Raising Gender Neutral Children

Often feminists refer to the theory that as men and women, we are socialized into acting in stereotypical male and female ways. A woman is supposed to be quiet, demure, and sexy while a man should be muscular, loud, and macho. The belief lies at the heart of a lot of feminist theory, and that is that there are no biological reasons why men act the way they do, and women the same.  Hidden amongst all the talk about socialization one will find a lot of references to childrearing, and how to raise gender neutral children.  I’ve read many of the articles on the subject, and saw a variation of these three common themes amongst them. Toys should be made completely gender neutral, colors should be gender neutral, clothing should be gender neutral, and parents should watch what they saw about stereotypes. I’d like to go over each of these and offer a critique of what I believe to be a largely superficial approach.

Toys: The easiest way to approach the question of what types of toys are gender neutral is one fraught with difficulties. The simple solution to this is to just buy toys for both girls and boys for your child when they are young (and the most susceptible to life altering learning patterns of behaviour) . However what generally happens is that the toys being bought aren’t used and they are simply ignored. In fact, there are actually notable differences in the way even babies as young as 8 months old play. Don’t get me wrong I think that those who strive to make gender neutral toys are not damaging anything, and for a few children it may be nice to have a blue easy bake oven for boys. However, at the same time if we are really to take the toy theory seriously, then we are supposed to believe that somehow the choice we make about what toys we give our children will have lifelong consequences and shape their world view. And at the end of the day, anyone with children knows that children do most of the choosing for what they want to play with. You can buy a little girl an expensive gift, only to see them happier playing with the paper it was wrapped with, and then sitting in the box. My little girl has a box full of toys, but she’d rather open and close the cabinets for hours on end.

Clothes: Dressing a 4 year old boy in a skirt, a burette pinning back his hair , and pink hello kitty shoes doesn’t make him any more gender neutral.  As adults we would generally refer to someone who does this as a crossdresser, and while I have no problems with men who dress like women, I am assured of one thing, and that is that it was their choice to do so.  With a 4 year old child it is generally the choice of the parent to buy the child a dress, and send hom off to school wearing it. Now once again, I’d like to state that in a perfect world I’d have absolutely no problem with this. However sending a boy to school in a dress puts him immediately in a situation where he will be different from everyone else, and I would argue that this negative attention he would receive would far outweigh the personal politics of his parents.  We should also acknowledge how far we’ve come. By telling our daughters that she can be president, or telling our sons that they should learn to vocalize their emotions we are already conforming a bit to breaking down certain gender stereotypes.  In the following video below you can see an instance where the boy definitely did Choose to wear a skirt to school, and the repercussions he faced because of it. I’m against what the school did by suspending him (although I’m not a big fan of schools becoming fashion shows) since he did choose to wear the skirt on his own volition. Putting a dress on a 3 year boy on the other hand is a bit of a different story.

Colors: Everyone knows that pink is for boys, and blue is for girls so baby nurseries across the nation have taken on the opposite colors. This is generally the first topic that comes up when there’s ever any discussion about gender identity and children. And I can’t really see anything wrong with trying to break down these stereotpyes. Any glance at the girls aisle in a toy store shows that the stereotype is undeniable, however this also brings up a larger question and that is why do toy companies produce toys of these colors. The answer I believe is obvious and has very little to do with “upholding the patriarchy” and everything to do with making money. Society demands a certain product, and so toy companies conform. Make no mistake when the easy bake oven came out with their model for boys they weren’t thinking about changing the world, they were thinking they had a new demographic to advertise to.

Watching what you say: I agree that this is an important part of raising any child. But really, I believe it to be a much smaller issue than most let on. In reality we are not telling our little girls that they cant do math and science anymore, we are in fact doing the opposite. We aren’t telling our little girls that they should be in the kitchen their whole lives and find a good man to marry. We are telling them to go out and find what they’re good at and kick some ass.

This leads me to the conclusion that in fact there is little chance that you will ever raise a gender neutral kid. Anyone with children knows that certain kids like certain things, and whether we like it or not, we are all slaves to the genetics that we inherit. Take a look at your brother, and your sister, and you will most likely see that everyone in your family is quite different even though they were raised by the same parents. As brain science develops even further, we are now seeing that male and female brains are actually wired differently, and that we also respond from a very young age to different stimuli.  So to all of those wishing to raise a gender neutral child I would plead with them to not put their own personal politics above the wishes, and well being of their children.