I am raising my children to be “gender neutral”. This is a concept that is often widely scorned, and I think I understand why, but I also think it’s a misunderstanding. I’m not raising my children to be neither a boy nor a girl, I’m raising my children to be who they are regardless of whether they’re a boy or a girl.
Gender Stereotypes Are Toxic
I truly believe that the idea that gender stereotypes are innate is one of the most toxic and insidious ways our society suppresses our children’s natural instincts. It is how the world has tried to force women into the wife and mother role, and convince men they must be emotionless warriors. Gender stereotypes are a box that we are put in from birth and told to conform to, and if we don’t, then we are wrong. But generations of feminists have helped fight our way out of these boxes, and I will not push my children back inside.
This is why I am a gender neutral parent; because I am raising my children without gender stereotypes. I am raising them to be free of societies expectations that girls must be feminine and pretty, only like dollies and flowers, and be meek and mild. I am raising them to be free of the idea that boys must be tough and sporty and never cry. I am raising them to be free.
Free From Gender Stereotypes
My children are not stereotypes, they are humans. Sometimes my daughters like to play with dolls or dress up as princesses and fairies, sometimes they like to run and climb and wrestle. Sometimes they make mud pies, sometimes draw, sometimes they read, sometimes they dance. All of these are activities we associate with childhood, but not all are activities we associate with little girls.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s. There was, of course, stereotypes, and I’m not saying it was a perfect Utopia. But it wasn’t this restrictive and oppressive. And I’m noticing. I’m seeing the way society, shops, fashion and adverts are determinedly trying to convince my daughters that they live in a “Pretty Little Girl” box. But I’m more determined.
My children are not stereotypes. My children are human. My children are free.
Yet I have watched people try to force them into the gender stereotype box their whole lives.
Putting Children In Boxes
When my uncle met my eldest daughter for the first time he was bemused as to why I’d put my baby girl in a blue outfit.
“I thought you were having a girl?”
“She is a girl.”
“But she’s wearing blue.”
“Doesn’t mean she’s got a penis.”
And this is how the world tries to box children in from the moment they’re born. Because a girl in a blue baby grow is somehow wrong. And if you can be “wrong” because you’re wearing the wrong colour when you don’t even know what blue is, imagine how “wrong” you can be when you’re a little boy who picks out a doll or a little girl who wants to play with trains. Imagine how “wrong” you will feel when you become aware of the judgment.
Why Gender Stereotypes Are Damaging
Growing up feeling “wrong” is what we do to children when we convince them that gender stereotypes are innate and natural, and that not conforming to stereotypes is unnatural. Because almost all of us are bigger than the boxes we are forced into. Because humans are diverse and interesting, and gender stereotype boxes are not. I truly believe that crushing children to conformity, making them force themselves into those boxes, damages them.
Growing up feeling “wrong” is dangerous. It leads to isolation, mental health issues, and self loathing. It makes us try and be people we aren’t so we do things and say things that make us hate ourselves even more because we’re living a fake life.
Smash the boxes and there is no more wrong, there’s just people. Some are feminine, some are masculine, some like pink, some like blue, but most are a beautiful combination and mixture of all of those things. Little girls who love pink and glitter aren’t limited to that, they can be warriors. Little boys who love blue and superheroes can still cry and be gentle.
I believe that children and their personalities, when allowed to flourish, are so much broader and interesting and exciting than the stereotypical boxes we try to force them into.
Raising My Children To Be Free
My children will not grow up feeling “wrong” because they are free to wear and play with whatever they want. Because my children are not “wrong.” Trying to force them to conform to gender stereotypes is wrong.
My gender neutral parenting is not about denying biological sex, it’s not about dressing my children in beige, nor about stopping them from enjoying gender stereotypical toys should they want to. It’s about taking the box that says they HAVE to conform, and smashing it. It’s about recognising that children are more than your stereotypes. It’s about raising them to feel safe and confident enough to express the truth of themselves. To love what they love, be who they are, and enjoy what they enjoy, regardless of label society has attached.
I am a gender neutral parent, and my children do not care about your stereotypes. And neither do I.