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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Last week, a Toronto couple hit international news with their experiment in child-rearing. They have decided to raise their latest baby to be genderless.

That’s right: they are not announcing whether their child is a boy or a girl, so that this information doesn’t affect how people treat the baby, and the baby’s natural inclinations will be encouraged.

Pardon me while I jump off the bandwagon. Sure, it’s wonderful to accept your child no matter how they turn out, but there’s a world of difference between acceptance and denial of identity. If you don’t let your child think of himself as “a little boy” or herself as “a little girl”, then are you not saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with who they really are?

When my daughter Katie was a year and a half old, someone presented us with a summer white frilly dress. All winter it hung in her closet, out of reach. Yet several times a day she would wander into her room and try to reach for that dress, the only frilly thing she owned. She thought it was beautiful, even before her second birthday.

But let’s say she hadn’t liked frilly dresses. Let’s say instead that she had preferred to play with trucks. Would that mean that she was, by gender, a boy? Absolutely not. I have a dear friend who loves to hunt and likes household repairs, but she also looks amazing in an evening gown—and she knows it. As a child, she grew up with all brothers and she loved doing boy things. But she was also very glad that she was a girl. The urge to tackle a brother did not override her femininity.

That’s because not all gender is socially constructed. Study after study has shown that there are legitimate differences between the sexes. Women, for instance, have much more discreet hearing. A mother can identify her child’s cry when that child is with a whole bunch of other children, whereas a father often finds all the sounds overwhelming. That’s one of the reasons, for instance, that ADD boys have more trouble in school than ADD girls. Boys find all the noises distracting, whereas girls have an easier time filtering them out.

Or take risk-taking. Boys are naturally inclined to be more risk-takers than girls are. Obviously there are exceptions, but insurance adjusters will tell you that it is boys who are naturally more dangerous. We are not interchangeable. If you tell a boy who likes to play dress-up that he is naturally a girl, you’re letting one preference override the plethora of other indicators that makes him a boy. And that’s wrong.

Yet that doesn’t stop some from wanting to create a “genderless society”, which I think is often an unspoken effort to attack masculinity. In Sociology, we were taught that every parent should give little boys dolls so that they would learn to be nurturing and thus not grow up to be soldiers. And in stories where parents try such experiments, it’s typically the masculine that is discouraged. Little boys are encouraged to paint their nails, while no one minds if a little girl plays with a truck. Girls are allowed to be masculine, but boys aren’t. Even in this family, the genderless baby has an older brother, now two, whose long, braided hair gives the distinct impression that he is a she.

I have no problem with boys wrestling, or playing rough, or wanting to catapult things into their backyards. I also have no problem with a boy who would rather sit in his room and read. But I do have a problem with telling any of these boys that they’re not allowed to think of themselves as boys. We are who we are, and much of that is innate. Let’s not use children as our political experiments. Let’s let them be who they were born to be, and that includes letting them be a little girl or a little boy.

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8 Comments:

At 10:46 AM , Blogger Pickle said…

I really feel like our world is trying to do away with boys and the act of being a boy. They are often treated and expected to act like girls.

I pulled my son from prechool and decided to home school after I really started seeing this in class and the reports the teacher was giving me.

My fav example is this: All the kids were having to play "kitchen" or "house". Not sure. This is typically a girl thing. Anyways, my son wasn't really into it and decided to make a boy game out of it. He took one of the plastic kitchen knives and was encouraging a sword fight with the other boys.

He got put in time out for being "violent" and trying to "stab" the other boys. He had also gotten into trouble to making toys into guns. (we don't own a TV, so it's not because he was mimicking gun violence)

Boys play harder than girls. In a public setting they are not allowed to do that anymore and it's sad. Guns and swords were VERY normal among boys when I was growing up. No one assumed they were trying to be violent or truly injure someone. It doesn't turn them into murderers.

Let boys be boys. Let girls be girls. AND tell them they are a boy or a girl. There is nothing wrong with encouraging them to do gender specific things.

 

At 11:51 AM , Anonymous kharking said…

There are plenty of people who will say that they deviated from their gender stereotype in some way and turned out perfectly fine. I don't think that they were that way because they were allowed to be genderless though. The reality is that most kids are more complex than the stereotypes. There are lots of ways to foster a child's individuality without making them figure out their identity from scratch and plenty of ways to acknowledge their inborn gender without turning them into little copies of sometimes problematic stereotypes.

For example, my daughter is exploring mobility as she learns to walk and push things so she is also really into playing with things with wheels right now. She is still a girl and a lot of the other things that she does demonstrate her underlying female nature. It would be foolish and harmful for me to stifle those things. On the other side, I know a little boy who likes to wear his older sister's dress up dresses. What kid doesn't like to imitate older kids, especially siblings? The boy is still a boy and those I've seen who exhibit "feminine" activities still seem to turn it into some kind of imitation of male or fathering type behavior. A boy in a princess dress isn't usually pretending to be a girl. He is taking on an adventure in the sparkly and gaudy pretend clothes that most children love during a phase of their development. Of course, my inclined response to this tendency isn't to buy my son the latest princess dress but to make him capes and glittering tunics and other such princely wear. I wish that there were better options out there for dress up clothes for boys.

I wouldn't say to my son that he couldn't help me in the kitchen or treat his younger siblings gently because he is a boy just as I wouldn't say to my daughter that she couldn't play softball or go fishing with her uncles if that is what she was inclined to do. I am preparing my daughter to love her new baby brother by showing her how to be gentle with the cats and her baby doll but I expect that I would handle the situation similarly if the genders were reversed (and the age gap was the same). I will expect and foster Christlike behavior (including both nurturing and defending those around them) from all of my children. However, especially as they get older, I am also fully expecting a significant amount of natural differences in how they interact with each other and their world and I have to be prepared to allow for this and channel it so that they become the good woman and good man that God designed them to be. Denying my daughter's essential femininity or my son's masculinity will only lead to more pain and confusion later on as they transition through puberty into adulthood.

A very long-winded way of saying that I agree!

 

At 1:57 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Sheila,

I completely agree. I was horrified when I first saw that story. Ack. And I'm a total 'tomboy' - would rather go camping than a tea party. Doesn't make me a boy/man.

I think part of the reason we get so messed up about all this is that we've strayed so far from what Biblical masculinity and femininity really are, and have confused them with things that are social constructs.

But that's a book in and of itself.

I pity those children.

Julie

 

At 1:46 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Great comments, ladies! Pickle, I would have gone BALLISTIC on that teacher. Oh, you must have just had your blood boiling. Don't mess with Mama Bear, so to speak. I totally agree. Your little boy should be allowed to be a boy. Sounds like you did the right thing.

Kharking, you said it really well, and that's really what I was trying to get at in the column (it's hard to do it in 600 words). Just because a little boy likes to play adventure or likes to dress up or a little girl likes trucks does not mean that she is not a girl or that he is not a boy. And to give the impression that they're free to be the other gender is just to totally mess up their sense of identity. It's crazy.

Julie, I hear you. I wish we had better models of what real masculinity/femininity is. I know they're always saying that men are the ones who are suffering from the lack of male role models, but I think the whole sexualization of little girls is on the same level. We've equated femininity with cougar like sexual predator behavior, and it's crazy.

Sigh.

 

At 1:50 PM , Blogger Svar said…

"Yet that doesn’t stop some from wanting to create a “genderless society”, which I think is often an unspoken effort to attack masculinity. In Sociology, we were taught that every parent should give little boys dolls so that they would learn to be nurturing and thus not grow up to be soldiers. And in stories where parents try such experiments, it’s typically the masculine that is discouraged."

Good point. I think that a large part of liberalism is driven by a hatred towards masculinity(especially feminism/and this gender-neutral stuff). I happen to live in Texas, so I have thankfully never been subject to male-neutering experiments. However, I am 18 and these experiments could be brand new.

 

At 1:52 PM , Blogger Svar said…

@ Herding Grasshoppers

I'm inclined to believe that most gender differences are due to genetic differences not cultural reasons. What aspects of gender do you think are social constructs?

 

At 11:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I do think that family is taking to the extreme (esp based on hearing about their whole family in general). But I do think they are right in the respect that there may be an overemphasis on a baby's gender. And really it is clever marketing so we buy up lots of pink and blue.

I don't really steer my two year old towards certain activities. She has dolls, she also has toy tractors. If I ever had a boy, I wouldn't have a problem buying him a doll. Of course boys and girls are different, they play different. And the parents of the baby are ignoring that. But I think the other extreme can be damaging as well.

Nurse Bee

 

At 5:21 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

Have you heard the CBC interview on this? A friend posted the link on my wall earlier today. I still think that the couple should embrace the pink or blue but, like Nurse Bee said, a lot of that is just marketing. My son is gentle with dolls (most of the time) and loves baby animals and such but he also naturally drifted toward trucks and tractors.
In the interview on CBC the couple said that they are not trying to "deny Storm's gender" but instead that they are just observing how people treat him/her. And I do believe that people are rougher with baby boys than they are with baby girls so it will be interesting to see how this would all turn out. But the couple also denies that it is an experiment. Which is silly because it is an experiment. It probably won't do their child the harm that a lot of people think it will. It's not like they're going to deny the fact that their child is a boy or a girl when the time comes for that to become important.

here is the link though to listen to the interview: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2011/06/06/why-has-storms-story-struck-such-a-nerve/

 
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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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