gender variant childrenGender-variant kids aren’t necessarily LGBTQ kids. A little girl who wants to play with trucks and pretend to be a firefighter is to be upheld as a bad ass contradiction to every Barbie that ever existed. But a little boy who wears princess dresses is reason to sound the parental alarm. To start Googling terms like “hormone blockers” and “genderqueer” and send out mass emails to playgroup about your child’s personal interpretation of gender. Such are the quandaries of the parents in The New York Times Magazine second big piece this year exploring gender and children. And yet the disparities between what constitutes a “gender alarm” for our sons versus our daughters — or any other gender identification between — lets us firmly know that being born male is considered better. Even now.

In the Times’ exploration of many parents’ struggles to properly parent their gender-variant kids, it’s noted that being a “tomboy” is more of a pat on the back for our modern girls rather than a derogatory descriptive. Films like Brave may have quite a lot to offer princess culture, which is still replete with problematic messages. And even though running around carrying a bow and arrow without a boyfriend may have some critics floating the idea that said little girl is our first lesbian princess, girls who waltz into previously male-dominated arenas are almost uniformly applauded. The Google science fair has awarded another genius young girl for the second year in a row. Stories like that of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose team famously refused to finish a game of baseball against a girl, are in the minority. This isn’t to suggest that anomalous achievements by girls should be exemplified to convey that girls are uniformly all right, as with 6-year-olds looking to up their sex appeal, there are still a rainbow of concerns we should be having about them.

But when the metaphorical pink princess castle is tipped the other way, it seems that where we root for our daughters to boldly obliterate gender norms, our eyebrows furrow for our sons. For every little girl who picks up a baseball bat, there is some parent somewhere shushing their boy from playing with Barbies in public. The Times points out that that isn’t only evidenced in how we think about toys, but even baby names, as it was reported last year that Americans love “gender-bending” baby names — but only for girls. A little girl named Maxwell Drew or Wyatt, as we’ve seen from celebrity mothers, is considered edgy or cool, whereas a boy named Madison is reason for people to squint over your baby announcement.

“The shift,” the Times notes, comes down to basic sexism. Boys are better than girls:

The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?”

It’s this exact “status gain” that has parents of gender-variant kids rushing their kids off to therapists at completely different rates — and for much different behaviors:

Boys are up to seven times as likely as girls to be referred to gender clinics for psychological evaluations. Sometimes the boys’ violation is as mild as wanting a Barbie for Christmas. By comparison, most girls referred to gender clinics are far more extreme in their atypicality: they want boy names, boy pronouns and, sometimes, boy bodies.

Phrases like “throwing like a girl” might silence a modern baseball field of parents, but the underlying sentiment of that statement remains the same and continues to thrive in not just our conversations surrounding gender-variant or LGBTQ children, but also how we raise cisgendered girls. Don’t be fooled. Just because we’re all breaking into smiles over a possible engineering LEGO set “for girls” doesn’t mean that our daughters are necessarily eons away from the notion that they can’t do math. Until even that “whiff of femininity” doesn’t seem like an inherent downgrade for boys, girls are still absolutely perceived as the second sex.

(photo: olly/ Shutterstock)