Friday, May 27, 2011

Gender Identity Storm

I've been watching this public debate about gender roles with interested curiosity. A Canadian couple decides not to tell anyone what the gender of their child is, and refuses to impose gender roles upon the child. At age 3 months, I guess that means no blue or pink jammies or wallpaper, no dolls that depict typical boys or girls, etc. From CNN's report:
Instead of the usual birth announcement of 'It's a Boy!' or 'It's a Girl!', Stocker and Witterick sent out an e-mail announcement that said, "We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now -- a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...)."
At 3 months, I say, 'Big Deal'. The child isn't processing much more than 'Mommy', 'Daddy', 'Hungry!', 'Wet', or 'Tired'. With our kids, we didn't go out of our way to put the girl in pink, and the boy in blue. Heck, the boy is youngest, so at 3 months, he wore some pink. We just weren't going to go and buy more outfits because the color wasn't right for a kid who couldn't comprehend the difference anyway.

As parents, we aren't in any kind of hurry for any kind of roles for our kids, apart from 'avid reader', 'good student', and 'thoughtful, polite kid'. We kept them away from Barbie dolls and monster trucks.

Funny thing about that. The kids both embraced their gender roles, but hard. Isabel's wardrobe and bedroom are monuments to pink and purple, princesses and ponies. Not because we foisted it upon her. Nope. She just loves it. Nobody had to force it on her. Likewise, Ethan just loves construction machinery, garbage trucks, cement trucks, buses, and trains. Nobody directed him to these things. Well, ok- he got some of the train enthusiasm from me. Maybe a lot, even. But he is such a boy. He has long hair and people sometimes think he's a girl... despite wearing camo's. people are so funny with assumptions. But, spend 15 minutes with him, and you discover that he is all boy. He runs into walls full speed, he's into everything, and if it's machinery, he loves it.

In the case of Isabel, we specifically wished to avoid all the princess stuff. It's so over-the-top, and we don't want our kids thinking of themselves as royalty. You can fight it as hard as you want. She saw it once, was totally fascinated, and gravitated to all things princess ever more. So, why should we withhold something she loves from her? It might not have been our preference, but it's pretty harmless stuff if it isn't indulgent.

We want a lot of things for our kids, and I think too many times parents want to sculpt their kids into idealized versions of themselves, at the expense of what the kids really have inside themselves. I think that's where this discussion ought to lead, if it's too be constructive. These parents seem to have a 'progressive' idealism worked out for their kid. What if what's really inside the child is nothing of the sort, and a strong identification with whichever gender role the child happens to be? Are they going to stifle it? Would that be 'progressive'?