I have written about this topic before, but I recently came across an article which reignited my frustration and I felt the need to write again. Why has gender become such a contentious topic in today’s parenting community?
The aforementioned article refers to a couple who have decided to keep their 3rd baby’s gender a secret to all except those who were present at the birth. They have named the baby “Storm”, which is exactly what they are brewing by raising a “gender-free” baby. Their two previous children are boys, whom they allow to choose their own clothes (including pink dresses) and whether they want to cut their hair. But that is a completely different idea to “gender-free” parenting.
For starters, look at the differences in a male and female’s physique. A man has more muscle mass and is physically stronger. This is to enable him to fulfill his traditional role as a “hunter-gatherer”. Obviously, as time has unfolded, not all men “work the land” as they were originally deigned to, but the physical aspects of a man have not changed. A woman’s body has a higher fat percentage, which is useful in providing the right nourishment for childbearing. Our bodies have been designed for gender-specific purposes. Yes there is about a 10-week window in-utero in which we are unisex, but from there we go on to develop female or male genitalia – don’t you think there is a reason for this evolution?
Babies are not aware of their own gender until the age of about 2 or 3. Even then the distinction, in their minds, ends at boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. They might start noticing that most girls have long hair and most boys have short hair, that is just the norm for the societal majority. In the article, the “gender-free” baby’s older brother who is 5 years old, chooses to wear dresses and “girl coloured” clothes and have long hair, but gets upset when people mistake him for a girl. He knows he is a boy, he wants to be a boy, he just likes experimenting with dressing up. This is NORMAL. What is not normal is that he had to ask his mother to correct some people who were assuming he was a girl and he (apparently) chooses not to attend conventional schools because of gender-related questions.
The parents also say that parents in general, make too many decisions for their kids and it’s “obnoxious”. Isn’t that precisely what they are doing? They are making a very huge political choice about keeping their child’s gender a secret. What if their child chooses to follow the typical stereotype of his or her actual gender? Will the parents be disappointed that their alternative choices didn’t change a thing? Will the child struggle to find any identity or feel ashamed to identify as their own sex, for fear of disappointing their parents?
I think there is definitely room for creative play and there is no harm in children choosing their own clothes and hair styles – in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that children have healthy boundaries and routine. My experience is that kids really do thrive on flexible routines with guidelines to help them figure out what’s right and wrong. The choices parents make are not “obnoxious” if they are done with the child’s best interest at heart. I’m sure even the “gender-free” baby’s parents think they have their child’s best interest at heart. I’m all for natural parenting, I just think that their ideas are a bit too ‘left of centre’ and almost certainly will be damaging to their children.
I try my best to offer toys without gender bias. I offer dolls, prams, trains, cars – whatever my boy seems interested in. I was pretty close to buying him a wooden unisex dolls house because he loved one he played with when we visited a friend, but instead he got a wooden train set table (it was cheaper and he is also in love with trains). I do let him choose between a choice of two options of clothes I pick to buy, but letting him run free to seemingly allow him to choose either girls or boys clothes would result in no clothes being bought at all or him wanting the whole shop. To tell you the truth, I don’t have a problem with boys in blue and girls in pink. It’s getting increasingly difficult to NOT dress like this because most clothes are gender specific. But I also don’t have a problem with boys in pink and girls in blue.
The most important thing is to teach our children acceptance and tolerance. The best the we, as parents, can do for our children is foster self-confidence and imaginative play. We need to encourage the choices they make and not push them into gender stereotypes, especially with regards to hobbies, sports and, later on, job choice. But I really do think that “gender-free” parenting is crossing the line and tipping the delicate balance of boundaries, which is our parenting responsibility and duty.