The classic interpretation of gender is along a binary: male or female. For almost as long as that interpretation dominated the traditional stereotypes were applied, beginning with the species first agreterian social structure. This persisted through the bronze and the industrial age and through to the 1950s. At which point in the subsequent decades since both the instance of adhering to a gender binary and the stereotypes that once existed in the binary began to dissipate.
Nonetheless, the binary and its stereotypes still dominate the vast majority of cultural norm. From the moment an unborn’s gender is known there is an immediate desire to begin the typecasting.
It’s blue for boys and pink for girls.
Every retailer adheres to it in some way. Every card maker. Every clothes maker. Every toy maker.
Advice columns and blogs separate out the genders. Picking names. Preparing nurseries.
But, in reality little girls and little boys are essentially the same in the very early part of their lives. They take on a gender stereotype because adults project that onto them.
The longer that projection occurs the stronger greater the expectation is that the child then falls in line with the stereotype in a broader social context.
Boys are asked what they are doing while the are engaged in sports and building (or destroying) things.
Girls are told they look pretty as they are pushed to play house and nurture toy dolls.
None of that is appealing to us as parents-to-be. That’s part of the reason why no one knows the gender of the it gestating in my wife’s womb.
It is a point of contention among some members of the family, but for the most part, they seem to accept the premise of gender neutrality even if they don’t fully understand why.
From my perspective, there’s a few reasons for this…
First, we both are well aware we really only have influence for a few short months before the child begins to be socialized with a world that is full of gender binary bias.
The real world will do enough stereotyping, we don’t need to perpetuate it at home. Our goal is to provide the child with equal exposure to both sides of the cultural norms and stuff outside of the typical gender binary as early as possible for as long as possible.
By presenting a gender-free environment what we hope to accomplish is for the child to explore what actually interests them from a variety of different possibilities and not be predisposed to specific binary gender stereotypes. If we have a girl and she ends up gravitating to traditional boy things then we will support that and if she decides to gravitate to girl things we’ll let her as well – and vice versa. It’s less about what they pick early on and more about cultivating their ability to experience everything along the way.
Which leads to the second part and that is we want to provide an environment of diversified exposure overall.
While there may be some good that comes from either intentionally focusing on specific gender stereotypes in childhood development there’s lots of research that shows adhering to those can also be detrimental. And, vice versa, trying to force opposing stereotypes can be just as useless.
The goal for us is really to allow for a well-rounded experience in those early childhood years with this idea that along the way they pick up something beyond boys do this and girls do that, in order to set a tone of “I do this because I like this.”
Third, drawing on that last sentiment, we want to provide the informal concept early on that home is a safe place to be yourself. If they are to be functioning members of society they must first have a safe place to be themselves. We believe in this idea overall outside of the gender conversation so it only feels natural to include gender identity within the discussion.
No one at the moment has any idea where on the gender spectrum our little it actually is so, while there are tests that tell me about portions of the gender presentation and I know which end of the gender spectrum it should lean that still doesn’t guarantee that is what the child will identify with.
If the child is cisgendered or transgendered or agendered or at some point that blurs the stereotypes some other way they will be welcome into a world that is as gender neutral as possible in order to grow into the person they are to become.
Finally, my wife and I both defy aspects of gender expectation. I wasn’t always a guy’s guy and she’s not always been a girl’s girl. We’re both exceptionally proud of the clashes we have with our traditional gender stereotypes.
My wife would not be the person she is today had she not challenged the world around her on everything including gender stereotypes and although she doesn’t think of herself as an example of that kind of mold breaking she absolutely is a fantastic example of it. That’s the kind of experience we want to lay the groundwork for when our little it gets there – they will have the opportunity to fight them, if they so chose, in the greater construct of society – in our house whatever they bring we hope we can be supportive of.
Remember, all of this is really us providing our ideal situation. Every day for us will be a challenge in maintaining some aspect of gender neutrality.
My sister-in-law has vowed to buy pink everything regardless of the gender. I’m actually looking forward to this because I know all too well that her favorite color is pink and she will find the right expression of that not because of the kid’s gender but because it suits the child’s personality.
My good friend has vowed to buy everything hockey related regardless of the gender. I’m actually looking forward to this as well because I know all too the prominent role hockey plays in his life and I know again it will initially be not because of the kid’s gender but because it’s part of who he, and I, my sister and brother-in-law and a big part of my circle of friends are and eventually the child will figure out their own interests and my friend will find a new way to support those.
I am a percussionist and I have vowed to buy everything music related regardless of the gender. I am actually looking forward to this because I know how important music is in the development of children and how encompassing percussion is in terms of that experience and how building that foundation will provide them with opportunities in the future even if they decide when they get old enough to no longer sustain an interest in music performance themselves. For the rest of their lives they’ll always be in rhythm and be in tune with what being “in rhythm” means regardless of what any expectation is for being a boy or a girl.
So, ultimately, it is really important to us for the time being for people to be respectful of the idea we don’t want to set precedent by making the gender known.
We’ve seen too many instances of little girls being showered with pink, with dolls, with dresses and their first experiences with language being “aren’t you so pretty.” We’ve seen too many instances of little boys being showered with blue, with building blocks, with physical and intellectual challenges and their first experiences with language being about their successes in those challenges.
We want people interacting with the kid to not default to the stereotype standards and to challenge themselves to think harder about what it will mean to participate in the kids life and thus we are challenging our friends and families to think first and foremost about the kid being a human being and not being a girl or a boy.
This is as much about preparing our families for the kid as it is us preparing the kid for the world.