Friday, May 27, 2011


This article popped up on my screen late last night. In short it is about a Canadian couple who have decided to keep the gender of their third child secret. Not just for part of the pregnancy, not even for all of the pregnancy, no, this child is already several months old and only a few close family members know the child's sex. The child is named Storm, which is a unisex name (though the two Storms I know are both women).

Issues surrounding gender stereotypes are important to many parents today. On parenting forums you will find countless threads about girls clothing being pink or purple, with occasional splashes of orange or apple green being thrown in for variety. Meanwhile boys clothing comes in navy or grey and sometimes brown. Nappy ads have girls being clean, and quiet and whimsical, and boys being grubby and noisy and boisterous.

Bloggers blog about their boys playing with dolls and having their fingernails painted in attempts to breakdown stereotypes, which other discuss whether or not to take their seven year old daughter to a "SlutWalk" demonstration, so she will learn that men can't rape her because she chooses to wear anything less than a burqa.

Yes, this is definitely a topic of discussion around the parenting traps.

A study was done years ago where people were handed babies to interact with and those babies were dressed either in pink or blue, regardless of their gender, and then the interactions were observed. Blue babies were jostled more, and interacted more boldly with than pink babies. This showed that adults tend to make assumptions about children's needs based on their identifiable gender. Adults stereotype.

Many parents are not comfortable with their children being boxed into a stereotype, being expected to be a certain way based solely on whether their have a Y chromosome or not. As a parent, I understand. I have four boys, and I want them to be able to wear whatever colour they choose, and do whatever activities appeal to them, be it basketball or ballet. I have been criticised for dressing my little boys in girls clothing, "What does HE think about that?" one skeptical mother asking me one morning when I showed up at the school gate with my toddler son in candy striped leggings and a jacket with a hot pink furry collar on it. "He likes bright colours and looks great in pink!' I said. She smiled at me in a way that unmistakably said, "You're trying to make your son into the daughter you've never had."

My boys often says, "That a girl's colour/toy/movie", despite my constant assertions that colours, toys and movies don't care whether they're enjoyed by girls or boys.

Photo sourced from Yahoo! UK and Ireland
So, back to the Canadian couple. Is what they're attempting - to bring up a genderless child - brave and inspiring, or an exercise in futility. Is gender about genes or is it only social conditioning, and can they truly stand outside the conditioning they must have inevitably received themselves, or can they only rebel against it - create a different set of warped conditions. Is their old son wearing long plaits and supposedly gender neutral clothes actually making his own choices, or is he attempting to fulfill a hope his parents have that he won't be stereotypically boyish? When we are pushing against something, can we truly be neutral?


Kate said...

Interesting idea...

I'm not sure what I think about this to be honest.

Sif Dal said...

I guess there's so much to consider on both sides of this. I totally agree that in our society today there is a strong attempt to limit genders to certain ways of being, thinking, dressing and so on. At the same time, I believe aware parents can mediate this without resorting to hiding their child's sex well into childhood - which brings it's own stereotyping reactions from others.

Good Job!