Rejecting boy/girl distinctions is not the only way to be ‘gender neutral’
Few issues get parents’ blood boiling than those concerning child gender identity. So it is with great care that I contrast my own attitudes with the parents of gender-neutral ‘infant’ Sasha Laxton, who has sparked controversy over the weekend.
For me, the most bizarre and confusing part of this story is how four-year-old Sasha’s parents have interpreted the concept of being ‘gender-neutral’.
I should say at this point that I bring Jack up in a fairly ‘gender-neutral’ way. I also know lots of other parents who would describe their approach as ‘gender-neutral’. My wife, who works in a school reception class, tells me that the curriculum requires staff to promote ‘gender-neutral’ attitudes among pupils. But I think I have something different in mind to Sasha’s parents.
What I’m trying to get at, I suppose, is that the concept of gender development is no longer what it once was. There is no longer such a sharp distinction between the boy/girl, man/woman. Sure – divisions do still exist. But few can deny we’ve come a long way. Dads pushing a buggy and mums going to work are fairly commonplace in the modern day where just 100 years ago they were almost unheard of.
Where I think Sasha’s parents attitude becomes difficult to understand is with their frankly ridiculous application of the concept ‘gender-bias’. Apparently, they waited 30 minutes before asking midwives for Sasha’s sex because they “did not want to prejudice his life with gender”. Really? Does that really prevent prejudice?
They also steadfastly refused to identify the fact that he was male, referring to him as “the infant” to people when introducing him. Does this mean he was unaware some people (namely, those distinguished as ‘females’) didn’t have willies? Did he wonder why his daddy didn’t breastfeed? Was he not breastfed for this reason? Were mum and dad actually called ‘parent 1′ and ‘parent 2′?
I’m not trying to reduce this to a black and white issue, honestly. And I don’t mean to presume anything about Sasha’s parents’ approach than they have expressed, and I really do appreciate the subtleties of gender. I pose these questions merely to show how absurd we could get by being ‘gender-neutral’, which starts to sound suspiciously like ‘ignoring gender’ to me. And, by Sasha’s mum’s own admission, her attitude actually resulted in them both being ostracised by other parents, which appears pretty counterproductive.
Returning to my own attitudes, I have two examples – one active, one passive – of where I’m proud to have promoted gender-neutrality with Jack.
Jack’s best friend happens to be a girl – a very ‘girly-girl’ in many respects. He has also been known to wear and play with her fake high heels, or ‘clippy cloppy shoes’ as he calls them. I make no attempt to stop him and have no reason to.
Example two concerns an experience we had in a busy park sandpit last summer. Jack was excluded from a digging game by a group of girls because he was a boy, and they were digging for girls toys. I managed to resolve this by asking the five-year-old who had refused him why she thought he wouldn’t want to play with girls toys too. After some deliberation with the other’s in her entourage, she conceded and let Jack join in.
The distinction between these examples and Sasha’s is that gender-neutrality has enabled greater social inclusion for Jack, rather than his potential exclusion as the weird ‘infant’ without any gender at all.