Sunday, 27 June 2010

Gender unknown

How do you stop people treating your child in a gender-related way? Easy - you refuse to tell them whether the child is a boy or a girl.

This is what a Swedish couple have been doing for two years. Their offspring, referred to only as Pop, sometimes wears trousers and sometimes dresses, and his/her hairstyle is regularly changed to avoid gender assumptions.

They deflect all inquiries about gender and studiously present him/her in a neutral, category-free manner. Pink may not mean what you think, ditto blue. All conclusions are pure guesswork.

"We want Pop to grow up freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset" says Pop's mother. "It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

It's a fascinating experiment, trying to subvert the well-established tendency for children to be genderised, and to absorb the expected gender role, from the moment they're born.

But there are so many questions begging to be asked:

1) How do the parents avoid using a gender?
2) How do they avoid accidental giveaway remarks?
3) When will they reveal Pop's gender?
4) Is Pop happy about keeping his/her gender secret?
5) How do the parents stop him/her blurting it out?
6) Will Pop become gendered as soon as it's revealed?

Needless to say, some people have already accused the couple of child abuse for suppressing Pop's identity. But isn't it also a form of child abuse to force a child into a gender role they might not be comfortable with?

So? Nasty little boy or sweet little girl? Watch this space.

33 comments:

Grannymar said...

So when Pop goes to school.... will there be a section for the boys, one for the girls and a non gender section for Pop? I actually think this will give the child more hang-ups.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Another good question. I can't see the experiment surviving start of school. Gender is bound to be extracted somehow! You know what kids are like....

kylie said...

hmmm, it's an interesting idea but i'm not sure it's a good onen and i bet the parents have trouble staying neutral

Nick said...

Kylie - I bet they do. When you think how casually we slip he or she into a conversation....

e said...

Interesting, but I wonder how POP will feel about this as an adult, and what problems POP will encounter along the way?

Happy Sunday to you and Jenny, Nick.

Rummuser said...

Very interesting indeed. I shall eagerly keep watching that space.

Nick said...

e - I guess adulthood is pretty far away right now, and I also guess he'll be firmly gendered by then, just like the rest of us.

Ramana - I wonder if the journos will keep track of him. Often they forget about a story as soon as it's printed.

Nick said...

That's interesting. I just assumed Pop was a he. Is that pure sexism or canny instinct? You see how easy it is to slip into gender inadvertently?

Wisewebwoman said...

I've known some who use non-gendered pronouns Nick like "Hir".

And, contrary to what GM thinks, many countries (including Sweden) do not segregate school children by gender. My children and grandchildren never have been but, correct me if I'm wrong, Ireland still does.

So that wouldn't be an issue at all. How important is gender?

Only in the eye of the beholder.

I applaud this couple, their child will have a better chance than most at acceptance and achievement.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

About 11% of schools in the Republic of Ireland are single sex. I can't find any figures for Northern Ireland.

I doubt if Pop will remain ungendered for long once his/her gender is revealed. The pressures to conform to one role or the other are so strong.

Baino said...

I think it's a silly experiment. No child should be subjected to such 'experiments'. We don't separate kids by gender except in change rooms when they play sport or do PE. How will this child go then? I also don't understand the 'reason'. My children were never dressed in gender specific clothes as toddlers. But they definitelyhad gender specific interests and through no persuasion by me. Adam liked trucks, Clare liked dolls. We are different, we do have gender it's an integral part of who we are so why deny it? I don't see it as a conformity issue but one of parents playing God over a child who has no choice.

Nick said...

Baino - It's hard to say if children have natural gender interests because research shows that children are massively exposed to gender roles from birth onwards and will inevitably be influenced by them. I wonder if Pop is already showing gender-specific traits?

Megan said...

What a strange experiment. People think up the darndest things!

Nick said...

I think I can conclude you're not impressed? In fact you would say they're completely wasting their time?

Suburbia said...

I wonder if he/she knows what she is?

Nick said...

Suburbia - Another good question. Do the parents refer to Pop's gender when they're alone with him/her? And I see you've also assumed a gender!

Leah said...

I've been thinking about this a lot since I read it yesterday. Raising E. without a lot of gender hangups/expectations/limitations has always been an issue for me. I'm lucky I have a sorta manly husband who is also a staunch feminist who believes women should never be stereotyped or limited. I think we've done a really good job so far--she seems not to feel constricted by feminine stereotype, and just sort of does her own thing.

So, I think I see where these parents are coming from. However, as with any hard line, it sounds rather exhausting...it's just so much more complicated than they seem to understand.

Nick said...

Niamh - I wonder how much Pop's identity is being artificially suppressed. Suppose Pop loves wearing jeans but the parents keep forcing him/her into dresses to keep visitors baffled?

Leah - It's good that E is just being herself without feeling she has to be feminine. True, the gender-neutral set-up must be exhausting to maintain. And will it make any real difference anyway once Pop is free to self-define?

Los Angelista said...

I can understand the parent's feelings. For example, if I had a little girl I'd probably barf if someone said I had to constantly dress her in sparkly pink t-shirts and frilly lavender pants. I'd be happy to see her wearing superhero t-shirts and normal primary colors.

On the other hand, just like skin color differences are a beautiful thing when they're actually loved and valued, gender differences can also be a wonderful thing. I think men and women are born with different capacities and qualities, both equally valuable. I think the point is to figure out how to raise your kids so they don't whole-hog emulate the sick gender roles society forces on us.

Megan said...

Well, I'm no expert in early-childhood-development (TM). But I'd say it's effort wasted. I think that all you really have to do is turn off the TV. We never had one until I was five. But, I remember my mother letting me watch Gone With the Wind at that age, so... :)

Nick said...

Liz - I think the point is to let kids realise their own identity, with whatever mix of "masculine" and "feminine" they naturally adopt, as you say without particular gender roles being forced on them artificially.

Megan - Turning off the TV would certainly shut out a lot of gender indoctrination. But so much also comes from friends and relatives. My parents didn't have a TV till I was in my late teens (which might explain a few things)!

secret agent woman said...

Hmph. Blogger ate my comment.

As a psychologist, I can't help but wonder (worry) that there might be unforeseen negative consequences to this little "experiment." Does the child understand his/her own gender, surely he/she has noticed resembling one in terms of genitals? What will hitting adolescence mean? What about public restrooms, dressing rooms and so on? And will this make the kid more at risk for bullying? I understand their desire to shake off hurtful stereotypes, but I don't think this is the best way to go about it.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Yes, it's going to cause so many problems when Pop goes to school, I can't see the gender staying secret for long. But maybe by that time he/she will be a bit more open-minded about it all?

Brighid said...

What a sad state, those parents are doing an experiment on a child.
Where did common sense go with those people?

Nick said...

Brighid - Very experimental. Mind you, strange experiments sometimes lead to interesting discoveries....

gaelikaa said...

That's crazy. They should just let the child be what it is and bring it up to believe that the two genders are equal. The child is bound to grow up confused and will pay a heavy price for the parents' misplaced idealism. That's my two pennysworth anyway.

Nick said...

Gaelikaa - Indeed, believing the two genders are equal is the important thing. But there is still the problem of other people expecting Pop to behave in a gender-appropriate way.

K8 the Gr8 said...

Weird! I too hate the pink/blue divide, so I dress my wee baby in white, red or yellow. 9 times out of 10, people guess that he's a boy purely from his features.

Wouldn't it be obvious when looking at Pop's features what gender he or she is? And if not, how strange would s/he feel if people kept asking what gender s/he was? I'd find that strangely insulting, somehow.

Nick said...

K8 - Intriguing that most people guess the gender from his features. Maybe Pop is more ambiguous? Yes, I wonder about the reaction to the constant "which gender" questions. But I don't think at that age you'd find them insulting, isn't that more likely once you've firmly identified with one gender?

Terra Shield said...

Very interesting... glad I clicked on your comment ID on SAW's blog.

Maybe the parents are a bit extreme in their experimentation with poor Pop. But then again, I do think that kids should not be limited to gender specific/stereotyped activities.

Nick said...

Terra - Yes, how does one judge if it's extreme or not? I guess we'll only know when Pop's gender is finally unveiled and then we'll see just how gender-free he/she turns out to be.

Enough Already said...

We are raising my daughter as gender neutral as possible. While she has dolls, she prefers trucks, trains, and cars. I have no illusions though, once she enters public schools, starts watching TV, and all the rest, she will be flooded with messages about correct gender roles.

Hopefully, she learns that independence and competence are much more important that lip gloss and strappy shoes.

Nick said...

Enough: That's good that you're trying to keep her upbringing gender neutral. But as you say, once she's more exposed to the wider world she may succumb to the overwhelming emphasis on gender roles.