Recently I read about a family who chose to raise their child as gender neutral to avoid stereotyping. They have since revealed that their child is a boy since it became hard to conceal his gender once he started primary school. Apparently he still wears boy’s and girl’s clothing and enjoys playing with lego and dolls. This article leads me to questioning my own parenting and whether I have forced gender stereotypes onto my children.
I did dress Super Kid in boy’s clothing, and as you probably know a fair amount of what’s on offer is blue. I gave him a selection of toys consciously trying not to force boys toys onto him. He had cars, toy food, a toy pushchair and a duplo doll house. In fact I would have loved him to play with the doll house and play kitchens but he loved trains and his wooden train set. Later it was matchbox cars which became his favourite. The buggy was played with but in a very boyish way, zooming around the house and carrying his precious trains and cars.
Robo Boy soon developed a passion for robots which has endured for many years. He has more interest in play cooking and cuddly toys than his brother. Both boys love sticks and stones, and they play fight often. They tear through the house like puppies, full of enthusiasm and energy.
Bringing up Wonder Girl has been so different from the very start. I question whether having been outnumbered by my husband and the boys have I forced girl onto her? Certainly I have enjoyed dressing my first girl and she is often in a dress. She has ‘girl’ toys, a toy pram, dolls, and lots of cuddly toys. She also has all her brothers toys so she can really choose to play with whatever she wants.
Watching her play with a friend (also a girl) this morning I was amazed. Her and her friend were taking the baby dolls out of the pram, tucking them up under blankets on the sofa and patting their backs to send them to sleep. This was followed by some solo play whilst I made dinner this afternoon. As I cooked she carefully ‘cooked’ with the play food. Then she returned to her doll and made sure it was dressed properly and still tucked in nicely under the blanket. All very cute, all traditionally feminine play.
There are other things. She has dictated what she wears from around 18 months old. In contrast I could still lay out my six year olds clothing and it’s unlikely he would question it. She can mostly dress herself, including socks, which took the boys until three years old to master, she is not even two. She enjoys drawing and colouring in, she will sit at the table and stick stickers and colour in for at least 15 mins. Again the boys were around three when they had that kind of ability to sit quietly and draw for any length of time.
I guess my gut feeling is that, in general, boys and girls are wired differently. The observations I have made about the differences between raising my sons and my daughter have been echoed by many of my Mum friend’s experiences. Sure there are exceptions, and rightly so but I don’t think I have forced their gender onto my children any more than their favourite colour or food. It’s part of them, their make up and personality.
This is also not to say that I’m not a feminist, I am. I want my daughter to have access to any career she choses. I want her to be paid and treated equally to her male contemporaries. To choose to work (if she wants to) if and when she becomes a mother. I want my boys to grow up expecting to be responsible for cooking, cleaning and childcare alongside their careers. Basically I want all my children to live in a world where there is equality between the genders.
I have to admit to myself though that I’m not sure it’s possible to bring up a child ‘gender neutral’. I think that gender is a part of our make up and it influences our behaviour, thoughts and feelings. I think that’s ok. What do you think?