What gender scholars know with reasonable certainty:
- What we call “sex” is not completely biological. Even the way we label a person “male” or “female” is connected to cultural definitions of what determines sex. The queasiness and avoidance around intersex variations is powerful evidence of this cultural inclination.
- Gender is not completely social or cultural; neuroscientists are pretty convinced that early childhood learning about gender patterns and expectations impacts brain development and cognition.
- Neither sex nor gender is binary, but a continuum of characteristics and behaviors
- Children learn the prevailing rules of gender before their first birthday, as they acquire language (Mama, Dada, she and he) and learn gendered patterns of color and decoration from their surroundings.
- Gender identity is fairly stable in most children by the age of four. They know how they feel inside and how to label and express it. Even more significant, they know their gender is important.
- Even when they have acquired this knowledge, it takes a few more years before a child fully internalizes their sense of self as a “boy” or “girl”. This is because they rarely believe that their sex (biologically speaking) is permanent until they are six or seven years old. This explains why a little girl may insist on only wearing dresses. She fears that wearing pants will make her a boy.
- Shifts in how we talk about and express gender make it harder for everyone to learn the “rules''. Adults frequently complain about having to adjust to new standards; children just learning how their culture works might also find it hard to figure out changing patterns.
- How much of the variations in gender expression that we see in children are linked to biology (i.e., hormones, genetics).
- How biological factors interact with social and cultural factors, especially in infancy and early childhood.