Gender Neutral Parenting

Can We Be Gender Neutral?

 

What is gender neutrality? Gender neutral parenting, gender neutral teaching, gender neutral shopping. Has it all gone a bit too far with mixed gender neutral changing rooms?

I was asked recently what my opinion is on the subject of gender neutrality in terms of raising children. I had to think about this, like many parents I don’t subscribe to a style of parenting that adheres to a set of rules. We as parents simply learn through trial and error and do what we think is best.

My first thoughts if I’m honest was confusion, girls are girls and boys are boys with occasional exceptions and that’s ok. They like what they like regardless of stereotype. Why confuse matters with yet more labels? I don’t think I had actually thought it through consciously before.

Personally I do think that boys and girls are different, they are physically different and generally behave differently. I have no issue with a boy be referred to as ‘he’ and a girl as ‘she’. 

But the discussion made me curious. After having a very short browse of the results when I searched ‘gender neutrality’.

It seems I have in fact been loosely parenting in a way that is described as gender neutral.

I don’t push gender stereotypes, I don’t paint my girls room pink and boys room blue, I didn’t buy pretty frilly dresses for my girl nor will I stop my son from doing gymnastics if he so wishes when he’s older. I don’t utter phrases like that’s for boys or that’s for girls. I’m keen to allow them both as many opportunities as possible regardless of gender stereotype.

At present my children are very young and rely on me to make many decisions for them so yes, I try to keep things reasonably neutral. However as my daughter is 5 she is starting to have an opinion of her own and I do give her a choice when it comes to deciding which clothes we should buy for her or which toys she’d like.

Alnwick Castle Soap Making
She chose to dress as a princess over a knight

Guess what, most of the time she chooses things are stereotypically ‘for girls’. But she does take interest in science and technology, is that nature or nurture? If my daughter wants to wear a pretty dress though then she can, it does not define her intelligence. I just want to allow my children to be themselves without judgement.

Of course the media plays a big part in how children view themselves with traditional gender stereotypes being portrayed frequently. Though times are changing and many brands are becoming more responsible with adverts. I’m fully on board with advertising that steers clear of this gender stereotyping.

I felt confused. But then realised all I was doing was confusing sex and gender. Sociology A Level classes came flooding back to me. So while sex is determined by our genes, gender is determined by culture and society. But there is clearly a very strong connection between the two and thus easy to see the two as the same.

gender neutrality

I can word it differently and say for me this conversation falls into two distinct categories. Identity and opportunities. It is normal and completely ok for girls to identify as a girl and the same for boys.

Identity is really important in growing up and developing social skills. We naturally deviate to people we identify with, whether it’s because of what they are wearing, what they do as a job, a hobby or even biological sex. Children have very little identity, they are growing and developing their identity every day, exploring the world and seeing where they fit in. Sex is just one aspect of their identity and one of the first aspects of themselves they probably understand. It is a fact, we are either a boy or a girl (with some but very few exceptions).

Whilst identifying with your biological sex is completely normal, what isn’t ok are differences in opportunities for boys and girls or judging a persons capabilities because of their sex. All boys and girls should have equal opportunities to do whatever in life it is they want. If my son wants to be a dancer then so be it. If my daughter wants to be a mechanic or an engineer then no problem. But in this same argument, I am not going to discourage my daughter from liking anything that is stereotypically female either. Having painted nails does not define a person. Encouraging neutrality is a collective responsibility. We as society should encourage equality in ability and potential whether they are aged 5 in the classroom or aged 45 in the boardroom.

So in answer to my own question, neutrality is not about defining our sex, it is about abolishing stereotypes based on which sex we are. It’s about society stopping being so damned judgemental. It is about teaching our children to aim for the stars and never let which sex they are stop them from getting there.

I think it’s also easy to confuse the subject of gender neutrality in terms of solutions for the transgender community and how they fit into society without feeling they are at risk. We should be making an effort to be more inclusive, not by taking away choice but giving people choices all being a bit more understanding of other peoples choices.

Indoor climbing Flip Out Chester

What do you think?

I loved listening to this TED talk and Reshma Saujani’s opinion on how some of the gender differences originated and how things could be changed for the better.

 

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29 COMMENTS

  1. This is very interesting. I like you I like to raise the boys in a way where they are encouraged to explore avenues of play that they enjoy, without a stereotype attached to them. I think all children should be allowed the have the same opportunities, regardless of gender.

    • I watched Loose Women where they were talking about gender neutral changing rooms and felt uncomfortable with it. Someone had mentioned gender neutral parenting and removing labels such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ to me a couple of weeks ago and I have to admit my first thought was ‘how silly is this’ but I think the term gets used in different ways. When I read a bit more about gender neutral parenting I realised that that is actually what I do to some extent! I still don’t agree with not using ‘he’ and ‘she’ though haha. Equal opportunities all the way and reinforce gender equality x

  2. I am a huge believer in equal opportunities. Children should be able to aspire to be/ do anything and society should not dictate whether or not that can become a reality. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with #Blogstravaganza

  3. In my house it is whatever works for them, my son has a baby doll because he wanted one and yesterday my daughter painted her nails before going kick boxing with Daddy, they are happy and that is what matters! #kcacols

  4. My eldest daughter loved dancing like a ballerina and wearing mermaid costumes when she was little, but her other massive love was Thomas the Tank Engine, every time we shopped she would ask for another train, we had the track and the table and she would spend forever playing with them. Now she is 13 she loves gaming with the boys, she is a true mix of traditional boy and girl, I love that about her. My middle daughter loves unicorns and pink, and my son is rough and sporty, but will sometimes play house with my middle daughter. They really are there own little people. #stayclassymama

    • They are all so different aren’t they. I don’t think we will ever get away from the influences of our peers in our choices as children but allowing them to develop their own character and opinions is so important x

  5. I think of gender-neutral parenting as not letting gender stereotypes limit your child’s choices – so if they’re a girl and they choose pink, frilly dresses that’s fine, but it’s also fine if they choose jeans and a hoodie. I’ve definitely tried to raise my daughter this way – she’s very much into pink but also trucks and robots. #dreamteam

  6. I believe in equal opportunities for all regardless of race, age or gender so giving children opportunities is the key. I thought the whole whooha about school uniform recently was stupid…. pushing everyone to wear trousers is not about opportunity… let all kids choose skirts or trousers! Interesting tones and great post. #dreamteam

  7. I’d never say “that’s for boys/girls” like you. I often feel a little scared now to refer to boys behaving like boys or vice versa though. Particularly on the Internet. It’s so easy to offend people and hunks get taken out of context on the Internet. I would never want to offend anyone. I’ve also read posts from people who are gender neutral/fluid and they really made me think. For example people biologically born as female who identify as gender neutral yet still experience menstruation. The topic of periods and sanitary products being aimed at women was discussed and how t should be more gender neutral as some non females have periods. There are companies that make special boxer shorts to accommodate sanitary products. It’s a whole world which unless you are directly affected by it personally you don’t consider. I think everyone should just be free to be who they want. And I can totally sympathise how awful it must be to identify as female and have to use Male toilets and showers simply because you were born with male genitalia. Someone I follow on Facebook explains everything much more eloquently than me and really makes me think. Gender neutral isn’t a new thing. I’m always learning.

    Thanks for linking up.
    #KCACOLS

    • Ivan Coyote came out for the Sydney Festival and did this great performance and then returned for the Sydney Writers Festival, so I’ve seen them talk a few times and now read some of their books. What the books did for me, is open my eyes to how much I was oblivious to, even living in the Inner City. Your “It’s a whole world which unless you are directly affected by it personally you don’t consider” was exactly my experience and I felt like I was such a dummy for never getting it (I never understood why the US was getting so worked up by the bathrooms.) 12% of the population apparently. Which at my age, means a lot of hidden, scared people. At my kids age, there are quite a number of transgender and gender neutral kids. So I am glad their world is a better place for them. My friend who is a doctor that talks to schools says each school has quite a few trans kids, then she says to me “So think of your group of friends, it means at least one person we know is trans and never had the courage to come out.” I can’t get that out of my head!!

  8. I couldn’t agree more. Gender is definitely driven by society and culture and people should be prescribed what to wear, do or how to act based on their sex. I have a friend who is a female and only wear pants – she hates wearing dresses, I think I’ve only seen her in a skirt once and I’ve known her for 25 years. She’s not a lesbian or transgender – she’s just a female who loves wearing pants. And even if she was a lesbian or transgender, society would still have a problem with it. People are all different and that is what makes the human specie so exceptionally unique.#fortheloveofBLOG

  9. It is a difficult topic – I know a 13 year old girl who wants to change her name to a boys name – i don’t think she wants to be a boy as such she just prefers the name. I also know a boy who loves to wear pink colouful things, loves gymnastics and hangs about with girls – doesn’t mean he wants to be one. Just what he prefers. Su #DreamTeam

  10. To be honest, I think you’re missing a part of this. The gender neutral bathrooms are not to make girls and boys not think about their gender, it’s to make life easier for those that don’t fit on the binary. (and dads with little daughters and mums with little sons). I don’t think we are raising kids to not identify with their gender, but we do need to make the world a better place for those that don’t. I agree people shouldn’t be held back by their gender, but I also think people my age (young people seem to be all over it), need to expand their understanding of those that don’t fit the binary. I had no understanding of why the US bathroom laws were such a big deal and then I read Tom Boy’s Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote and it all fell into place. We, sure in our gender, are not affected by such a simple thing as having to use the bathroom, but for others, it’s a terrifying drama and caculated risk. How sad is that?

    • I think that the term ‘gender neutrality’ can mean various things to different people. That’s where my confusion began. I definitely think there are two distinct areas. One being about gender neutral parenting and trying to get away from gender stereotypes, raising our kids to have equal opportunities whichever sex they are. Then there is the issue of people who don’t identify with a gender and how they fit into society without feeling pushed out or at risk. I totally understand the issue of the gender neutral bathrooms being an attempt to make life easier for those who don’t fit the binary but that itself isn’t a one size fits all solution either. So what is the solution? I’m not sure.

      • I was asked by a man to take his tiny daughter to the bathroom, I refused (as she looked terrified at the prospect of walking off with a strange lady) but I went in to check the bathroom was empty then stood a the door to let anyone going in know he was in there. That was ridiculous and I felt so sorry for him and his daughter that they had to do that as their normal. So even before I learnt about gender neutral people, I have been in favour of gender neutral bathrooms. Realistically, when you read about women attacked in bathrooms, it’s almost ALWAYS by men who have followed them into the female toilets where there have been segregated toilets. As Ivan Coyote points out, any trans (or non binary) person is just trying to spend as least amount of time in the toilets as possible. So I’m all for Gender neutral bathrooms.

  11. I think I’m like you, I’ve been parenting in a gender neutral way without even trying. I have one of each and they make really stereotypical choices. Sometimes my boy plays with his sister’s Polly Pockets if she leaves them out, but otherwise, he’s car obsessed!

    Thank you for linking up with #StayClassyMama

  12. I try to be the same, encourage my children to make their own choices and play with what they want. I do not believe in girls and boys toys – toys are toys. I have had comments of ‘that’s a girls toy’ said to my son or ‘don’t you think that looks like it is for boys’ when I’m looking at robots for my daughter. To me it is a toy and it is dependant on what it does that interests me. What they can learn from it. #fortheloveofBLOG

  13. We have a lot of information at our fingertips and so when we discuss parenting types people just seem to judge without looking into it further and the fact that parenting techniques are an interesting topic to discuss and follow. Im with you in the fact that I don’t stereotype my children. My son asked for a unicorn handbag last Christmas and he got it, and then this year its all ninjago! #BLOGGERCLUBUK

    • Parenting techniques are certainly very interesting aren’t they. I think the fact that people have such a strong opinion about parenting matters shows just that. I love to read and hear about what other parents do about certain situations but I just don’t like attaching labels to parenting styles. I think most of us take what we view are the best bits from different styles. My son is loving little mix at the moment, he’s only a toddler but I love that he dances and sings along x

  14. This is a tough subject and one that I am completely conscious of, yet I still think it’s hard to be gender neutral with children. My daughter loves playing with her dolls and pushchairs etc, but she’s perfectly happy playing with toy cars and tractors. I guess that at this age they are too young to purposefully play with toys that are targetted at girls and boys. As you say we should allow our children the opportunity to make their own choices in life and not force their preferences. Thanks so much for linking up at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

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