Mar 2Liked by Gender: A Wider Lens

Following on from Kassandra's comments, below, I think it is worth revisiting the history of Gen X. In the United States, and I suspect in the UK also, the break up of families in the 70s was very hard on kids. When I was writing my book, I was asking Gen Xers questions about their memories of the 70s. Inevitably (the divorce rate was 50% then) many of them went through a the break up of their families. I was really struck by how many cried when I asked them what it was like for them. It was as if they'd never been asked. I'm not anti-divorce, but there was a period of time in the 70s when it seems to have become almost a social contagion. At the time, the impact of family breakup on young children was not well understood and received virtually no attention. I think it's corrected somewhat (we now have a different set of issues), but there is an aspect of our childrearing that is seeking to compensate. There are some really interesting longitudinal studies in which these, now adult children, talk about how they want to give their kids the attention they never had. This isn't the whole reason for the blurring of the lines between the needs of parents and their kids, but it's an important aspect.

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This is such a good point. I am the child of divorce and this really resonated with me. I’m not necessarily mad my parents got divorced but if you asked me what it was like for me, I would definitely start crying, too. It definitely influenced my determination to not have that kind of family (splintered and distracted) for my kids.

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Or is Kassandra's comment above??? 😆

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So many interesting paths in this episode. I wanted to comment on magical thinking as I told my 9-year-old that there was no Santa last Christmas and it led to some realizations.

My mom was the youngest of four, and when her sister told her there was no Santa it was very traumatic for her and I don't think she ever got over it. I was the oldest and she went to great lengths to keep up the Santa facade, such as having different wrapping paper for the gifts that "Santa" brought. She did not want to tell me the truth because she was convinced it would traumatize me, but from the time I was seven or eight I'd started doubting and started to realize I was taking part in some sort of cultural ritual (though I would not put it in those words as a kid). When she broke the news to me because my dad insisted because he did not want me to be bullied for still believing when I was 10 or 11, I remember feeling like I'd been inducted in adult knowledge. I wasn't traumatized, I was excited by it.

My mom's approach to Christmas was obsessive and overwhelming, and she would insist on continuing to play Santa until I was an adult and by the time I moved out I was completely burnt out from Christmas. When I had kids I was more laid back, neither confirming nor denying that there was a Santa Claus. I never stated he was coming. They had presents from Santa and Mickey Mouse and Superman and other fictional characters. I didn't try hard at the ruse at all. So I was stunned when at the age of 3 both of my kids STRONGLY believed he was real. I really was not trying hard at the facade at all and they still believed. I think kids are predisposed to believing at that age because of the developmental stage of magical thinking, and since Santa is such a big thing in American culture, my kids still latched on to the belief despite having parents who were tepid towards the concept.

Because they did go through a phase where they believed strongly that he was real, I was worried that they would be traumatized like my mom, but as they've grown older, they started to grow more skeptical on their own and started voicing their skepticism and asking questions. Last Christmas my daughter asked me repeatedly if he was real and I asked if she really wanted to know, and she said she did. So I told her. At 9, she reacted like I did at 10 or 11, as though she was the holder of grown up knowledge that Santa wasn't real. She wasn't traumatized, she was excited about it.

My mother died a few years ago so I can't confirm this, but I suspect my aunt told her when she was still a preschooler and deep in the magical thinking stage and that it was subsequently traumatic for her, while if a child is told when they're older and starting to leave the magical thinking stage it is a growing experience for them that they are excited to be inducted into.

What is happening with the current trans movement though is that magical thinking seems to extend beyond when it is developmentally appropriate, which seems to result in a different type of trauma. And while this does not apply to all, I will say some of the teens I have worked with who declare a trans identity seem to be in this perpetual toddler/preschooler stage that is disconcerting.

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In defense of Father Xmas... Though it's right to say that parents go over the top about trying to make Christmas magical (see the Polar Express which actively refutes the non-believers), I think there's another side.

Think about it. It's a vast adult conspiracy to play along and keep the secret. I see it as a collective recognition that children are different. They are not the same as adults, and that, while we know childhood can't last forever, allowing kids a period of innocence, the "childhood's faith" that Elizabeth Barrett Browning refers to, is a good, and necessary thing. It's a light we carry within us in dark times, a capacity to manufacturer hope against the evidence. Is that hope deluded or necessary? Do stories helps us to grasp opportunities we wouldn't see if we just went on what we can see in the here and now?

Santa is also a rite of passage for the child who tallies up the clues: the "made in China" tag on the toys Santa delivers; the false beards on the Santas at the Mall. We all figured it out and joined with the adults in playing along for the younger children. It's one small step away from childhood and towards taking on the adult role of looking after children.

The problem comes when adults don't want to take responsibility for confirming children's suspicions. Why do they do this?

For one thing, we've lost sight of the difference between kids and adults. It's all too easy to see it the Santa myth through adult eyes, whether that's dismissing Father Christmas as a "lie" which undermines trust (it doesn't and might even make it stronger), or getting caught up in mourning the passing of our own childhoods, maybe because we look a childhood so deterministically (if only I hadn't been disappointed about Santa, I'd be CEO). For another, we no longer take joy in being adults. We no longer make a distinction between between our wants and needs and our children's. We want all the fun and none of the responsibility.

It is delightful to see children's faces Christmas morning, and very useful to tell them that "Santa is watching" when they jump on the sofa. But it is also delightful when children grow up and collude with us and do all the things families do, whether that's 'we'd better go to bed so Santa will come" or moving the "elf on the shelf" (personally I think this elf is the evil and over the top creation of a sadistic and money grubbing adult, but I'm prepared to admit the possibility that kids might find it fun).

In the beginning collusion is the consolation prize for growing up. Later on, when we are older and wiser, and when we have kids of our own, we realize it wasn't the consolation prize but the prize itself.

We have serious problems with the way we are raising children but we'd be much worse off if we got rid of the magic entirely.

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Such an interesting episode. I find myself wanting to tell trans-identifying youth that people who know them or live with them, like their parents, might find it especially difficult or even draining to change their language to use preferred names and pronouns while others, friends, teachers, classmates, might find it easier. People can suspend their own perceptions and beliefs only for so long. Similarly, a same-sex attracted individual may be open to “dating” an opposite-sex person, but it’s not going to become a sustainable relationship.

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Lovely to finally have Kathleen Stock on Wider Lens and ❤️ the amusing coming out moment. Because of course by the gender identity definition, if Kathleen identifies as a man and she is a biological female then [fill in the blank].... 😂 Just love it.

With respect to the fact that people take extreme views such as "all trans identified males are sex pests!" or "how dare you accuse trans people of being sex pests!", this is something that I have been giving a lot of thought to as an economist.

I really think a good rigorous analysis of this is needed from the point of view of moral hazard and base rates - balancing type 1 and type 2 errors. For this as well as things like child transition and the recent trans breast feeding twitter storm, as well as why I think sex matters needs to lighten up a bit about intersex folks using female pronouns and women's toilets.

If Dr Stock or anyone else would be interested in exploring that further with me, please drop me a note on shirabatya@substack.com. I don't think anyone has looked at these things from a moral hazard vantage point.

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