It’s always easy to describe as happy, the situation in which one wishes to place others
Simone de Beauvoir
Sex and gender are different. Our sex is typically assigned at birth based on our genitals. Currently, many people argue this is an immutable, biological state but if you check out this video from Riley Dennis you might appreciate the greater complexities inherent in sex. Gender, like sex, was once considered immutable but there is now large agreement it is a social construct.
Children are usually told there are two gender identities to pick from and that their sex determines which one they should pick: boy or girl. This is called the “gender binary.” But it can take time for a person to figure out and express their own gender identity.
These days, our kids increasingly reject the boy-girl binary. Gender instead is seen on a spectrum. The metaphor out there of gender as Rubik's cube is also quite handy. Rather than two-sided (girl-boy) it has six different sides and each side has several rows and columns that can be morphed to create a side with an entirely new appearance. Each square, row, column, and side, with varying colors, is unique.
Gender identity and expression, as well as sexual orientation, often come into full swing in adolescence (though sometimes earlier too).
Gender is personal (how we see/experience ourselves), while sexual orientation is interpersonal (who we are physically, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to). Or sometimes sexual orientation is described as who you sleep WITH; gender is who you go to sleep AS. Many people mix these up, but they are very different.
If you're confused, you're not alone. Read our Gender Diversity page to see through the lens of today's teens. They just wanna be who they are.
While the variety and terms associated with gender today may baffle us, many parents are aware of the limits that come with rigid gender expectations and try to practice more gender neutral parenting.
Puberty can heighten rigid gender expectations as parents scramble to manage or prevent sex and all the risks and complications that come with it. But it's enforced gender norms that put girls more at-risk, not less. Girls are instructed to present in a certain way -- button up, sit with their legs closed, wear make up but not too much etc. All of that has little to do with their safety and instead serves to make them feel vulnerable and increase the gender division of power.
While the focus on girls' sexual vulnerability can make girls feel like walking targets, it can have the effect of making boys feel like predators. In many cultures though being a "sissy" is worse than being a predator. In other words, domination is upheld as a healthy masculine trait giving boys get very mixed messages about gender expression.