I'm a mom, and I'm in favor of gender neutrality. Here's why.
Gender is a funny concept. In our society, we are typically taught as we're growing up that boys act one way and girls another. Boys like trucks and wear blue and all little girls want to be mommies one day (and wear pink). A lot of us don't bother to question it; we just go along with what we're told. But what about the people who decide to raise their children with no preconceived gender whatsoever? Maybe we don't all want to go along with the boys are tough and girls are dainty ideas, but how do we react when someone abandons all gender roles altogether?
There's a Canadian family in the news (as reported by Babble.com) who has decided not to clue people in on their baby's sex because they don't want those accompanying gender rules to take root. They want their child to decide on the child's own how to behave. There is also a public school in Sweden that has banned the use of gender-specific pronouns in order to facilitate more neutrality and equality among their students. And I have to tell you, I think that’s kind of awesome; these ideas of challenging gender or eliminating it completely. Our Untraditional Marriage: My Husband Cooks And I Watch Sports
This Babble writer disagrees. The author feels that equality doesn't require neutrality, which is a perfectly understandable point of view. I can see that not telling anyone if your baby is a girl or a boy, or not letting school kids say "he" or "she" in the classroom, is a fairly drastic (not to mention impractical) step to take. It's an extreme departure from our collective experience. But I also think we could use an extreme departure to reset the balance.
My own parents were rather progressive regarding gender, which is remarkable considering the rural area I grew up in. I took dance for almost a decade thanks to my mother. My father, however, decided he didn't need a son in order to have someone to do "guy" stuff with. So he taught me how to change tires and shoot hoops. My parents didn't pigeonhole me into being one or the other, girly or tomboyish; they just let me be who I was. "Mommy, What's a Soul Mate?"
Did I grow up with the trappings of gender in one respect or another? Sure. There must have been times when I was reminded that "young ladies don't do that" or something along those lines. Outside of the house, I was occasionally accused of being too aggressive for a little girl, or too bookish, or too something that wasn't subdued and quiet. I remember rejecting the narrative that girls and boys should behave differently even then, because from where I was sitting, the boys were getting to have all the fun. They were encouraged to be confident, smart and strong, and I wanted that for myself.
When I became an adult, I decided that no kid in my care would be restricted to the tired old gender roles I had seen growing up. While I haven't had a child of my own yet, I have been applying these principles to my step son. We have had discussions on how there are no boy colors or girl colors, just colors that he likes. He wanted an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas and got one, along with a telescope, books and a toy guitar. He wants to take dance classes as well as Judo. He asked for a pair of Hello Kitty socks and wore them to school proudly.
I know we haven't gone as far as the family who won't tell people their child's sex—we haven't banned gender-specific pronouns in our household, for example. But I hope we're doing something important in order to make sure that there's at least one little boy in our Wild West town who doesn't have to pretend to be something he's not just to fit in. Maybe if he learns to be true to himself, he can spend the rest of his life being who he is: no apologies, no regrets, no fears. If not, then at least he will have learned how to bake and got to meet some girls in dance class.