Gender reveal videos are the latest social media craze for expectant parents looking for a fun way to disclose the gender of their baby-to-be. However, an increasing number of couples, including many celebrities, are opting to forgo this trend in order to raise their children gender neutrally.
Words Lucy Barrett
In 2019, the leading children’s entertainment company, Mattel, launched ‘The Creative World’ doll range, enabling children to choose from a range of skin tones, hairstyles, clothes and styling options.
Is now the time to embrace the progressive initiative of gender-neutral parenting?
So, what does ‘gender-neutral’ actually mean?
The term ‘gender neutral’ relates to avoiding the assignment of roles and expectations based on someone’s gender.
The goal is to move away from stereotypical assumptions and encourage increased creativity and freedom for individuals to choose who they want to be.
Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.
Why should we encourage gender-neutral parenting?
Encouraging boys to only play with trucks when they really want to play with dolls, for example, conveys a message that their true desires are not valid. Growing up in an environment where a child feels they need to hide their true self could lead to problems later in life as the child faces an ongoing internal emotional battle.
Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.An understanding that people can choose how to dress and which sports they enjoy, regardless of gender, can mean they meet with acceptance rather than judgement.
Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests – girls dressing up as nurses and a boy dressing up as a builder, for example – conveying a message these jobs are gender specific. Increased exposure to the possibility of male nurses and female builders could enhance a child’s freedom when choosing a career.
The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes. When boys cry, some parents feel they need to show less compassion to encourage resilience, whereas girls are often shown more affection. Perhaps if we removed these gender specific responses, we may encourage our sons to grow up unafraid of expressing emotions.
Supporting children to express themselves authentically and make choices based on what feels good to them could help nurture increased creativity and strong self esteem.
Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests.
How can we create a gender-neutral environment?
For many, creating a gender-neutral environment means no longer buying blue for boys and pink for girls and choosing colours and images that do not enforce a particular gender stereotype.
It may mean ensuring household chores are gender-neutral, encouraging children to learn it is not just their mother who cooks the meals and it is not just their father who takes the rubbish out.
We could encourage children to play with all kinds of toys, have various hobbies, play a variety of sports and read an assortment of books. Enabling children to see that girls also play football, boys can practice ballet, girls play with trucks and boys play with dolls, for example, helps children develop a mixture of interests and skills.
For some, raising children in a gender neutral environment can take a more extreme approach. In 2010, a Swedish couple opted to keep the sex of their baby, ‘Pop,’ a secret to discourage stereotypes being placed on their child. Many are following this example and choosing to not use the pronouns ‘him’ or ‘her’ at home, opting for ‘they’, which is deemed more gender inclusive.
Could gender-neutral parenting cause harm?
Clinical Psychologist, Linda Blair, feels parents may be doing a disservice to their children. Linda argues that ‘between the ages of three and seven, children are searching for their identity, a part of which, is their gender.’ Children want to feel a sense of belonging and ‘fitting in’. Avoiding the assignment of a gender may make a child feel confused about who they are and where they fit in a society where gender roles remain prominent.
There is a concern that once a child starts school, their gender-neutrality may open them up to ridicule and bullying. Most children grow up in traditional households where gender is assigned at birth, which could make school years incredibly difficult for those who do not identify with a specific gender.
Many worry that children will grow up without a strong sense of their own identity and will never truly feel they belong. This may impact on their emotional wellbeing as they grow into adulthood.
The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes.
What does the future hold?
Many feel it will not be long before gender-neutral education systems are introduced. A preschool in Sweden has taken the lead on this, being the first of its kind to create a gender neutral environment, offering a variety of gender inclusive books, toys and sports; the use of pronouns that assign gender is also not allowed, opting instead for the term ‘friends’, ‘they’ or the genderless pronoun ‘hen.’
While some feel raising children in a gender-neutral environment will support their emotional wellbeing, others still worry it will create a childhood of confusion. When one of the largest doll making companies in the world introduces a more inclusive doll range, it is reflective of our ever evolving society in which gender identities are becoming more fluid.