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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Little Philosopher: My Grandson Liam on Gender as a Social Construct

My grandson Liam is three.  Back in early July, 2011, I had the privilege of spending three days with Liam and my son and daughter-in-law in Boulder, Colorado.  Liam was 2 years old back then.

Little children are natural-born artists and philosophers.  Liam is no exception.  When I hung out with Liam in those halcyon days last summer, it dawned on me that Liam's every verbal production was pregnant with a wisdom which the socialization of the young beats out of us.  True artists retain that wisdom.

Liam was still sleeping in his parents' bedroom, in his own bed.  He had a humidifier to maintain a good moisture level in the dry Colorado air.  Until I began visiting my son and his family in that state, I never realized that Denver and Boulder are on a high plain, with nearly desert air conditions.  Colorado air is dry on the high plain.  The state gets something like 300 days of sunshine per year.

Liam's humidifier is a plastic penguin.  The moistened air is discharged into the room through the penguin's black beak.  It sat on a night table next to my son and his wife's bed.

While Liam's parents were out and I was babysitting, Liam was running around the house, and his and his parents' bedroom, in his diaper.  I asked Liam, "What is penguin's name?"  He thought for a moment and said, "Bob. Bob the penguin."  Naturally, I was flattered.  Then I asked Liam, "Is Bob the penguin a boy or girl penguin?"  Again he mulled this one over, this time a bit longer.  "He's just a penguin," replied the little philosopher.

I love that answer.  It told me that Liam was teaching me that gender is largely a social construct, which he has not yet learned, or if he has, he has not yet internalized.  Sex is a physical attribute but gender is a set of qualities, of mind, spirit, interests, dispositions which society teaches us; it is not something which naturally occurs to a child.

Liam may have the uninhibited spirit socialized out of him but until he does, it's a unique experience to hang out with him.  Fortunately, given the distance between Boulder and Middletown, Liam and I are able to interract visually and orally through the magic of Skype. I hope that one day we'll be able to hang out on a regular basis, in person.  There's SO much I need to learn from Liam and probably one or two things I can teach him.


  1. My beloved brother-in-law, the writer William Johnson, sent me the following email Comment about this blog post:

    "Goddesses are just a social construct.

    Unreconstructed William"

  2. Bet you can't wait to connect to your grandson orally. Your words Bobby.