For a long time, I believed that humans were fundamentally products of nurture, not nature. Then I became a parent. When our daughter was born, my wife and I were determined that we wouldn’t force her to conform to gender stereotypes. So we bought a drawer’s worth of unisex onesies and, when she was 6 months old, presented her with a pile of “boy” and “girl” toys—trucks and dolls. She largely ignored the plastic bulldozers, steamrollers, and big rigs and went straight for the dolls. When our son was born three years later, we went through the same ritual. One afternoon, we saw him crawling speedily toward his sister’s toy stroller and were sure he was about to defy those gender norms. Instead, he flipped the thing over, doll passenger and all, and started furiously spinning the stroller’s wheels. Since that day, he’s had a stereotypically boyish love of anything on wheels: cars, ambulances, dump trucks, you name it.
Some people might regard this seemingly natural behavior as a sign of parental failure. Writing in The New York Times last week, columnist Farhad Manjoo bemoaned how society—TV, the toy industry, moms and dads—shapes kids, making them servants of “silly gender norms” that stifle individuality. (See Best U.S. Columns.) To break free from this “prison for the mind,” Manjoo argues, we should all dump gendered pronouns like “he” and “she” and adopt the more neutral “they.” It’s understandable that some trans or nonbinary people who don’t conform to traditional gender standards might want their own pronoun. But what would be gained by the millions of people—gay and straight, trans and cis—who feel like a he or a she abandoning part of their identity? You cannot protect difference by mandating uniformity. So you be you (they) and I’ll be me (he).