Reader V.A. Luttrell writes in to correct a mistake I made in the last post on gender neutrality in children:
1. I think you are conflating, based on this sentence and the surrounding paragraph, gender and sex. They are, in fact, two different if related things.
She’s right, I did mean “sex” instead of “gender”. And admittedly, by saying sex is mostly binary, I was trying to sidestep the whole issue of the sexual spectrum and intersexual folks. Mostly out of laziness, but also because it’s secondary to the point of the post.
Gender identity is a construct, but sexual typing is a fact. That’s not to imply that sexual identity is a fact, or even necessarily tied to sexual typing. I’m all for experimenting with social constructs (creative destruction, baby), but it seems like the parents here are combating the identity problem by confronting the typing issue.
Of course the toys one buys children will have an impact on how they see the world, and their place in it. But the answer isn’t to shelter your child from influence, or to coddle them from the very real existence of gender stereotypes and roles. It’s to provide them alternatives, and a framework for evaluating how important those assumptions have been to them. Consider a boy child picking up a clearly feminine doll, like a Barbie or that new creepy doll that simulates breastfeeding. If that is the only available toy it’s a much less meaningful choice than if he walked past or rejected a hyper-masculine army man to get to it.
Concerning the impact of implicit gender roles, there’s some evidence that implications are much less weighty than one might think. Chaz Bono talked in the Old Grey Lady about his innate feeling of ‘wrongness’ when confronted with his nominally female identity:
I knew my whole life something was different. As a small kid, I could be one of the boys, playing sports, fitting in. When I hit puberty, I felt like my body was literally betraying me. I got smacked everywhere with femaleness. That was really traumatic.
The things we’re given and the ideas we’re saddled with aren’t what determine us, unless we abdicate the unique set of responsibilities and thoughts we all have. These parents are trying to make a grand indictment of some “system” at the expense of their child, when they could achieve the same result by nurturing Storm’s creativity, imbuing Storm with a sense of both responsibility and possibility, and gifting Storm with a questioning mind unsatisfied by assumptions or the status quo. That is, they could achieve all they’re trying to prove by being good parents, but soldiering away like that wouldn’t get reporters in the house or give them a stage for their sweeping pronouncements.
Everyone keeps asking us, ‘When will this end?’” says Witterick. “And we always turn the question back. Yeah, when will this end? When will we live in a world where people can make choices to be whoever they are?”
V.A.’s whole comments are worth reading, and admittedly I tried to talk about gender without invoking the sexual identity spectrum because that is a broader, murkier, and less interesting discussion. You should feel free to behave how you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. That goes for sex, politics, how you conduct your business, and what you put in your body.