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"Gender neutral"

Admit to being a fan of "gender neutral" parenting in certain company and you'll likely receive a few patronizing glances and eye rolls, and stories about how their kids are true boys and true girls who like nothing but gender-appropriate play, toys, books, clothing, and TV shows, and there's nothing wrong with that or the way they were raised, Goddamnit!

As I've said elsewhere, just because I chose differently, doesn't automatically mean I think others have chosen poorly: Others have made decisions, and I'm making decisions. Also, just because some sample population turned out OK doesn't mean another way can't be better, in some cases.

With that said, much of the eye-rolling comes from a misunderstanding of what most "gender neutral" parenting advocates are actually proposing. First, what we are not talking about.

What "gender neutral" does not mean:

  • Dolls are banned or discouraged for girls.
  • Pink is banned or discouraged for girls.
  • Dresses are banned or discouraged for girls.
  • Toy guns are banned or discouraged for boys.
  • Rough play is banned or discouraged for boys.
  • Girls are "raised like boys".
  • Boys are "raised like girls".
  • If a girl likes dresses or pink or dolls or fashion you've failed at being gender neutral.
  • If a boy doesn't like dresses or pink or dolls or fashion you've failed at being gender neutral.
  • If a boy likes dinosaurs or trucks or sports or roughhousing you've failed at being gender neutral.
  • If a girl doesn't like dinosaurs or trucks or sports or roughhousing you've failed at being gender neutral.

What "gender neutral" does mean:

  • Don't say toys, colors, clothing, TV shows, behaviors, or types of play are for a specific gender.
  • Let a child figure out what he or she likes without judgment.
  • Don't assume that because a child is a certain gender, he or she is a certain way, or will like or dislike certain things.
  • Try to emphasize to the child that he or she can act a certain way, dress a certain way, or like or dislike certain things, even if most of the other kids of the same gender don't.
  • Give a child opportunities to play with and experience many things, regardless if that thing is normally associated with that gender or not.

That's pretty much it. I can't say I've always met all my goals: sometimes definitely not. But I try to treat children as individuals, not as representatives of their gender. The idea is to give children a wide range of options without regard to society's view of what is appropriate for that gender.

The goal is not to make children into something they are not. It'd be very hard to make a child like things and forms of play he or she doesn't, and it's probably impossible to make a child gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, trans, gender-fluid, or whatever through parenting techniques. So it's not about changing who the child is (or will become), it's about making sure the process of finding out who he or she is and what he or she likes is as stress-free as possible.

It may be that a particular child will end up matching societal gender norms fairly closely, and that's perfectly fine, but even if that child ends up being a happily-archetypal boy or girl, he or she will meet many who aren't, and wouldn't it be great if that child were accepting of other kids who didn't match up quite so well?


See also: Boys are more destructive and "My Little Pony is a show for girls." An imaginary/compilation conversation.

2014-05-30 #gender  

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