Vriezen: Parents raising “genderless” child raises eyebrows

Claire Vriezen

While attempting to keep up with news around the world, I happened upon an article with a title that struck me. The link I followed read “Parents keep baby’s sex a secret, seek to raise ‘genderless’ child…” The article it took me to told of a couple who had made the decision to withhold the sex of their new child from friends and family. Their intent, as they explained  in a mass email, was to make  “…a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in [our child’s] lifetime (a more progressive place? …).”

The couple’s parenting choices stem from a desire to let their children be “unconstrained by social norms about males and females.”

Curious about the response to this couple’s decision, I browsed through the comments at the bottom of the page. They were full of anger, shock and Internet commenters’ normal vitriol.

While I’m not entirely sure this couple is approaching the subject of gender in the best way, I must say that I admire what they are attempting to do, at least in theory. It simply comes down to trying to teach their children that having tastes and desires that may not fit with traditional gender roles isn’t a bad thing.

From birth, girls are showered in pink, and boys are adorned in blue. As they grow older, girls receive dolls and tea sets, while boys get toy cars and baseball mitts. In developmental psychology, this can be tied to social learning theory. Children learn masculine or feminine behaviors by being rewarded or punished for gender “appropriate” or “inappropriate” behavior. An example of the punishment/reward system for children might be something as simple as telling a sobbing boy that “big boys don’t cry,” or praising a young girl for playing with dolls.

I doubt that many of those who buy the “appropriate” color for a baby shower or give “girl” and “boy” toys realize the stereotypical gender roles they may be perpetuating. I question how harmful it is to reinforce these roles in the long run. Far more harmful is the notion that certain behaviors or personalities are only acceptable for people with a  certain set of chromosomes.

I hope to be a parent myself someday. I can safely bet that I will not go without purchasing my daughter some frilly pink dress, or my son the latest action figure. I can only hope to be a good enough parent that I can teach my children to be whoever they want to be.

That is what this controversial couple is attempting to do, albeit in an unorthodox manner. They are trying to avoid the constraints of gender stereotypes that are foisted upon even the youngest of children, and the expectations that come with one’s biological makeup. Teaching this sort of open-mindedness and promoting individualism seems to be just the sort of thing responsible parents should do.