The following is a guest post written by a good friend of mine. Hope you enjoy!
A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day and it really got me thinking. These parents are trying to raise their 3 children, 2 boys and one child whose gender has not been announced to the world, in a gender neutral world. I, too, have chosen to raise my daughter, now 7, in a gender neutral world. But I also understand that a lot of what makes people male or female is engrained in us and I am not just talking about certain genitalia and hormones.
I have re-read the article multiple times and have decided that there are some similarities between myself and these parents.
- I, too, gave my daughter a gender neutral first name.
- I have also allowed my daughter the freedom to decide who she will choose to be. One day it will be a pretty, pretty princess and the next day it will be a hard rock/punk girl.
- My daughter can also pick out her own clothes from either department in the store. In fact, for Christmas 2010, her new pajamas and robe were straight from the traditionally “boys” department and featured skulls and candy cane shaped crossbones.
- I, too, hope that one day my daughter will live in a world where people can make the choice to be whoever they want to be and society will be fine with that choice.
- I also agree that children receive messages from society that encourage them to fit into existing societal boxes.
But that is about where the similarities end. My daughter knows she is a female as do all of my family and friends. I wanted to combat the pretty princess toys and pink “girlie” outfits. Well guess what? I lost and lost big time. As much as I didn’t want my daughter to be the girlie girl, she pretty much is. Don’t get me wrong, she loves to hang with the boys on our street and play superheroes, but give her the chance to wear a dress, a pretty hair bow and paint her nails…yes please!
I am all for raising kids in a gender neutral world…I was raised in one. There were no such things as girl specific toys or boy specific toys; I saw my dad cook dinner just as I saw my mom do yard work; and when I was little I had the primary colored room and my brother had the pastel colored room.
I wonder how the family and friends of these parents feel – I guess since no one else can change a diaper for fear of discovering the baby’s gender, they may not mind! I do have one major issue (okay more than one, but this is the one that I will touch on) with how these parents are raising their two older boys, it isn’t the fact that they have long hair and wear pink, but at 5 and 2, should they be responsible for explaining their parent’s choices to the outside world? Talk about undue pressure for little kids. Why should a child be the one to correct a person if said person gets their gender wrong? Maybe the parents could take responsibility for this, but then also add a caveat such as “Jazz and/or Kio are boys, but we leave it up to them to decide what they wear and how their hair is styled.” When people, especially over the phone, mistake my daughter for a boy, I don’t go, get her and make her explain that her name can be either a girl’s name or a boy’s name. I just very politely (and sometimes not so politely especially to people who should know that she is a girl, like the receptionist at her doctor’s office) say, “She is a girl.”
There were multiple occasions when I had to correct people on my daughter’s gender when she was younger, maybe they thought she was a boy because she didn’t have much hair until she was at least 2, but more likely it was because she was in dressed a fire truck outfit (her dad is a firefighter) or once when she had on khakis. My retort to the person after they asked why my baby daughter was in khakis was, “Well, don’t adult women wear khakis?” That quieted her quickly!
As a strong and independent feminist, did I balk when all my 4 yr old daughter wanted for Christmas was a Barbie? Yes I did. But did I march into Target and buy one for her? Yes I did. Okay so it took me about 30 minutes because I would pick it up and five minutes later go put it back down again. That cycle repeated itself multiple times. Why did I do it? Because it is what she wanted – my daughter knows why I am not pro-Barbie, but was so thrilled that Santa got her one that year. So it made my going against my feminist sensibilities okay.
But in my traditionally rebellious fashion, I will more likely buy the “boy” version of the toy before I buy the “girl” version of the same toy. Like this past Christmas, as I was wandering aimlessly around Toys R Us trying to locate the oh-so-coveted Zhu Zhu Pets, I was pointed in the correct direction by a salesperson, but before she told me where to go, she asked, “Is it for a boy or a girl?” My traditional answer came out, “Well it is for my daughter, but it doesn’t matter.” I proceeded to buy a “boy” one instead the overly girly pink or purple version. And FYI, the “boy” version was on sale and the “girl” version wasn’t – that also helped me to make my decision!
The same thing happens at McDonald’s when I, on the rare occasion, will treat my daughter to a Happy Meal. More often than not, my daughter would rather have the “boy” toy. But I always do ask her which one she would pefer. So when the person at McDonald’s asks, “Boy or girl?” I have learned not to say, “It doesn’t matter”, but instead, “Boy”. Because then my daughter will be happy with the toy. It has happened once or twice where I have had to exchange the toy because the cashier has taken it upon themselves to give us the “girl” toy.
But with me it doesn’t just end with toys and clothes, my daughter knows that men and women are equal and in a household (and in the workforce), the men and the women can and should do the exact same things in an equal fashion. Or at least divide the household chores in a way that makes both partners happy. Luckily, she has my parents to model this behavior for her.
It also extends to the societal norm that I probably despise the most…shaving my legs and underarms. Now I will do both, not on a regular basis and usually for a special occasion, but do I curse it every time? Yes. My daughter knows that she can choose to shave or to not shave and exactly why I feel the way that I do feel about shaving. It is because there is no equivalent societal norm that men are forced to follow. People will say…men have to shave their facial hair. Do I prefer a cleanly shaven man? Yes (mostly because the stubble can hurt when kissing!), but do I look down on a man because he chooses not to shave? No. Does society? No. But do they look down upon women who choose not to shave? Yes. Remember the Julia Roberts hairy armpit incident?
The eldest boy, Jazz, was asked whether some choices that have been made for him upset him (because even though his parents truly feel that they are leaving all the choices up to him, they aren’t), he nodded his head yes. I hope that the parents are happy and okay with whatever choices their 2 boys and one as of yet unknown gendered child make as they grow up.
I am all for raising kids in a gender neutral world, but like everything else, do it in moderation! You want to have well balanced children and I wonder how balanced the children of these parents will truly be. It would be very interesting to come back to these children in 20 or so years and see how they have fared. To see if they are still keeping with the tenets that were taught to them by their parents or whether societal norms have crept in and overcome their childhood teachings. And to what degree both of these different and opposing teachings/norms have had on their lives.
Societal norms be darned as far as I am concerned, but I also know when to pick my battles and realize that some just can’t be fought!
Hope you enjoyed this guest post. Feel free to leave any comments or feedback for the writer below!