A gender-free child

Anoush is being brought up gender-free. They can choose their gender later. At 17 months, they are a “lovely little human” who loves dolls but also motorbikes and machinery. Their parents are circus performers, who live on a house boat. They want their child to be who they are, not moulded by the unconscious bias of others into pink is for girls stereotypes. The grandmother found the child’s sex when she changed their nappy, but even other family members do not know.

Hooray! People want to know what genitals someone has so that they know what gender stereotypes to enforce. Even if they consciously desire to subvert such stereotypes and let the child be themself, they will unconsciously steer the child to “boy-things” or “girl-things”. That this is not happening in the first few years of life may be an invaluable foundation, even if when potty-trained and out in the world people will start caring what toilet they use, and nurseries will want to know. The stereotyping afflicts all of us.

So it was odd to read feminists opposing this treatment. Catherine Bennett in the Guardian strongly objected. People should be able to bring their child up free of gender stereotypes while acknowledging their sex.

Clemmie Millbank, in the Independent, also a parent of a baby of seventeen months, observed the gendered treatment given by her fellow Millennials, and the way her husband told their son not to be a wuss when he banged his head. Boys are rebuked for lashing out, but there’s a rueful “boys will be boys” tolerance which would not be extended to girls. Yet she says,

Every time we tell a little girl she’s pretty and a little boy he’s clever, we need to stop ourselves and consider our actions. The only way to tackle gender bias is by confronting it head on, not by hiding it.

Conscious incompetence here would be painful. Always you would ask yourself, am I cuddling this crying child because she is a girl? Am I not cuddling out of a rebellion against stereotyping when I really should? You tell someone to “grow a pair” and feel instantly ashamed.

Bennett claims that the parents are placing gender above sex. The gender-neutral extremist must be continually patrolling their own narrative, whereby gender, a matter of choice and chance, eclipses human biology.

I don’t think they are. There is nothing to indicate that they will alter the child’s body, or ignore their genitals later, just that they want to prevent gender bias now.

Sex is physical, gender is cultural. That is my observation, that of many others, and the basis of feminism opposing women’s oppression (and to a lesser extent men’s) by stereotypes. Actual humans do not naturally fit gendered boxes. So taking action to prevent forcing a child into those boxes is necessary. Some people feel the forcing is natural and appropriate – boys should be boys- some do it thoughtlessly.

I am sure Catherine Bennett would not buy a pink princess shirt for a toddler girl relative. She may even be able to cuddle crying children equally, whatever clothes they wear. Does she despise an unmanly man, or unconsciously reinforce femininity ever? The social pressure to do so is strong.

She is so hostile to concepts of gender neutral as a way to subvert the culture of gender, so hostile to trans people, that she cannot see the value of hiding a child’s genitals. It makes it impossible to stereotype! Is that not obviously a good thing, especially for a feminist?

No one fits the rigid gender boxes. Some people get along with them more or less. Some of us are so tortured by them that we must escape them by any means. We transition, or we change pronouns, or we self-consciously try to give off the signals of the other sex, to change others’ expectations and treatment of us.

None of this is acceptable to some feminists. Only their way is allowed. You can only subvert gender while being clear about sex. They even ally with the far right to oppose transition.

We have to accept all tools to subvert gender, and celebrate everyone fighting it. There are too many people who actively support stereotyping, who think boys should be that type of boy, made to man up, ashamed of showing emotion, and girls should be gentle and caring. Unless we are allies against that our cause is doomed.

A “Christian” site was confused, and in part progressive. This is the progressive bit:

As Christians we love the variety of gifts and personalities God has given to males and females made in his image. We do not want to restrict God, if indeed that were even possible, and narrowly define gender roles and behaviour in ways that are not supported in the Bible.

It seems they think stereotyping can be too restrictive. However they also think “gender is programmed into our DNA”. It is “deeply disturbing” to think Anoush might choose a gender identity different to the one their genitals indicate. But, how could Anouch do that, if it’s against DNA programming?

I wish the parents well. Anoush has a chance to find themself. It would save a lot of angst if everyone else had too.

2 thoughts on “A gender-free child

  1. No doubt they would be appalled that my wife and I made the decision to bring up our two children born in the 1970s as gender neutral as possible. Before they were born, we decided we didn’t want to know their sex. When they were babies we dressed them in whatever colour and style we liked, ignoring gender completely, and provided them with a range of toys – boy, girl and gender neutral. We didn’t differentiate how we responded to their needs or emotions. When they were old enough to start making choices for themselves, we conscientiously refrained from encouraging choices along gender lines, be it clothes, hair, or interests, and I admit we sometimes had to bite our tongues. Our children have Japanese first names, and so others were often unable to tell the child’s sex from the name. We never used the phrase “our son” or “our daughter”, always instead using “our child”.

    Our daughter remained completely gender neutral until around six or seven. By the time she was around ten, she was definitely a girl and no-one mistook her gender. Our son showed a definite preference for things typically considered masculine by the time he was two, although his dress sense was more neutral until he started school. This was no doubt peer pressure. While girls dressing as boys seems to be tolerated, the same can’t be said for boys who wear frills or pink or shiny fabric.

    I cannot fathom those who are critical of gender bias in society, but then actually encourage it by wishing to treat boys and girls differently. A bit like those who fervently promote racial equality, but are horrified when a black family moves in next door.

    Liked by 1 person

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