Raising a Gender-Neutral Child - Is it Harmful? - Mothering Forums

View Poll Results: Do you think raising a child genderless is good or harmful?
I think it's good thing. 28 18.30%
I think it's harmful. 91 59.48%
I have a mixed opinion (please explain in your post) 34 22.22%
Voters: 153. You may not vote on this poll

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#1 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 04:46 AM - Thread Starter
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gender2.jpgThe Toronto Star reported that Kathy Witterick, 38, and her husband, David Stocker, 39, sent a simple birth announcement email out to family and friends explaining that they planned to keep their child's biological sex a secret. They said:

Quote:
We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …

 

 

 

 

Only six people -- apart from Storm -- know the child's biological sex: the parents, his or her two brothers Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, and the two midwives present at the baby's birth.

 

Some feel it is the right of the individual to develop and express themselves however they choose. So they see a genderless upbringing as a good thing. Others feel that this is a risky approach and they parents are putting their child into the “other” category that will make life more difficult for the child. There is also the opinion that by keeping the sex of a child secret, you are making it the most important thing about that child, not the least.

 

Opinions in the media:

 

Quote:

Are the parents doing this for the kids, as they claim, or are they doing it for themselves? My guess is that they would say and probably believe it's for the kids, but that the main motivation is their own ideological and political beliefs. When the "best interests" of the children and adults beliefs in such regard are concordant in such regards, there is no problem, but when they clash there is... It merits noting that there is an ethical difference between parents having children who are non-conformist in some ways and intentionally making them non-conformist as in this case. As well, choosing not to choose for the child is a choice by the parents... There is also arrogance in ignoring millenniums of human wisdom of what we need to become as fully actualized persons as we can be. Before the "choice armies" come after me, let me quickly add this does not mean that we must not change or not continue to evolve socially, including with regard to respect for girls and women, but in seeking to do good, we must be careful that we do not do serious harm to individuals or society. --Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.

 

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Along with many of our contemporaries, my husband and I tried to give our children the message that so-called gender stereotypes were there to be ignored, fought against or even embraced, if they wished, on a case-by-case basis. But it never occurred to us to deny the basic and glorious reality at the core of their being: Boy. Girl. Which brings me back to Lady Gaga: “Don’t hide yourself in regret/Just love yourself and you’re set.” I’m pretty sure that also includes telling the world with great pride: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” And then letting the kid take it from there. --Judith Timpson

 

Family therapist Susan Stiffelman applauds the family for trying to de-emphasize gender norms, but adds that she " just can't get behind an experiment with a human child" and that her main concern is not with the baby but with the child's older brothers being encouraged to keep the secret. 

 

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"It's typical for a 2-year-old child to say 'my little brother' or 'my little sister,' " she tells ParentDish. "This is not the same [kind of secret] as saying, 'don't tell anyone I beat you at night,' but there's the contradiction that they want to raise their children with a sense of freedom and a lack of restraint in terms of gender expectations and, at the very same time... they are confining their other children."  Susan Stiffelman of AdviceMama

 

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The basis of all of this is about wanting a world where anyone can feel comfortable in their own skin without having to submit to expectations about who they should be, what they should look like, and how they should express themselves. Which sounds good. But is raising a child with gender neutrality a good thing? Please vote in our poll and tell us what you think.


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#2 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 05:14 AM
 
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Sometimes I think these topics are like fighting the wind.  Be a great, educated, and loving parent and I truly think things like this don't matter.

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#3 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 05:44 AM
 
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I found this interview...I like Dr. Drew's point about it potentially causing a problem:

http://fitperez.com/2011-05-25-gender-free-child-discussion?from=PHheadline


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#4 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 05:48 AM
 
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There's already a long discussion about this in this very subforum.

I don't like the feeling that Mothering is now trying to direct our conversations rather than hosting them.

We're all thoughful enough people without being told what Mothering wants us to think about here.

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#5 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 05:49 AM
 
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I tried to be fairly neutral in my expectations of what being a girl meant for DD. I avoided pink when she was a baby because I don't care for it. I encouraged her to express herself and be herself. By age 3 she made it clear she was inclined to be a girly-girl. She likes pink. She likes dresses and frills. She got her hair cut very short like her friend T (a boy) when she was 5, and her peers (with the notable exception of T, who at that time still liked borrowing her pink cinderella dress when they played dress up) quickly started saying she was a boy and that deeply offended her, so she got her ears pierced. I did point out that boys can get ears pierced too, and that either boys or girls can have long or short hair, etc. (for pete's sake, her own father has long hair!), but she made up her own mind. By first grade T stopped defending pink, even saying "it's just light red!" and now denies he likes it. His mom gave us his pink sheets, lol.

 

Peers, older siblings, etc. all play a factor. Parents only have so much influence, and really how much hassle is it to always have to hide when changing diapers?

 

I have the same relaxed attitude with DS as I do with DD. I want them both to be strong, to own their own bodies, and to be proud of who they are, inside and out. I accept DD's frills and nail polish, and will be just as accepting if DS wants to try them on, or if he's all "boy" in his gender expression from the get-go. I will not accept them being limited by or enforcing artificial limits on each other or others based on the idea that gender and sex must always match. DD has watched a few TV shows about transgender with me, including one that had a child her own age, which really put the notion on her level and, I hope, sets the stage for acceptance when she encounters people in real life. 


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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karenwith4 View Post

There's already a long discussion about this in this very subforum.

I don't like the feeling that Mothering is now trying to direct our conversations rather than hosting them.

We're all thoughful enough people without being told what Mothering wants us to think about here.



There was such an outcry about stuff being featured on Facebook...I can see why they started their own discussion. They want to be able to feature a popular topic (and this gender neutral child is all over the interwebs right now) without risking half the participants removing their info...


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#7 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 06:28 AM
 
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I notice that all of the points raised in the media commentary and clips cited above have already been canvassed thoughtfully and thoroughly over the past couple of days in the original thread in this forum. 

 

What strikes me most is that the parents are focused on the messages their children get from everyone else in the community but their own role-modeling isn't particularly gender-neutral. Examining photos of the family reveals that the dad and mom are easily identifiable as "male" and "female". They wear gender-traditional clothes. He's in jeans, she's in a skirt. They live gender-traditional lives. He's a WOH dad in a traditional profession (teacher), she's a SAHM. Their motives may be well-intentioned, even admirable, but I question their emphasis on managing what and how everyone else in the world is thinking and acting, rather than on nurturing their child's inner resources to manage himself/herself.  

 

[Edited for typo (there's probably more I haven't noticed!!)] 

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#8 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 06:36 AM
 
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Originally Posted by ollyoxenfree View Post

 

I notice that all of the points raised in the media commentary and clips cited above have already been canvassed thoughtfully and thoroughly over the past couple of days in the original thread in this forum. 

 

What strikes me most is that the parents are focused on the messages their children get from everyone else in the community but their own role-modeling isn't particularly gender-neutral. Examining photos of the family reveals that the dad and mom are easily identifiable as "male" and "female". They wear gender-traditional clothes. He's in jeans, she's in a skirt. They live gender-traditional lives. He's a WOHM dad in a traditional profession (teacher), she's a SAHM. Their motives may be well-intentioned, even admirable, but I question their emphasis on managing what and how everyone else in the world is thinking and acting, rather than on nurturing their child's inner resources to manage himself/herself.  

 

 


It's possible that they felt forced into those roles and want to keep their child from that....

 

Or it really is just an experiment...or for attention.

 

 

I any case I don't think that gender is a bad thing. I don't think it should be treated like something to avoid. What if s/he hits puberty and hasn't "made a choice" yet? It's going to be obvious when boobs pop out or the voice breaks...What then?

 


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#9 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 09:09 AM
 
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I personally don't think it's possible to raise a gender-neutral child.  All of our own subconcious societal training aside, I think that kids come with their own personalities.  You can avoid certain colors and certain toys (but really aren't those gender based because we say they are?) but I think that kids, even from a young age are drawn to certain things.  I'm not saying that ALL girls will be drawn to pink or ALL boys love blue, but there comes a point (and it happens early) that they like what they like regardless of what you try to avoid or encourage.  

Just as a previous poster mentioned with her girl liking pink, I was very surprised when by the time he was 1 yr old my son showed a strong love of trucks, bulldozers, and front loaders even though we didn't have any toys, books or clothes in our house that resembled these things.  No one ever encouraged him with these things or presented them to him as if he should like them, he just started seeing them around town and would get really excited!  Some of his first words were bus, truck, and blue.  We had tried to avoid some of the obviously gender stereotypes, but he was drawn to these things on his own and I'm not going to tell him it's wrong.  I wouldn't be surprised if these parents have some sort of a similar experience down the road.

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#10 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 09:27 AM
 
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 I think trying to be neutral by doing things like giving your boy dolls and having him help you cook and giving your girl trucks and having her play sports is a positive thing to help raise a child who is "well-rounded" gender-wise. However, this sounds like they are conducting a social experiment with their child. Is it more for their benefit or for the child's? Is it so wrong to identify with a particular gender? I say don't push things one way or the other and provide opportunities and toys that are generally considered for boys and oppotunities and toys that are condsidered for girls and just follow the child's lead. Nature vs. Nurture is an age old debate. In my experience, there is most definitelty a "nature" component. From my years as a teacher and now as a parent, I can see distinct differences in my baby girl and several friends' baby boys. Even as infants, they seem to act differntly, have skills that come in at differnt times, etc. Who knows!?

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#11 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 09:38 AM
 
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http://www.gendercentre.org.au/22article4.htm

 

are you sure this is *real*? i read this story in a sociology class more than 25 years ago. 

 

 


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#12 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 12:15 PM
 
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I don't think it's harmful to raise a gender neutral child, what I do think is harmful is making a spectacle out of it.


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#13 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 02:18 PM
 
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I have mixed feelings, but generally I think I agree with the statement that instead of making gender the least important thing about the child, they're making it the most important thing of the child. I think it's a nice idea to raise a child in a genderless way, but genderless generally gets translated as "boyish" for some reason rather than truly genderless, and I worry about what message that sends to girls who end up being happy about being girls. It seems like a case of boy being normal or even genderless, and girl being "other". On the other hand, I don't think they're hurting the child, and in the long run if this were to become more common it might lead to a better world as far as gender expectations go. So mixed feelings.
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#14 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 03:08 PM
 
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I suspect that gender is entirely socially constructed. It would be very useful and interesting to see what would happen to a society raised without gender norms based on sex or sexual orientation, but I don't believe that it's appropriate to conduct social experiments on your kids. Dressing your children in non-gendered clothing and providing non-gendered toys, and being aware of avoiding gender stereotyped treatment of the child promotes values I believe in, but refusing to identify their sex seems to be removing them from society to a dangerous level.
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#15 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 03:33 PM
 
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I don't know what to think about it.  I totally understand not wanting your children to be feel confined as to what they can and cannot do.  I do wonder if denying your child any sex is not, in fact, doing the very same thing that these parents are trying to prevent.  As a human, or animal, or plant for that matter, we are all born somewhere on the gender spectrum.  I feel gender-neutral to be much more appropriate way to go than gender-less.  

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Originally Posted by terese17 View Post

I don't know what to think about it.  I totally understand not wanting your children to be feel confined as to what they can and cannot do.  I do wonder if denying your child any sex is not, in fact, doing the very same thing that these parents are trying to prevent.  As a human, or animal, or plant for that matter, we are all born somewhere on the gender spectrum.  I feel gender-neutral to be much more appropriate way to go than gender-less.  



 

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#17 of 55 Old 05-27-2011, 11:27 PM
 
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I don't think it's harmful to raise a gender neutral child, what I do think is harmful is making a spectacle out of it.


I've read that they didn't expect the attention they have received and have declined any further interviews. They were pretty gracious about the negative commentary, even the harshest criticisms. Whatever I think about their decision to hide their child's sex, I respect the way they are handling the media and the controversy now. 

 

 

 

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#18 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 06:52 AM
 
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Gender is not really a choice. Your gender will affect the way you look, how you reproduce, your monthly cycle...everything. I had to explain to my daughter what changes she can expect in her body, my husband explains it to our sons. Things are different for the two. A child who is given no direction often cannot find their direction. If a girl expects to be a boy, she can have an eating disorder, and a poor selfimage, when her body starts to change. If a boy expects to be a girl, he can have some of the same issues.

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#19 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 09:58 AM
 
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I agree with the thought camp that conducting a social experiment on a child is wrong and unethical.  I do believe in gender-neutral, as other previous posters have mentioned, but not gender-less.  I think there's a lot to be said for offering ample opportunity for a child to explore both genders and then allowing them to make their own choices as they age.  But I believe that, while they were trying to detract attention from this baby's gender, they actually drew massive attention to it by announcing it.  I think there are distorted, ego-centric motives in announcing it for all to hear.  If they were going to - and I disagree with it - not announce the gender, they certainly didn't need to make a spectacle about it.


 

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Originally Posted by Thandiwe View Post

I agree with the thought camp that conducting a social experiment on a child is wrong and unethical.  I do believe in gender-neutral, as other previous posters have mentioned, but not gender-less.  I think there's a lot to be said for offering ample opportunity for a child to explore both genders and then allowing them to make their own choices as they age.  But I believe that, while they were trying to detract attention from this baby's gender, they actually drew massive attention to it by announcing it.  I think there are distorted, ego-centric motives in announcing it for all to hear.  If they were going to - and I disagree with it - not announce the gender, they certainly didn't need to make a spectacle about it.

 

 

 

I got the impression that they just refused to tell anybody the gender of the baby.  So, they just asked friends and family to refer to Storm as "The Baby" or "Storm".  It seemed to get out of hand from there.  I assume they expected to just keep this in their own little world, but since people were so bewildered, they just kept talking about it, and it got into the media.

 

I think their intentions were good, they just might have overdone it a little without the foresight to how this would snowball into a media/internet topic.   I feel bad that complete strangers seemed to get angry and have harsh words.   I can see how the grandparents would be angry.  (it feels like their kids are keeping a secret from them.. I'd be a little hurt too)  What if Grandma took Storm shopping, and Storm really loved a toy telephone, and Grandma bought it.  Then, came home and wanted to say "She loved this so much, so I bought it for her".  But, you have to TRAIN yourself to say "Storm loved this so much so I bought it for Storm".  It just doesn't roll off the tongue... it's not how we were taught to speak, so It's HARD.    They can't keep calling Storm "the baby" The baby isn't going to be a baby much longer.    

 

It's hard to speak of someone without saying "he" "She", "her's" "his". 

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#21 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 10:30 AM
 
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I got the impression that they just refused to tell anybody the gender of the baby.  So, they just asked friends and family to refer to Storm as "The Baby" or "Storm".  It seemed to get out of hand from there.  I assume they expected to just keep this in their own little world, but since people were so bewildered, they just kept talking about it, and it got into the media.


I thought they announced it on the birth announcement?  Maybe I was mistaken.

 


 

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#22 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 10:35 AM
 
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I guess I just keep thinking - the more I think about it - what's wrong with being a boy or girl?  I think there is such a difference between celebrating the child's boy/girl existence without falling into the societal expectations.  I don't think the problem is the genetic physical make-up but rather the societal influence.  It's not wrong "being" a boy or girl, and denying that is in essence saying, "What you are is wrong."  You can enjoy being who you are without falling into the societal expectations that you *have* to behave one way or another.


 

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#23 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 11:21 AM
 
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I thought they announced it on the birth announcement?  Maybe I was mistaken.

 


Maybe.... I guess that would seem odd.   It seems like they are creating a lot more work for themselves that way.  

 

 

 

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#24 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 11:32 AM
 
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I guess I just keep thinking - the more I think about it - what's wrong with being a boy or girl?  I

And, then, beyond that.. what's wrong with being a man or a woman?  I'm not a dress wearing, manicure getting girly girl.. but, I really like that my husband is a basketball loving, tool slinging manly type guy.  (occasionally I wish I'd married a computer geek... but, only when I need help with my computer)

 

What's wrong with a sports loving man, or a skirt wearing woman with long highlighted hair?  It seems as if that is becoming less acceptable.  But, what if that really is who you are?  

 

Why not just have lots of toys available to kids?  Let THEM decide?   Why is it when someone says "My son is all boy" that people get so offended?  

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#25 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 12:11 PM
 
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And, then, beyond that.. what's wrong with being a man or a woman?  I'm not a dress wearing, manicure getting girly girl.. but, I really like that my husband is a basketball loving, tool slinging manly type guy.  (occasionally I wish I'd married a computer geek... but, only when I need help with my computer)

 

What's wrong with a sports loving man, or a skirt wearing woman with long highlighted hair?  It seems as if that is becoming less acceptable.  But, what if that really is who you are?  

 

Why not just have lots of toys available to kids?  Let THEM decide?   Why is it when someone says "My son is all boy" that people get so offended?  


There's nothing wrong with those things, but they put people in boxes. Expecting love of sports for males and long pretty hair for females is where things get sketchy. It would be better for everyone if we got ride of such expectations for people of all genders, especially during childhood.
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#26 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 02:21 PM
 
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I don't know how "harmful" it may actually be....but I definitely think it's stupid to take it to these lengths.

 

My family and friends were all irritated when we didn't have any ultrasounds because the gender would be unknown til birth and they wouldn't know what to buy! I said we only wanted things in earth tones anyway--I hate all that brightly colored crap. I really hate all the frilly pink stuff with princess written all over it for girls (I myself HATED all the stereotypical girly girl stuff as a child and would refuse to force it upon my daughter), and we equally detest the insistence that all baby boys' clothes must have sports themes (we HATE professional sports and think most players are the WORST role models ever!!. That being said, if we'd had a girl who turned out to be a little princess later on I would happily paint her room pink and if my little boy turns out to be a sports freak rather than a geeky bookworm like us, we'll be front and center at all his games.

 

I have told everyone my feelings on this, though, and some of our relatives still insist upon sending baby clothes with footballs, etc. all over them....so I can understand the temptation to just not tell them, but not the reality!

 

I think it's crappy to try and force traditional stereotypes on babies (kind of like when they used to force naturally left handed kids to use  their right hands), but not allowing your baby to even have a gender is ridiculous.

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#27 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 02:37 PM
 
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And, then, beyond that.. what's wrong with being a man or a woman?  I'm not a dress wearing, manicure getting girly girl.. but, I really like that my husband is a basketball loving, tool slinging manly type guy.  (occasionally I wish I'd married a computer geek... but, only when I need help with my computer)

 

What's wrong with a sports loving man, or a skirt wearing woman with long highlighted hair?  It seems as if that is becoming less acceptable.  But, what if that really is who you are?  

 

Why not just have lots of toys available to kids?  Let THEM decide?   Why is it when someone says "My son is all boy" that people get so offended?  


 

there's nothing wrong with being male or female, those are sexes though. a biological fact. masculinity and femininity are social constructs. each culture has it's own norms. many cultures have fixed gender roles. an example in this culture is boys don't wear pink frilly skirts. why not? this has nothing to do with a penis or Y chromosomes. it's all made up. same as in some arab cultures women cannot drive or be in public without a man. the problem with assigned general roles is that it assigns specific attributes to specific people. women are gentle, men are whimps. men are bold, women are bitches. these are the same characteristics, but they are *somehow* different because they of the whole gender role thing. 

 

the sexes are more alike than different. for every generalization about "boys are......... girls are ........." is an exception. boys can be "girly" and girls can be "boyish" and then change back again 10 minutes later. i say my daughter is a girly tom-boy with a brick in her pink, dirt covered purse. joy.gif

 

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#28 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 03:01 PM
 
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I haven't read much about this family or the comments , but is it possible the baby is a hermaphrodite and they want to wait and let him/her decide for him/herself and not announce that the child is a hermaphrodite to everyone?

 

It is hard to not use a pronoun!

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#29 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 04:32 PM
 
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I think this is basically interesting and not so big a deal.  I once fantasized about doing this during infancy only--except I would never want it enough to make waves or anything.  It just intrigued me.  The parents must have had an impulse to do this as a reaction to our culture being a weird in its assumptions about gender.  I think they just wanted others to stop putting stereotypes on their kids.  Nice idea, but not working. 

 

The article I read drew lots of attention to the "girlish" activities of the older brother, and I found that irritating.  It was like: "Look how nontraditional he is! We made a list!"  A pink tricycle!  Wow!  (I don't blink an eye at this--my son certainly did a LOT of this sort of thing.)  I don't like the media's way of using stereotypes to measure the brother.   

 

I think if these parents try to keep the gender a secret too long it could cause increasing problems.  But did they ever mean it that way?  I don't know--the idea that the child will get to choose everything regarding gender expression due to this action makes little sense to me because by the time the child is old enough to "choose" it will be old enough to have become very unsettled by weirdness from people about the missing gender.  The child will be hyperfocused on reacting to people's response to this special gender status. 

 

One thing I have learned is that we cannot separate ourselves from the relationships we have with the larger culture.  Attempts to create a more ideal microcosm in one's own life can create awkward effects in those relationships.  And then ripple effects.  How we bounce who we are off others, and how they respond to that, is too complex to expect that this little experiment will be helpful. We can't create a vacuum of gender.  There is no such thing as an "emptiness" of gender in a human.  Confusions of gender get confused responses.  Unless you isolate yourself from responses, lack of gender will become a much bigger problem than any assumptions about how boys or girls should act would cause.

 

How many odd reactions is this family and its children getting and how gender-centered is their existence now compared to before?  I think gender has become more important instead of less in this family because of the interactions with others and others' responses.  While I am glad the publicity gets people thinking, I don't know exactly what the point is.  I think things got out of hand for the family and feel bad for them because I sympathize with urge to explore the concept but cannot imagine drawing so much attention to a young child or myself and my ideas.  I am sad that this seems to have backfired.  I hope a few people think about and learn some positive things from it somehow, though.

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#30 of 55 Old 05-28-2011, 06:01 PM
 
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I guess I just keep thinking - the more I think about it - what's wrong with being a boy or girl?  I think there is such a difference between celebrating the child's boy/girl existence without falling into the societal expectations.  I don't think the problem is the genetic physical make-up but rather the societal influence.  It's not wrong "being" a boy or girl, and denying that is in essence saying, "What you are is wrong."  You can enjoy being who you are without falling into the societal expectations that you *have* to behave one way or another.



I agree. I also have to say that men and women are naturally different; just ask your OB. For some reason people think that the only inborn differences between men and women are those we can physically see. I believe that there are more differences than this. We should encourage our children to be proud of and embrace whatever gender they are.



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I haven't read much about this family or the comments , but is it possible the baby is a hermaphrodite and they want to wait and let him/her decide for him/herself and not announce that the child is a hermaphrodite to everyone?

 

It is hard to not use a pronoun!



I used to babysit a kid where this was, in fact, the case. This was before they could actually test for the XX vs the XY chromosomes, so the parents gave their child a gender-neutral name, (Jordan,) and let the kid decide. He ended up choosing boy and then they got the physical operation done. He seems to be just fine, now. Most people don't even know that his gender was ever a question.


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