Gender is arbitrary, constructed in thousands of moments like this. This was a microaggression, policing the masculinity of a toddler.
Over time, this child will no doubt learn to suppress natural and instinctive behaviors in order to fit his mother’s expectations of gender conformity and fulfill a role in the masculine hegemony that governs our interactions, directly affecting our outcomes.
The idea that gender differences are natural and biological is so accepted that to even speak in opposition to that notion is a form of blasphemy. But think back to the moment of birth – what is the first thing we must know about a newborn. Is it weight, height, or Apgar score? NO! It is gender. It’s a girl – get out the pink bows. It’s a boy – a tiny baseball mitt and a football.
Our behavior towards newborns and infants is very specifically genderized. We cradle little girls, cooing and telling them they are beautiful. With little boys? We engage in mock roughhousing, boxing with them. We police the behavior of boys, enforcing our perception of what it means to be male, starting from their first moments on the planet.