Girls and boys are treated differently as soon as they’re born. Gender is the biggest influencer of the way children are raised at home and regarded by the outside world. Girls are clothed in pink, given dolls to play with, and taught prim and proper behavior. Boys get to express their energy through sports in red and blue jerseys. Enforcing such stereotypes affect how children turn out as adults; girls are taught not to fight and learn early on that their appearance dictates their worth, while boys are prohibited from playing with stereotypically feminine toys that may repress their sensitive instinct.
Gender neutral parenting aims to transform those concepts. Forbes describes the movement as ‘gender stereotype-free child-rearing’ so that kids will grow up to choose who they want to be. It teaches not to fear seizing every kind of opportunity regardless of the traditional gender ascribed to it.
A growing trend
This movement is actually growing. Newsweek shared Pink’s announcement of raising her own kids in a gender neutral environment. At its core, gender neutral parenting seems like a radical yet noble effort, but is it something parents should be considering?
A study from the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the risk for physical and mental health issues rise up due to strict gender norms and expectations. Pregnancy, HIV, and exposure to violence are some of the things the study found girls continue to deal with. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to experience substance abuse, have a higher suicide rate, and die younger than women. The study concludes that this is highly influenced by gender norms that prevail in their environment which might be remedied by unbiased treatment especially at the transitional ages of 10-14. Of course, the process may even be started earlier. 3 Bees & Me mentioned that babies are already impressionable at a young age so gender neutral parenting may already be considered even before childbirth.
Sweden is one of the pioneers of gender neutral parenting. A recent Quartz article explores the world of kindergartens that follow the movement where you won’t hear the phrase ‘boys will be boys’. Rather, everyone—students, parents, teachers—are encouraged to think of them as ‘kids being kids’. A cited study found that children who came from these schools have reduced tendencies for segregation and stereotyping based on gender. Because they do not feel limited, the kids had more access to opportunities which might affect how they make it in life as adults.
Practicality is another consideration for gender neutral parenting. Parents are finding that it’s easier to give hand-me-down clothing and toys now that they have switched to buying unisex items. Lots of popular stores are hopping on the bandwagon and creating gender neutral lines such as Target and Abercrombie & Fitch, while brands specifically bred by the movement are also popping up. For instance, Kate Pietrasik explains that she founded the unisex children’s label Tootsa because kids should not be limited to pink and blue garb. There are also toys like 3 Bees & Me’s basketball set that’s labeled for both boys and girls. These can be taken as signs that abolishing gender stereotypes in parenting is a slow but sure movement.
Raising your children without adhering to preconceived notions will definitely be a challenge if the rest of the world isn’t quite there yet. Still, you can’t force your child to be gender neutral if they want to do what their gender traditionally does, and the fear that your child might grow up with an identity crisis is also understandable. These are the things that you will have to weigh up when you bring up a child, but at the end of the day, raising them in a supportive and nurturing environment is essentially all that’s needed.
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