So some time last year I posted my second most popular post ever. The gist was that the style of parenting you use was less important that the fact that you believed in it and chose it with love for the child in mind. Also that people should become more accepting of these choices and, y’know, mind their own business a bit more. It was called The Only Right Parenting Style Is Yours
But, just so you know, I’m far from perfect. Each of us as human beings have limits as to how judgmental we can be (or how forgiving). There are certain parental extremes that, while they may have been chosen purely on the basis of love for the child, I’m just not having. In a new Category I am going to list my prejudices. Here is the first.
1. Gender Neutral Parenting
Sasha Laxton was brought up “gender neutral”. His parents knew he was a boy but they didn’t tell anyone else. His room was yellow. He was dressed in ‘neutral’ colours and, at times, in fairy wings and dresses and others in trousers. One of the reasons was, his mother said, because
“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes? Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with and that shapes the kind of person they become.” (1)
Am I the only one who reads that as ‘gender is a sterotype’? That simply by being aware of a child’s gender you are somehow ‘slotting them in to a box’. Gender is a fact of life, a biological fact that, for one, helps us reproduce as a species. I almost hate to point this out in a modern, politically correct, world but there ARE some things that girls and boys do differently (or one can do and the other cannot). Here’s a short list:
- Pee standing up – males can, females can’t
- Give birth to children – females can, males can’t
- Run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds – males can, females can’t
- Breast feed a baby – females can, males can’t
- Lose hair through pattern baldness – men do, females don’t (and I do mean hereditary pattern baldness and not alopecia)
- Have a natural cycle that regulates when conception can take place – females do, males don’t.
Note I haven’t resorted to actual stereotyping and mentioned ‘doing three things at once’ or ‘spending less than £100 in a shoe sale’ or ‘crying at soap operas’. The above simply indicates that nature has designed women more to be child rearers (and here I mean give birth to and breastfeed – there is no reason at all why the woman cannot go back to work asap if she wants nor any reason why a Dad can’t be a Stay At Home) and men more to do dumb things like run fast and wee up a wall after a night out. There is a natural biological difference between the genders and that is not a stereotype, it is a fact of life.
So here’s the next bit. “Gender affects what children wear”. I’m not one for decking Whirlwind out in pink and purple and having her ride round in a pink buggy with a princess sticker on the back of it. Her clothes are in all sorts of colours including blue (let’s not forget the blue snowsuit she was in on the bus when the mad woman mistook her for a boy) but she has a few that are pink and she has a few that are dresses. Not only does this announce to the world that, yes, she’s a girl but here’s the thing. She looks good in them. Contrast that with the photo of Sasha in his fairy wings who looks not unlike a prop forward squeezed in to a dress for a bet. Boy meanwhile, has been dressed as a boy by us but, again, not purely in blue. He had a beautiful burned orange hoodie that Whirlwind has now inherited. One of his favourite t-shirts when he was 3 was pink (I knew I’d done well because it incensed a conservative Afrikaaans friend of ours from cricket). Whirlwind wears his old blue pyjamas because they are nice and warm and we were buggered if we were going to throw them away. Gender may constrain in a big picture kind of way (no dresses for boys) but within that fairly normal constraint then what your kid can wear is limited only by the parent’s imagination.
And as for ‘gender affects what they can play with’ my answer would by why? We have a large number of toys that Boy had when he was small that Whirlwind is now growing in to. These include Duplo, cars, a toy farm and a pretend screwdriver and, at times, she is just as happy playing with those as she is her dolls or her mouse-in-a-matchbox. When Boy was growing up he went on a lot of play dates with my wife’s friends from the NCT branch and two of her best friends had two girls. He would be quite happy playing with their toy kitchens and they didn’t mind too much when, after a while, he got bored and found a ball instead. At three we got him a tea set that included pink tea cups and he happily made tea parties for his soft toys. Again it is NOT gender that is defining what children can and can’t play with but rather the imagination and prejudices of their parents.
My main problem with Sasha Laxton’s parents though is that I do not believe they did it for him. Their decision was, at least partly, and I suspect mostly, based upon a desire to shock, to push society’s boundaries and to become (in)famous. Time will only tell the actual affect it has on Sasha but if that were me in that fairy wing picture I’d be saving up for therapy right now.
There is no need to bring your child up gender neutral. What would be good is if parents could show a little more imagination and flexibility when purchasing clothes and toys and not run off in horror if their boy grabs a Barbie or their girl a rugby ball.
(1) Quoted in The Observer 22 Jan 2012