Why does gender equality have to mean gender neutrality? Each person grows to live, love, and feel the way they do within a context of time. If time travel was possible, we would likely be shocked by the beliefs, customs, mannerisms and language of the times that came before and after us. People can experience this through simple trips overseas. Even those who decide to live in other countries for extended periods of times often experience distinctive loneliness that occurs when you just don’t understand or relate to parts of another person’s culture.
Now, let's enter the gender neutral argument. The common sense part of gender neutral parenting is in regard to products. The hope to remove societal social stigmas from toys or clothing that children would otherwise gravitate towards or love exploring seems harmless. After all pink is just a color, and hey, girls like Legos too! There is something so freeing and natural in this approach to parenting and I think a lot can be gleaned from it.
However, there seem to be thoughts making small waves in America that appear to believe that gender plays no role at all in establishing identity. To that, I say how? How do we separate the body that we see and move and exist in, from the actual person that we are? If we push too hard towards eliminating gender, do we risk actually damaging boys and girls who, as human beings, are looking to fit within a social structure of some kind?
So much argument surrounds what we are to teach our little boys and girls about themselves and the world they live in. On the one hand, there is the belief that each individual is who they are, completely separate from gender. On the other, are the traditionalists, fighting to keep 1950’s values alive in a modern culture that mostly rejects them. The extremes of both argue without looking at the sexes for what and who they are in a common sense or realistic way.
Identity can't be separated from gender any more than I believe that who I am would exist apart from my mother and father, the place I grew up in, or the spiritual beliefs that I have pursued. The inner person, though arguably separable from the physical restraints and limits of a body and biology, is not able to be separated from experiences and ideas, both of which have been received through a filter. We exist as physical beings in a physical body.
One of the strangest things about this way of thinking is that children are now supposed to figure out and establish their identity all on their own, with the parent accepting whatever comes. I appreciate the move to respect, love and honor children, and I feel that much of this thinking is born out of a desire to avoid inflicting pain that so many parents felt as children when they were not accepted for who they were or what they liked. But to go so far in the other direction is a misstep.
Children are looking for people to guide them, to help them understand the culture and world they live in, and to thrive there. Gender neutral toys make sense to me. Why not allow boys to play with dolls and girls to build things? There is literally nothing harmful that can come from a boy holding a pretend baby or a girl making houses with blocks. It’s all a part of exploration and normal brain development. However, when gender neutrality extends to the belief that it makes no difference at all that you are a boy or a girl, it does more harm than good.
Gender equality is what we need. Our boys and our girls should be acknowledged, cherished and valued for what they bring to the table, just as they are. We shouldn’t have to ignore gender to do that. Gender neutrality may work for products and marketing. It doesn’t work in the living out of daily life. And it definitely doesn’t give boys or girls what they are asking for: a place to belong in the world, just as they are. The more we seek to push the entire “issue” of gender aside, the more we deny our humanity and fail to see the needs that boys and girls both have.
Does gender neutral parenting have positive or negative side effects? Let me hear your thoughts!