The mommy soap box part 1: Stepping up

Pardon me while I take a moment and step UP on my mommy soap box. This will be long, and opinionated, and wordy. Brace yourselves.

Sometime within the last few weeks I was out with Keelin when a lady-stranger approached the stroller, stopped and bent down to take a look at my sleeping bean. The following conversation ensued:

Stranger: Is this your baby?
Me: Yes ma’am. {said while proudly smiling}
Stranger: Seriously?
Me: Um… yes. That’s my baby. {No I’m lying for fun}
Stranger: Wow. Boy?
Me: No, she’s a girl.
Stranger: Oh
Then she walked away, leaving me feeling overly protective and kind of annoyed.

While our conversation was quite short, it successfully stirred up many emotions. First of all, why was she so surprised that it was my baby? Perhaps I look young… so I’ll let it slide. Second of all, what a random way to end the conversation! Just say “Oh” and walk away? Strange. And lastly, was it really that hard to guess the sex of my child? I don’t think so.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I realize that when it comes to infants, sometimes it’s tough to tell whether or not you’re looking at a boy or a girl. However, on that particular day Keelin was not only dressed head to toe in pink, but there was a pink elephant hanging from her car seat handle and the blanket over her was purple and white. I don’t know about you but that kind of screams ‘girly’ to me. So while I wasn’t offended that this stranger first guessed boy, I was actually pretty surprised that despite ALL THE PINK she still got it wrong. You know what I mean?

A few days after this interaction the wheels in my noggin started turning and it really got me thinking. Dangerous, I know.
I started thinking more about how silly it was that the woman guessed boy when the tiny person she was staring at was swimming in pink. Let’s face it, she had a 50/50 chance of guessing right, and unless I had intentionally dresses a little boy in little girl’s clothes or had decked Keelin out in the famously gender-neutral YELLOW, she really had to be paying ZERO attention to get it wrong. Am I right?

Then those thoughts got me thinking about this whole GENDER NEUTRAL way of raising children, at which point my wheels kicked into hyper-sensitive-overdrive. Before I continue, allow me to take one foot off the soap box and remind readers that this is simply my own opinion and I have no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings with the side I take on certain issues. I apologize in advance if anyone is offended by what I have to say but I welcome any and all comments, be they intended to back me up or smack me in the face!
Foot back on box, and continuing on…let’s talk about Gender Neutral Parenting {GNP}.

When I say GNP I’m not talking about parents who choose gender-neutral names {Sean, Alex, Taylor, etc.}, support their little girl in her desire to be a football player, or cheer on their son at his first dance recital. That’s all good and grand and great and I totally support your decisions. While I secretly hope Keelin will grow up loving dance, playing house, and getting WAY TOO EXCITED about picking out her senior prom dress, if she decides she’d rather wear steal-toed boots, be a race car driver, boycott dresses and make-up, or work in a motorcycle repair shop I will support her 100%. When I say GNP I’m thinking of the parents that raise their children with the intention of completely removing any and all gender stereotypes by letting the child decide what gender they want to be. Sound a little nuts? I thought so too, but this level of GNP is really out there!

For example, some of you may remember that Toronto couple that was all over the news last spring because they refuse to tell anyone {with the exception of a FEW family members} what gender their child is? I distinctly recall being totally shocked and confused at the whole idea behind their parenting decisions, and quite frankly I still am today!
They claim their choice of A-sexual parenting is an attempt to “let Storm discover for him/herself what s(he) wants to be…” {yes, the child’s name is Storm, brother or sister to Kio and Jazz who’s sexes are also a mystery}. I’m sorry, but when Storm meets a new friend on the playground who innocently asks him/her, “are you a girl?”, what on EARTH is he/she going to say? Are his/her parents seriously going to wait until Storm realizes that the person sitting next to him/her in Ms. Whatsherface’s class has different stuff between the legs? What about when Family Life classes kick in {at which point there’s NO questioning that girls and boys are DIFFERENT for a reason} or the “how are babies made” question arrises?  How about the SHOCK he/she will get after walking in on mommy and daddy, who have very different parts-is-parts, changing clothes or attempting to make another non-gendered child? Oh lord my blood pressure is rising the more I think about it all. Deep breaths Sara, deep breaths.

Here’s the deal folks, it’s one thing to encourage your child to be whoever they want to be and therefore become their own person, not a cookie cutter copy of mom and dad. That’s just dandy and something I can totally stand behind. But no matter what you do or don’t do to influence your child, and no matter how great an impact society has on them, at the end of the day a girl is a girl and a boy is a boy. You can’t spin that any other way. Of course if he or she decides years down the road that they just can’t take another day as the gender God created them to be, they are completely capable of nipping, tucking, and downing the hormone pills so they can be on their merry way. But until that time, there’s a little something called ANATOMY that makes it pretty clear what TYPE of person you are.

It’s true that society continuously tells us how it thinks girls and boys SHOULD look and behave, but the beauty of having cognitive thought and the freedom to choose means we can decide whether or not we want to fit into the molds that have been created for us. But at the end of the day, no matter what mold you decide to place yourself in, either you are MALE or FEMALE and that’s the way the cookie crumbles {Bruce Almighty anyone?}.

And furthermore, a 5-year old, who is still wondering if there is a monster living under his or her bed, should not be DECIDING if they want to be a girl or a boy. At an age where the biggest concern in life should be which sugar-coated cereal they want for breakfast each morning, something as intense and complex as a sexual identity is far beyond what parents should expect them to handle. They are EITHER a girl… or a boy!

As a parents, it’s our responsibility to provide the right amount of support so that our children are not stifled or restricted based on what “people say”. We can encourage individuality and creativity in our children so that they grow up to be EXACTLY who they want to be! But it is also our responsibility, AS PARENTS, not to totally screw with our kid’s brains in telling them they can DECIDE if they are one sex or another. Sorry Charlie, but it just doesn’t work that way. This is the world we live in and it can be hard enough making it to the end of each day in one piece without having to deal with the little girl on the jungle-gym that doesn’t KNOW she is a little girl.

Whether you are gay, straight, religious, spiritual, atheist, introverted, extroverted, creative, boring, OCD, or a total slob, there are some things that will ALWAYS play a part in defining who you are as a human being. It’s not a BAD THING unless you let it be.

BLEH! Thanks for letting me take over the soap box. It’s amazing where a simple interaction with a stranger can take you.

Until next time…

Please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts on the subject. I’d love to learn where others stand on the ideas of Gender Neutral Parenting.

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16 thoughts on “The mommy soap box part 1: Stepping up

  1. As for the lady who approached you, she could have had much more tact. Perhaps she was colorblind? Let’s go with that exception and look on the bright side, at least for the situation.

    As for GNP, I don’t have kids, so I can’t speak personally, but I can say this: I’m all for GNP as far as not pinpointing your kids; i.e., discouraging boys from liking stereotypical girl things, or vice versa. I think that parents should take a well rounded approach to such matters.

    That being said, I think kids still need to be in touch with their gender. No matter what your life choices, whether your a very masculine woman (I myself am much more male on personality tests than female), a feminine man, or what have you, you still know about your parts and what they mean. I think that’s essential to self identity! Even for those who change theirs when older, the reason they can make that decision is because they understand what they have and what they want…they don’t grow up in the ambiguity.

      • Thank you ma’am! Everyone has to take the soapbox at some point on their blog, and I think that yours was well round and respectful while still discussing your views. Thanks for a great post that’s good for discussion!

  2. I totally agree with you! What are your thoughts on parents who have a hermaphrodite and have to choose the sex? Which would you choose and would you raise that child GNP to avoid adult issues with sexual identity?

    • You may have stumped me a bit here Cheryl, simply because I can’t even imagine exactly what I would do unless I were thrust into the situation directly. There would definitely be a lot of prayer and discussion to decide what would be best for the child until they are old enough to UNDERSTAND what makes them so special.

  3. I try my hardest to stay our of all parenting issues, because as a non-parent, I don’t feel that I have enough insider knowledge to form an opinion. However, while it can be incredibly difficult to figure out some babies genders, especially when they are as new to the world as your adorable little one, you’d have to be blind to mistake her for a little boy!

    As far as GNP, I think it is great when parents embrace the unique things their children happen to be into. For example, when I was 7 I wanted to play hockey and be on the football team. Did I grow up to be confused about my gender? No, I was just going through a phase. But, I still very much understood that I was a girl.

    I think that the whole GNP is kind of like not teaching kids that there are winners and losers, and the importance of hard work. What you get is some very confused and spoiled kids in my humble opinion.

    • Great point Kaitlin (and thanks for the sweet compliment to Keelin!). There’s a difference between showing support for a little girl who is a tomboy and asking her to question her gender entirely. Even if your desire to play on the football team lasted beyond a “phase”, you should still have the understanding that “I’m a girl who loves football, and that’s just as wonderful as if I were a girl who loves dolls!”. It’s definitely a fine line but once you cross it the differences are DRASTIC!

      • I forgot to share the same sentiments as Kaitlin that someone would have to be blind to assume Keelin was a boy, as she has very feminine features. I was cue ball bald and chubby as a baby, so people were never sure what to say as to gender, but Keelin is definitely a girl by appearance!

  4. If it makes you feel any better my mom went through that ” oh what gender is your child” and even so far as ” what a cute boy! ” with me till I was almost two due to the fact I had little to no hair on my head. They didn’t really care that I was almost always in head to toe pink. So people just don’t get it.
    And I completely agree with you. Kids have enough going on in their world without having to decide on their own what gender they are.

    • HA. My mom always tells me the story of when a man came up behind her and said, “excuse me son”. She whipped around, looked him stone cold in the face and said, “I’m a GIRL”. The worst part is she was about 4-5. I guess that’s the price she paid for having a blonde bowl cut!
      Thanks for your comment and feedback!!!

  5. I too have heard of GNP and completely agree with you. A child should not have to bear the responsibility of choosing their gender, that’s just cause for ridicule on the playground not to mention confusing the poor kid. When a teen/adult is ready to decide they’re not comfortable in their body, thenlet them choose then!

  6. Okay, Okay. So I know a bit about gender identity, gender roles, psychology and it’s relation to sex and vice-versa… As someone who works from home, I find a lot of strange free time, don’t judge, so I have had some time to read up on these subjects. I love to learn, and tend to surround myself with pretty smart fellows (ahem! you included, even though we’re FAAAAAAR away). I also value your opinions, and love that you’ve been documenting your experience as a new mother.

    With that said, I personally don’t know JACK about what it takes to grow, and then raise, a tiny human. Nope. Part of me feels like, because of that, I can’t even really approach your argument, because I presently do not have to make decisions about raising said tiny human–nor do I think I’ll ever have to. But as I mentioned, I love to learn, and while I have a bit of knowledge about gender studies, I had to do quite a bit of research about Gender Neutral Parenting. (Is my ass all the way covered yet?!)

    And what I found out about Gender Neutral Parenting is firstly this: it’s pretty bunk if you ask me. BUT WAIT! I do however, agree more with the Gender Diversity Parenting–which is totally not the same thing. If you’re curious, you can learn more about it from an actual mom (http://www.raisingmyboychick.com/2009/09/raising-him-purple-defense-of-gender-neutrality-in-early-childhood/) who is currently rearing a ‘boy-chick’ in a gender-diverse lifestyle. For those of you who don’t want to read the article, she addresses many topics about gender diversity, but I especially love when she explains what toys she has in her house for her child–not excluding, but including ALL types (barbies, blocks, nerf guns, dinosaurs, ponies).

    I’m not saying her choice is the correct one for everyone, but I am saying that I agree with her when she says that the word ‘gender’ also carries around a ton of baggage with it–it’s not just physical parts, but also social roles AND gender identity (ie – i’m a girl with girl parts, i’m a guy who has girl parts, i’m a person with a vagina but no sexual identity, etc).

    Let’s address ‘Storm’ on the playground, shall we? When a child comes up to ‘Storm’ and wants to know if Storm is a boy or a girl, I would hope that they would be able to respond, “Why does it matter?” Of course, at 5, they’re probably not going to be able to make a distinction like that, and OF COURSE let’s not forget that lately children are becoming so cruel that even an answer like that could warrant some serious early bullying action… Perhaps it’s not just on Storm’s parents–perhaps it’s important enough to sit down with the kid who’s curious about Storm’s gender to look at Storm as a person and not worry about what parts they’ve got ‘down there.’ I don’t know… is this asking too much?

    Gender Diversity Parenting is about loving each individual thing about the child, regardless of what group it falls into–just like your girl-friend who wanted to play football, that’s a perfect example of gender diversity! All children go through ‘phases’ sure, but let’s not be so quick to write off the ones that don’t go with our assigned gender roles, just because we’re ‘not the right sex’ for them. (Also I hate it when you’re trying to explain something about yourself that is a clear part of your life, and someone tells you, “oh it’s just a phase.” Really? How do you know?)

    I also believe that young children DO have the right to decide what gender they are–so they can’t change their physical parts, but they should feel free to express and try out different gender roles. There are so many different manifestations (a femme lesbian, a girly straight man, pansexuals, androgynous, asexuals, whatever), and children should feel comfortable expressing themselves… and not just children, but people in general. If a person feels like they can’t express something about themselves because it goes against the baggage of their gender norm, that’s when they begin to feel bad about it, and that’s dangerous territory, because they can’t then find a healthy way to deal with those feelings. Sure, it’s all a little complex, maybe too complex for a child to really understand. I just feel like it’s one more way you can present an accepting environment, which SO MANY children aren’t experiencing.

    Keelin’s lucky though, Sara. You and Z are already amazing parents, and I can’t imagine a more loving, accepting family. If she wants to assume ‘boy’ gender roles, I can’t imagine you guys holding her down screaming whilst zipping her into a fruu-fruu pink cupcake prom gown.

    I’m almost finished… Your last section of your post…

    “Whether you are gay, straight, religious, spiritual, atheist, introverted, extroverted, creative, boring, OCD, or a total slob, there are some things that will ALWAYS play a part in defining who you are as a human being. It’s not a BAD THING unless you let it be.”

    I have girl parts, Sara. It doesn’t ALWAYS play a part in defining who I am as a human. I choose not to let it. I choose to be a person first. The fact that I breathe, rely on water and food, those things make me a human, and those things aren’t determined by my gender roles.

    Gender Diversity Parenting does not mean you’re going to screw up your children, that you’ll make them gay (you can’t make someone gay), that you’re trying to do away with gender, or that your child won’t learn about gender unless you teach them. It just means that you’ll celebrate BOTH sides of the gender spectrum, and to appreciate each aspect of your child without separating each aspect into a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ box.

    At least that’s what I’ve taken away from my research. And again, I’d like to go on the record saying that I’m not a parent so PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take it with a grain of salt. ❤

    • I totally agree that it doesn’t matter what “parts” a person has, that is definitely true. But, while I love you dearly, I do feel the need to defend and elaborate on my point about someone’s gender always playing a role in who they are. I don’t think it’s closed minded or naive to say that my being born FEMALE will always have an effect on who I am, how I behave and how I see myself from now until forever and ever amen. While you may not let being female DEFINE you as a person, it will never not be a part of your life and your genetic make-up as a person. Not to turn this into a religious debate, but I believe that God created men and women to be different for a reason. And it is those differences that have and will always be influential in how we live our lives.
      I also want to add that the main point of the soap box session is not focused on how someone views and defines themselves, male or female, when they are mature and knowledgeable enough to make the decision. My point was to call out the issue I have with a parent looking at their child and teaching them that they were not created as one thing or another. No matter how you look at it, there is an answer. Later in life, when that child is capable of understanding not only the clearly defined differences between a man and a woman but also that no one person has to fit into a standard “gender” mold, it is then that they can make a decision on how they are going to live their lives and how much they will let their gender influence them.

  7. I do love a debate! But clearly we can only go so far, you and I. I mean, while raised Catholic, I later embraced Atheism, so our fundamental principals are going to be a bit off–ie, I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe we were created by anything, with an express purpose to be different.

    So we’re probably never going to see eye to eye, but I do think it’s interesting to hear about someone else’s perspective. (I love reading about your experience, because I don’t plan on having one of my own…)

    I do agree with the idea that it isn’t until much later that a child will be able to understand gender norms, and be able to voice their decision on how they wish to proceed through their lives. I just think it would be a real shame if a little girl really wanted to assume the gender role of a little boy, they wouldn’t be discouraged–playing with boy toys is one thing, but I’m talking about a full transformation, like living completely as a boy. But I still disagree–and I wish that things weren’t the way they are, that it wouldn’t matter about whether or not they were created as one thing or another… we’re all people. I wish THAT could be the focus; but unfortunately it’s not, because, like I mentioned in the novel above, without baggage that is ASSIGNED to gender; it shouldn’t matter what parts you have, but it does and we make assumptions based on those parts. It’s lame, but we do it.

    That’s all. And I love you dearly. ❤ No hard feelings love.

  8. Pingback: The mommy soap box part 2: back on the bull « Life in these times…

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