I was chatting with my brother earlier today about children being brought up to be a specific gender and the roles that come with that. There’s been a lot more conversation in the last couple of years about children and gender. Many question whether it’s healthy to bring up children with a specific gender or whether we should raise children as gender neutral.
I usually try to be quite diplomatic in these conversations because I feel that these issues are quite complex and that for families where children have questions about their gender identity, all the articles in the world will never be able to give the right answer on how to deal with when your child who is physically female tells you that they believe mentally, and emotionally, they are a boy.
However, I am becoming increasingly more frustrated with the formidable nonsense amongst those who are insistent on promoting this ridiculous and contradictory notion that gender is something wholly imagined by society with little biological basis, but who at the same time insist that some people are born in the ‘wrong’ body and therefore their need to change their body to match their gender. Clearly, these two ideas are logically incompatible.
Many of the same people who are proponents of this are also proponents of the idea that children should be raised to be ‘gender neutral’. Little boys should dress up as Pocahuntus if they like, and little girls who want to be Ken instead of Barbie should be allowed to do so with no interruption or intervention. After all, we wouldn’t want to put any limitations on our children in regards to gender, would we?
And in one sense I agree that I want to bring up my children to be gender neutral. I don’t want my little girl to feel like she can’t be a high flying surgeon because of her gender. If my little boy decides he wants to spend his whole life sauteeing carrots, I won’t let him be told that cooking is for girls. My son won’t be told that displaying emotion is a feminine characteristic that should be looked upon with disdain, and my little girls won’t be told that they can’t be strong because of their gender.
That’s because none of these characteristics are uniquely male or female or even used to differentiate between men or women – cooking is something humans need to do to stay alive. We all need doctors. We all need to cry sometimes. We can all learn how to do a push up without using our knees.
There is some misinformation about gender neutral parenting floating around. Despite what some may believe, it’s not usually about banning little girls from wearing pink or stopping boys from playing with their Action Man, but rather allowing them to ‘perform’ gender without limitations. I.e. – If Kwame wants to dress up in a pink dress he can, as well as playing with his Action Man.
My problem with gender neutral parenting is that I see it as an unnecessary attempt to confuse what we are already biologically primed for. Arguably there are biological limitations placed on us due to our sex (which is closely linked to gender). In almost every other part of the animal kingdom we can clearly see the very binary separation of male and female and that these separations confer some behavioural differences. Watch any David Attenborough documentary and you will clearly see that female birds, spiders, and lions have certain behavioural patterns that are different from the male species. Unlike us, they live without any societal expectations, yet still have clearly defined roles based on sex. In humans, there are also clear biological differences between men and women – our hormones prime us for this. Testosterone is linked with aggression – this is not coincidental, this is biology. Our brains as men and women are structurally different – the extent of the differences have been exaggerated by many to perpetuate gender inequality, but they’re still there and they still influence behaviour to some extent. As in any discipline, scientific debates around this are influenced by each individual scientists pre-commitment to a particular ideological agenda and the extent of the differences will be stated differently depending on who you ask.
Regardless of the neurophysiology, according to studies, most children who are brought up gender neutral don’t end up being gender neutral adults, although I’m sure they have more relaxed attitudes towards gender norms than most people. In my opinion, that fact alone confirms maybe not the danger, but the futility of it all. Regardless of any attempts, our bodies in general revert back to what they were made for. Gender norms are definitely influenced by society and culture but the binary system of gender is not simply a societal structure – it’s conferred to us biologically.
Despite that, my reasons against gender neutral parenting are personally rooted in my value system – my faith leads me to believe that gender differences are not only natural, but sacred and that as well as our biological differences we’re supposed to teach our children to become men and women and not leave it to chance -I won’t apologise for that. If however, my son decided he wants to use the ladies loos, although I’ll refuse, I’m unlikely to panic that he asked. Nature will probably figure it out for him in the end anyway.