The New York Times Parenting blog recently spoke about Gender Neutral Parenting and about how much it is possible to determine or influence the identity of a child by varying parental tactics. So what really is Gender Neutral Parenting?
The idea behind this kind of parenting is to steer away from the male and female stereotypes that society has built up over the ages, so that the child is not influenced by these.
The whole idea of boy stuff (blue and action oriented) and girl stuff (pink and fashion or home oriented) may possibly restrict the development of a child and limit their imagination, which in turn limits their options in life.
Gender neutral parenting is one end of the parenting spectrum; at the other end of which is traditional pink and blue parenting. One advocate of gender neutral parenting is Lise Eliot, biologist.
She recommends that clothes ought not to be gender geared – presumably pink, fussy and dressy and lacy for the girls and blue, hard wearing, unadorned for the boys.
Toys as well, need not be gender geared – certainly it is limiting and short sighted to equip the boys with guns and remote controlled cars and to give the girls tea sets and Barbie dolls why not the other way around.
It is true that there are many challenges for parents and children when parenting is kept gender neutral because stereotypes do exist in the real world and children who are seen not to conform to gender stereotypes could be picked on at school, experts do acknowledge.
However there is also the augment made in favor of gender neutral parenting that it tries to reduce the impacts of gender restraints and role expectations that society seems to reinforce.
This kind of parenting can teach a child that choices and behaviors do not have to base themselves on what society proscribes for individuals based on their gender but that their choices can and should be wider than this.
Consider for instance the problem with giving supposedly ‘gender appropriate toys’ to boys – toy guns and action figures that are seen to indulge in violence can send out the message to little boys that aggression is OK and in fact something that is inherently boyish or masculine.
Giving girls dolls and tea sets to play with reinforces the regressive view that women should be interested in nurturing activities and home centric pursuits.
This is not to say that toy guns will necessarily make boys aggressive and dolls will limit girls, the point here is that these preconceived notions about gender and role playing need not be thrust down the throats of children.
They ought to be given greater freedom to make their own choices and not be told things such as “boys don’t cry” or that “this is not how ladies should behave”.