Genderless Childrearing: Liberating or Limiting?
By now you’ve heard about the parents in Canada who have chosen to raise their four month old baby gender neutral.
On one hand I applaud their efforts because I too believe that there can be too much pressure put upon children to be one gender or the other. On the other hand, I can’t back this school of thought, or parenting completely.
It’s not that I don’t think the parents, (who have named their baby Storm), don’t have a right to raise their child however they want. I fully think that if they have the child’s best interests in mind then that should be what happens but after reading the story on the family and how one of the older siblings, Jazz, has begun dealing with gender issues, it makes me wonder if they aren’t going to do their third child more harm than good.
The idea of raising a child gender neutral looks good on paper and may even sound like a great idea when you say it out loud but when it comes down to the potential issues and problems a child will face as they begin interacting with their peers, I can’t help but wonder how worth it it is, or if it’s the parents in their search for validation that by raising a gender neutral child they are creating a world where gender doesn’t matter, they aren’t in fact, contributing to gender stereotypes and gender bias in some way.
Take for instance, the oldest sibling Jazz; he is five and likes to wear dresses and keep his hair long and in three braids. He paints his nails and wears a stud earring in one ear and according to the article I read, doesn’t mind people thinking he’s a girl. Yet at the same time, he has asked his mother to write a note to the Nature Center he visits because “he likes the group leaders and wants them to know he’s a boy.”
What a confusing time this has to be for him; working hard to hold on to what he likes, yet discovering that he is in fact a boy and that is something that the people he values and respects should know! For a child who seems comfortable in his gender neutrality it sure does seem like he’s already making some gender choices. I am curious to see how many more times mom will have to write a note for him declaring his gender for people as he ages.
I believe there should be a balance in gender choices. For the longest time Peanut played dress up with his sister and was content to run around the house in my feather boas (brought back from various conference after parties), purses and even her dresses, as was Bug with my things. Shorty and Bebe are only 16 months apart so what one did, the other did as well. It wasn’t uncommon to find them both painting their nails (or Bebe painting Shorty’s) and playing in my make-up together.
They have all carried around baby dolls at one point or another, played kitchen, house, help daddy fix things and help me cook. They all have chores which involve household duties such as laundry, dishes and cleaning and even though I begged my boys to cut their hair over the winter, they each chose to grow it out and wear it long until they grew tired of the look. Bebe herself has worn her hair both long and short, donned her brother’s clothes and boots, and dug in dirt. At the same time of doing all of this though, each of my children were aware that they were either boy or girls and while each of us has many of the same gifts and talents, we also have individual ones that make us unique and special.
It’s about balance. And I’m thoroughly thankful to have given my children the freedom to play with whom or what they wanted, make up names for themselves, and role play in the opposite gender when it so suited them (or even a different species in the case of dinosaurs, aliens, bugs, cats, dogs, fish or farm animals). But I can’t imagine not giving them any identity at all and throwing them to the world without a basic understanding of what it is and in theory, forcing them to make all their decisions on their own. At 18 months, both of Storm’s older brothers were allowed that freedom and choice.
What I don’t agree with is asking your children to keep their sibling’s gender a secret; at two and five this is a big secret to covet and one that may not be fully understood. I also don’t think that by letting Storm (the baby) choose who he or she wants to be, the baby doesn’t get a chance to grasp or fully embrace one gender or the other and denies them the chance at finding their one true gender. There will be a constant push or pull to try one over the other and while I’m sure the parents are claiming the best intentions, won’t they be inciting bullying or exclusion in one way or another and isn’t limiting or excluding the very thing they’re claiming they aren’t doing?
Author, psychologist and mother Diane Ehrensaft said it herself, “I believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them.”
No one knows what the future holds for these three children and who knows; perhaps we’re on the verge of radically changing gender issues and gender biases with this one baby but until then, I see no reason to make things more complicated, confusing, or harder on a child as they learn about the world around them.
If you could start over your child rearing, would you choose to raise your baby gender neutral and keep it from people? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your take on this story!