Genderless Child-Rearing II

Almost two years ago I wrote a post about genderless child-rearing which introduced a Swedish child named Pop who didn’t even know what sex s/he (it?) is. Now that s/he’s almost two years older I wonder how that’s turning out for him/her. Of course, s/he still hasn’t started school yet. That’s when it will really get difficult to maintain the pose that this child is genderless.

Yes, I wrote “the pose.” I could as easily have written “the fiction.” Because I think that’s all genderless child-rearing will ever be: a social experiment where one’s own child is the guinea pig.

Now there’s a new family in the news, this one from Toronto, Canada, which has decided to raise  its newest child gender-free. See the video below:

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89% of over 52,000 people who responded to a poll about this story thought that genderless child-rearing is a terrible idea. That doesn’t surprise the expert who was interviewed on the show because “most of us are conventional and like to put things in a box.” But is that the only reason we think children should be raised according to their genitalia?

You’d think a feminist would be all for this idea. After all, the most radical among us have argued that gender is nothing but a social construct. The logical conclusion of this belief is that a child who is raised gender-neutral will eventually pick his or her own gender identification. That’s what baby Storm’s parents believe. They got the idea to keep Storm’s sex a secret from the way their older children are responding to their parents’ willingness to let them decide what they like to do, wear, and play with. Their oldest son sometimes wear dresses. The youngest is often mistaken for a girl. The kids don’t seem to mind.

I might be a feminist, but I’m uncomfortable with this. Just because we often go too far in shaping gender identity (forcing trucks and baseball on boys and dolls and dance lessons on girls, for instance) doesn’t mean that knowing which sex you are is not an important part of your development. I think it’s enough to teach our boys that they can be  nurturing and our girls that they can be aggressive. To blot from our vocabulary the phrase, “Little boys/girls don’t do that.”

At the same time, I recognize that it’s awfully easy to slip into gender-imprinting behavior. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to. And the fiction won’t be sustainable once children hit puberty.

The real problem is that in our attempts to teach our children to identify with their sex, we teach them to dislike the opposite one. The worst epithet that males can hurl at each other is, “You’re such a girl.” Girls are taught that boys are smelly and dirty and loud  and that they in turn have to be fragrant, clean and quiet. If we could somehow convey to our children that the opposite sex is just as important, interesting and acceptable as they are, we’d go a long way toward erasing sexual discrimination.

In a way it’s easier to raise a child without gender than it is to teach our boys and girls that the opposite sex is not some kind of alien condition that they cannot possible relate to.

Let’s raise our kids to respect and enjoy each other no matter what sex they are. We need to prevent them from thinking that one sex is better than the other. If our kids ask, “What does it mean to be a boy/girl?” we can tell them that there’s very little difference between the sexes, except for their role in reproduction.

We don’t need to obliterate gender identity; we just need to expand it.