."(Enos, 2022). This shows how a lot of self entitled people in the world are taking matters into their own hands, and inflicting violence to this world. A social connection between peoples views and beliefs with todays society is causing "culture wars" in the world, that seems like a bunch of built up anger being released. If it wasnt for the increase of violence, the world just might be a better place socially as well.

3.) This article did a lot of research. It was not just the author's opinion, but actual facts and statistics given. The author mentioned how tolls were taken, percentages of increased parent involvement, asking around in different school districts, etc. A quote from the article, "parents are more supportive and less upset when girls break gender norms than they are when boys do the same". Showing, there is more leniency with girls than there is for boys, which is just unfair. Its a double standard in todays society. If a boy doesnt act masculine and dress like a boy then its a problem. Regardless of gender, there will always be a stigma and stereo-type.

4.) Common sense and every day perspective is used in this article, because when you think of a girl you automatically think of feminine; when you think of a boy, you automatically think strong and masculine. From this article, you can see how masculinity is more accepted over femininity. If a boy is feminine, its usually not accepted. Also from this article, white supremacy and self entitlement are issues in todays society. People are afraid to just walk down the street, go to the store, the mall, etc., just because of the color of their skin or sexual orientation. Whether you're a black transgender woman, white gay man, it doesnt matter. This makes people think about transgenders, African Americans, Asians, etc being targeted more than anyone else, just because they dont fit in with "what should be".

5.) In my opinion, to me, "sociological imagination" is the expansion of what we already know. It is taking what we know and grew up with, and thinking beyond that- outside the box of what is, can be or should be. Not being stuck in one mindset, seeing views from different ways. I believe it is important to look at the bigger picture and expand what you already know.

I see that in the US there has been and is going on an underground fight over freedom of speech

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