Oasis Magazine Articles

Gender Neutral Parenting: Myths & Tips

By Amy N. Pugsley

There has been a lot of debate regarding gender, and how people discuss it has evolved greatly in the past 30 years. One of the biggest buzzwords is the concept of gender neutrality and gender neutral parenting (GNP). According to the definition outlined by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, gender is a socially constructed definition of women and men, and the roles they assume based on their external genitalia. Gender is determined by the conception of tasks, functions, and roles attributed to women and men within the fabric of society, and in public and private life.

Gender neutrality, on the other hand, explores the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people's biological sex, in an effort to avoid discrimination arising from the assumption of these roles. The idea is to socialize children early on and empower both genders in an open and equitable way, while expanding opportunities and opening doors. If people are restricted to one narrative, they might never reach their full unique potential. Gender neutral platforms are spaces at home, school, or work where the idea of gender takes a backseat, leaving individual strengths, abilities, and interests to become a determining factor.

Neurologists and psychologists argue that boys, girls, men, and women are far more alike than they are different, and it is the patterns of socialization that confine them into a strict binary. From the moment children are born, their biological gender is used to determine what they wear, how they are spoken to, what toys they will play with, what books they will read, and what types of futures they might have. While a pink shirt or a blue blanket may seem harmless, it is not the color, but the narrative that it accompanies. Capitalism has pushed this binary agenda, says Kate Pietrasik, founder of unisex children’s store Tootsa MacGinty in the UK. The idea that girls and boys need mutually exclusive items is expensive and exhausting. Separating children to such a degree and providing different toys, clothes, accessories, and hygiene products thus doubles the money for production companies. If biology renders these differences unsubstantial, then why does the sociological aspect deem it so necessary?

GNP is essentially taking on a parenting practice that is conscious of gender binaries, limitations, and injustices, and seeks to create a new pattern of socialization. Yes, it does seem like a large task considering how parenting is already a job that is tireless and challenging. It is a day in and day out struggle to help another human being realize their potential, help them grow, teach them life skills, and keep them on a clear path away from, you know ... “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

Ideas are great, but is this model really a practical one? Sweden seems to be the poster child of the gender neutral movement. As a country, Sweden has gone to extraordinary lengths to impose gender neutrality in the classroom, as well as mandating preschools to “counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles.” This, coupled with the world’s most generous parental leave plan, is a great step in institutional gender equality. We can’t all be like Sweden overnight, but in the meantime, here are some myth busters as well as easy steps to practice GNP if the concept interests you. 

5 GNP Myths

1.      GNP is a radical social experiment

Parents have been in the news for keeping their children’s gender a secret or naming them after objects to keep them from experiencing any gender. The practice of GNP does not have to be like this at all and can be easily practiced by all parents. It is not about removing gender, but creating a space where gender is an afterthought rather than a starting point in a child’s identity.

2.      It is difficult to put into practice

It’s quite simple and easy. The core idea is to make all things available to all children. If you believe that your son or daughter can do anything or be anything, then make it happen.

3.      It is “gender bending”

The desire to not force a child into a specific gender role does not require them to be androgynist or confused about their gender. The idea is to remove “allowable” or “socially acceptable” behaviors based on external genitalia.

4.      GNP is “anti-”

If a mother puts her daughter in ballet and her son in hockey, does this mean she is not practicing GNP? No, it’s not about being anti-feminine or anti-masculine. It is about diversity and removing limitations, rather than creating new ones.

5.      GNP is for transgender kids or gay parents

This practice has little to do with sexuality. Removing gender binaries allows children to reach their full potential in school, sports, and life. This parenting practice does not encourage children to be gay or transgender.

GNP in 5 Easy steps

1.      Make thoughtful shopping choices

Before buying anything for your children stop and think, “what message is this sending?” If it keeps doors of opportunity open for both boys and girls, then it is probably fine. If it is unnecessarily gendered, avoid buying it.

2.      Allow for teachable moments

Use the times gender gets brought up or questioned to create a dialogue with your children about the options society represents. Discuss these artificial limits to discuss gender in an open way and encourage children to critically think about it.

3.      Talk about it

Share the things you are doing with your children with other parents. Make suggestions, discuss ideas, and make the model work for you. Help those around you challenge gender stereotypes.

4.      Act with intent

Rules should not be based on gender. If you have a son and a daughter make sure they are parented fairly. Things like curfews, allowance, chores, and expectations should be equal.

5.      Remove gender binaries within your family

If dad cooks dinner and mom takes out the trash, this shows children that chores are chores and not gender specific. Work to remove rigid binaries at home and be an example for impressionable children. 

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