A 2012 survey found that about a quarter of elementary school kids reported seeing gender-nonconforming peers experience bullying.
A saddening 2015 study brought to light that almost 100% of LGBTQ youth had gotten negative feedback for not acting appropriately “masculine” or “feminine.” These statistics are troubling because our focus on something arbitrary like gender is allowing for people to treat one another poorly.
“But… aren’t boys and girls just wired differently?”
Good question. The simple answer is “no.”
When a baby is born, his or her brain is virtually identical to brains of little ones of the opposite sex.
Boys do tend to have slightly bigger brains but they also tend to be bigger, in general.
Some research indicates some negligible discernible differences in early behavior like when baby girls tend to speak sooner than boys or girls show a slightly better attention span.
So, yes, brain scans show that sex does affect the brain early in life but most of us have a mix of features that are characteristic of both the male and female sex.
But, weirdly, studies suggest that girls and boys show a penchant for playing with toys that fit their gender as early as nine months.
Also, studies have shown that a kid’s interest in a toy is greatly influenced by whether it is pink or blue. A pink car or a blue doll does not fit their perceptions of what they are supposed to play with.
This raises questions about why and most researchers agree that it is because the child has been exposed to such toys since birth and has been rewarded for playing with those toys. In short, they have been trained to believe that certain toys are for them and others are not.
If you are interested in gender-neutral parenting but are not sure what to think, read over the following pros and cons.
Pros of gender-neutral parenting
- Gender neutral kids are given the freedom of choice in their expression and become more creative.
- Children who get to play with any toys that they like will have broader interests and hobbies. They will not be boxed into “boy activities” and “girl activities.”
- Being gender neutral can increase self-esteem because being exactly who they are is not just permitted, but celebrated.
- Gender neutral children are more likely to advocate for equality. They will have better insight into the fact that the lines that we draw amongst people in our society are arbitrary and silly.
- Above all, your child is a child. If they are pushed toward pink and frills and encouraged to continue to dress that way, they will do so. However, that frilly pink “girl” may grow up to feel that she was misunderstood and end up with feelings of gender dysphoria.
Cons of gender-neutral parenting
- Some people think that a child who is raised without the concept of gender will become puzzled about their identity when they begin to spend time around other kids. They may. However, they are being given the opportunity to develop their own identity without having to look to other kids. For example, if he or she is a homosexual, they will feel more comfortable with it because no arbitrary restrictions have been put on them. This brings us to our next point, however…
- Some moms and dads worry that they will be pushing their child to be a homosexual but, to be frank, this thinking is backward. There is simply no reason to believe that a child’s sexuality will be determined by the color shoes he or she wears. Boys with pink sneakers can grow up to be heterosexual. Promise. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that 85% of gender nonconforming kids become heterosexual adults.
- It is not easy for parents. It requires forethought and training your own mind to stop using pronouns like “he, she, her, and him” or to be mindful that their toys are not gendered. I think most parents would say it was worth the trouble but it is definitely a challenging choice.
- There is no way of avoiding gender completely and pushing too hard toward gender neutrality is no better than forcing a child into a “gendered box.” If your son loves sports and blue clothes then don’t push him not to. Don’t get upset if your daughter wants a princess party.
Though we still have a long way to go, today’s young people have far less stringent ideas about gender. 56 % of “Gen Z” reports knowing someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. Some parents today choose not to disclose their child’s sexual anatomy until that child has decided on his or her gender. Pronouns like “they, them, their” are used and some call these babies raised without gender restrictions, “theybies.” The push toward more inclusive language is happening all over the world.
In France, as a matter of fact, there are people who are advocating re-shaping the language so that it is gender neutral. Because, like Spanish, French designates everything as a gender, French people are forced with every word they speak to think about gender. It frames their thinking. In our language, we can just call our friend, “a friend.” In French, you have to assign that friend a gender in order to apply the male or female noun.
So, what is the takeaway with gender-neutral parenting? It is important to understand that people are people and children are children. Your child’s malleable brain is internalizing what he or she is being taught and, therefore, will follow along with whatever gender path you set for them (at least initially) so leaving that path wide open is probably not a bad idea. In short, let your kid be whoever your kid is and you may be thoroughly blown away by the person that they become.