Raising a “genderless” child

When I was pregnant, I waited to find out if I was having a boy or a girl. I was looking forward to the surprise. My baby shower provided me with a dresser full of yellow and green clothes. Once my daughter was born, those yellows and greens were very quickly replaced with pinks and purples. Every time someone came by the house, they brought an outfit!

I don’t deny that society naturally places children into perceived gender roles. I am also all for breaking those stereotypes. In addition to baby dolls and princesses, my daughter was given tools and toy cars. She liked both equally, and I think that is completely natural. When I taught preschool, many of the little boys in my class enjoyed playing with baby dolls and it upset me when parents would take them away. Kids should be able to explore everything their environments have to offer, and I believe that parents should give them ample opportunities to do so.

All of that being said, for once I have to say that I’m with the masses on a controversial issue (it was bound to happen sooner or later).

I read Parents keep child’s gender secret on parentcentral.ca yesterday. Here’s the cliff notes version: Mom and dad have two sons who are allowed to choose their clothes from either the girls or boys section of the store. They are both home schooled and free to express themselves regardless of perceived gender roles, even though they are often mistaken for girls. When their third child was born 4 months ago, they decided to take it a step further by not divulging the sex of their child to anyone except their two sons, a family friend, and the two midwives who delivered the child. They explain that you don’t ask someone what’s between his/her legs in order to get to know them better, and they want their child to grow up without society’s restrictions.

Now, I’m all for social experiments. I love psychologically screwing with people’s heads to make them think more objectively. But leave your kids out of your social experiment! Nothing they do is going to change the fact that their child is in fact a boy or a girl. Teaching him or her to disguise that does nothing to break gender roles . . . In fact, I’d go as far to argue that it perpetuates them! As far as I’m concerned, raising their child “genderless” reinforces that if the child was a boy or a girl, he or she would have to act a certain way. Instead, teach the child to be him or herself REGARDLESS of gender.

Whew! That was a lot of “him or her” and “he or she”s!

And as for the comment about not asking someone what’s between his or her legs . . . well, duh! You can usually tell! And if you can’t tell, you usually whisper to someone else, “is that a boy or a girl?” . . . Maybe that’s not PC, but it’s true. If it wasn’t, “It’s Pat” on Saturday Night Live would not have been as popular as it was! Why would it be different for newborns? Why would people not ask if it’s a boy or a girl? It’s natural to want to know.

At that point, the parents make a choice – enable gender stereotypes or break them. You certainly can’t do the latter while raising a “genderless” child!


14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tammy W. on May 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree about that family & loved your comment about the fact that you can usually tell–duh! 😉


  2. I agree with you…craziness!
    Poor child…He or She is going to grow up very confused!
    I also agree with letting a boy play with dolls or a girl play with cars…I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with boys playing with dolls, in fact, I would think it would teach a little boy how to be a father someday, right?
    Little girls practice with dolls on how to be a mommy…why can’t little boys do likewise?


  3. I think the biggest issue is that any of the news articles I’ve read are not differentiating between gender and sex. They are hiding the child’s sex — the thing that cannot be changed. Well, okay, I guess in this day, it CAN, but you know what I’m getting at, I’m sure.

    As for gender, there is absolutely nothing wrong with children playing with the opposite sex’s toys. Do I agree with a boy walking out of the house wearing a dress? No, not so much. Is there anything wrong with it in the sense of playing dress up with friends/siblings to fit some sort of role in their make believe world? Not at all.

    As for their homeschooling, or “unschooling” as they refer to it, it reminds me very much of Montessori learning, however, last I knew, there were some sort of guidelines for homeschooling to ensure that a proper education is attained. All they are going to be doing is raising their children at a disadvantage if they do not enforce some semblance of “normalcy” and restrictions. I just don’t understand parents letting their child decide whether or not he wants to go to school. It just doesn’t make sense to me.


    • I completely agree with you about gender and sex.

      “The couple plan to keep Storm’s sex a secret as long as Storm, Kio and Jazz are comfortable with it.” —– I’m still trying to figure out how they know that Storm is comfortable with it!

      I’m up in the air on the boys going out in dresses thing. I went to an arts high school and one of my classmates used to wear dresses and skirts to school all the time. My favorite was the leopard print mini skirt with fish net stockings. There was a time when it was considered cross dressing for women to wear pants . . . maybe in several years, men wearing dresses will be as normal as women wearing pants today 🙂

      As for the schooling, I’m a huge fan of Montessori learning . . . this doesn’t remind me of Montessori at all. There is organization in a Montessori environment and the activities are fascillitated by trained professionals.


  4. Great post, Dayle! I also saw that article and immediately thought, “HUH?” I know the parents may have good intentions, but they are making their child into a lab rat and that child has no say in the matter. I agree with you, leave your children out of your social experiments! I fear the child will grow up feeling like he/she doesn’t belong anywhere.


    • Thanks Jen!

      I do understand what the parents are trying to do. And I’m usually very non-judgemental of other people’s parenting choices. I’m just very bothered by adults using children to further their own agendas. They even say, “By keeping Storm’s gender a secret, we’re saying to the world . . . ” You don’t need to worry about “the world”, you need to worry about your child. :/


      • “You don’t need to worry about “the world”, you need to worry about your child.” Couldn’t agree more!


  5. Posted by Ginny Layton on May 27, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Brilliant! My five-year-old is caught up in colors belonging to either boys or girls–genderless vs. regardless of gender–good writing, Dayle. . .I like the way you think!


    • Thanks Ginny!

      My daughter’s starting to do that a little bit . . . such and such is just for boys or such and such is just for girls. I challenge her whenever she says it. She once said something about boys not having long hair, so I reminded her that her mom-mom’s husband (who she calls Dude) has long hair. She said, “oh yeah!” She’s the only girl on her t-ball team and there’s only two boys in her dance class. It’s great because it reinforces that even though something may not be the norm for a certain gender, doesn’t mean that it’s out of the question.

      There’s an excellent book by Tomie de Paolo (well, all books by Tomie de Paolo are excellent) called Oliver Button is a Sissy about a little boy who wants to take dance lessons.


  6. […] June 29, 2011 by Dayle Last month I wrote about a couple in Canada who are raising their child as “genderless.” Well the issue seems to have been taken a step further in a preschool in Sweden. While searching […]


  7. I don’t have kids myself, but I also like the idea of a mystery. I have family members declaring not only the gender but all the child’s name. As a teacher, I see boys and girls playing ‘roles’ that some may consider ‘wrong’. Many young boys love playing house just as girls love playing with legos. Let them explore freely and don’t criticize or cringe. And that is silly not to tell whether your child is a boy or girl. It’s terrible, but so many times I honestly can’t tell if a child is a boy or girl at a young age especially if they are wearing a school uniform. Interesting post


    • What grade do you teach, Caroline? (Look, I’m finally spelling your name right!)

      I definitely believe that gender roles are way more nurture than they are nature.

      I wonder if this family finally gave it up . . . I should just check for an update!


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