Gender Neutral Parenting – A societal experiment?
It’s a boy! Yay! It’s a girl! Whoa! It’s a theybie! Wait, what??
What questions could have led to gender neutral parenting? Why do we always buy moving toys for boys and barbies and dolls for girls? Is it a compulsion to always dress the girls in fairy gowns and frocks whereas the boys in Tee’s and trousers? Why do we pick pink and white coloured stuff for girls whereas black and blue coloured ones for boys? Are we consciously or subconsciously imposing gender stereotypes on a kid? Or are we imposing their “gender” on them? It’s 2020 and let’s agree on one thing, we don’t want to impose anything on our kids, right millenial parents? Or do we still have some uptight (read =Nazi) parents out there?
Things got quite heated up there with bombardment of so many questions. The point that we are trying to decode is the hidden messages these toys, colours and media hold for different genders. These are just few examples of gender coding that affects a kid’s self image, type of learning, playing opportunities and skill building. Children do not have to fit into the age-old gender defining roles or activities.
what’s the solution?
Parents behave and talk differently with them on the basis of the gender of their children. Remember the moment in your own childhood when you wanted to wear that dress, watch that movie or choose that colour. You could not do it because of the fear of being ridiculed for it. Some of you even had to consider your gender as a factor while choosing your career later on. Do you want your children to go through the same? Well, history doesn’t have to repeat itself and raising a child in a gender-free environment is very well practical and possible. It’s “Gender-Neutral Parenting”.
What is Gender-Neutral Parenting?
Gender-neutral parenting is about breaking free from the gender binary and baring children to a wide variety of gender types and allowing them to explore. There are different forms of gender neutral parenting. The pragmatic form could be simply raising the child in an environment free of gender stereotypes; giving children the freedom to choose what they want for themselves irrespective of their gender. Another extreme form is going label-less on gender i.e. not imposing any gender on the child. Some parents start by simply eliminating the gender-specific roles among themselves i.e. being equal in all terms including household chores. Some opt for “gender self determination” as well where they wait for the children to decide by themselves which gender they identify as.
Why is Gender-Neutral Parenting considered ideal?
The approach eliminates the imposition of masculine and feminine roles for boys and girls respectively. It also gives room for children who might later on identify themselves as non-binary or fall under gender nonconformity since they have seen it getting normalized in on or the other way within their own family since childhood. It also counters the negative impacts of sexism. For example, boys would be able to express their emotions better without masculine constraints. This also lows the children to view the world from a neutral eyes or with a male or female perspective both irrespective of what’s between their legs.
Are sex and gender the same thing?
Although sex and gender are terms that are used interchangeably in real life but they are different concepts. Sex is determined by the genitalia produced by the chromosomes at the time of birth. There are three types assigned at birth: male, female and intersex. Intersex or difference of sexual development (DSD) is used to describe the anatomy that does not categorize exclusively as male or female. Gender, on the other hand, is a huge spectrum. It is an internal, personal perception of oneself which an individual realizes which might not be in sync with the sex assigned at birth. Gender is an umbrella that covers cisgender (a man and a woman who identify themselves with the sex assigned at birth), non-binary, bigender, agender, transgender, etc.
What studies say?
Children exposed to gender-based expectations are at an increased risk for mental and physical health problems during and after puberty. A study conducted on a class of 7 year olds revealed that girls described themselves as pretty but had self-esteem lower than that of boys whereas boys had limited vocabulary and difficulty in expressing emotions.
How different parents do it differently?
A couple decided to tell their daughter how brave and intelligent she is instead of using the word “pretty”. They read her rebel girls stories and got her toy cars and baby dinosaurs. They wiped out all the dolls and the word pink from their dictionary. Another parent found this extreme as it is just replacing one form of imposition with another. She allowed her kids to choose what they like and they played with the conventional gendered toys because of peer influence, she says. A couple found their kid following their activities as kids love to emulate adults. At the end of the day what all parents are trying to do is to give a balanced neutral upbringing to their children by understanding their individualities.
How to find a middle-ground?
- Without going to the extremes you can implement some of the practices in daily life to develop a gender-free environment.
- Make gender less important. Try to not see your kid as a girl or boy. Try addressing them as a kid or child in day to day sentences.
- Try to eradicate gendered toys from the beginning. Let the kid explore and decide what they want to play with. Toys help kids to learn skills. Blocks and board games teach kids counting and structural skills. Dolls teach them fostering.
- Do not impose gendered colours on kids. Boys can wear pink if they want to. Girls can wear dark colours if they love it.
- Try to make boys and girls interact and play together more. This would come handy in schools, colleges and workplace where they would be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes better.
- Tell them that they can identify as cisgender. There are no such strict norms or behavioural pressures that they have to go through. Wearing a nail paint won’t make a boy less of a boy. Playing in mud won’t make a girl less feminine.
- Expose children to career choices beyond gender limitations. Boys can be homemakers and ballet dancers and girls can be successful mechanical engineers.
Myths surrounding Gender-Neutral Parenting
There are several myths surrounding the approach. One of them being that gender neutral parenting can turn the kid into gay. This one can be easily ruled out as no parent can change a child’s sexual orientation. It will be what it is. Statistics supports it too as 85% of the gender bending children identify as cisgender by adulthood. Another one being that this approach shames feminine or masculine behavior. On the contrary it diversified and expands the limits of gender norms.
It allows every child to be as feminine or masculine as they want to be irrespective of their gender. Another myth being that this approach is only useful for children who might fall under gender nonconformity or would identify as transgender in future. That us not true because first of all you cannot identify these at birth. It is always helpful for cisgender kids too where they find a place for themselves which don’t tend to go hyper masculine or hyper feminine for society’s sake.
Is it extreme?
A lot of parents are unsure or uncertain about Gender-neutral parenting. It is new and something advocated by a lot of celebrities. So it is easily mistaken as a fad. People might not be against it but fear the negative consequences linked to it like isolation and bullying during young years. Accepting something which is yet to be fully understood or accepted by the society is a major challenge. Sweden is often rated as one of the most advanced countries in terms of gender equality. Is India there yet? No, but change is the only constant right?