Thursday, May 26, 2011

Should We Raise Children Without Gender Norms?

Yahoo news featured an interesting article the other day that challenged society’s views regarding gender roles and how the world around us shapes our totality as a human through the understanding of gender norms.  The article concentrates on a newborn baby named “Storm” whose parents refuse to tell friends/family/the world what gender the child is, as they would like for the child to decide it’s own path of self-understanding.  (Apparently there is no ambiguity regarding the child’s actual sex.)

I’ve had many discussions over the years of how gender shapes your personality and lifestyle. I have met many that believe there are no differences between men and women other than genitals, and that society fully forms their self image and forces them (willingly or unwillingly) to conform to gender norms.  I have to admit I’m not one of those people and though I’m not a doctor, scientist, or whatever, I have lived long enough to understand that males and females generally have different thought processes.  I also think this is a beautiful thing that allows us to learn and understand ourselves, through our relationships with the opposite sex, in greater depth. 

But the question the article is asking is whether or not it’s a good idea to raise your child with no understanding of gender norms.  And on this point I feel very conflicted because, in some bizarre way, I admire the parents for taking a stand and testing the theory that society shapes us fully and nature doesn’t play a role.  But because I already stated that I do believe nature takes a prominent role in our differences, I have to admit I believe this kind of parenting is misguided. 

I often criticize libertarians for not understanding that we live in a society, and I’d have to say the same about Storm’s parents.  To believe that you can insulate yourself from society and that it cannot shape you is both naïve and probably confusing for the child.  Obviously, a child is constantly analyzing, learning, and understanding and, even if they cannot fully comprehend the gravity of all it is absorbing, it has to be somewhat overwhelming.  To not guide the child through self understanding while it’s processing information and its environment might actually have the opposite effect on his/her development because he or she may not have any basis to help understand their own identity.  Now, I’m not claiming all little girls should wear pink bows and all boys should wear blue baseball caps.  If a parent wants to help their child challenge gender norms, I think that can lead to positive openmindedness.  But to do that, the child should have a deep understanding of its gender so it feels confident and secure when challenging the norms in a society that generally resists the push and pull. 

To set the child free to understand itself as if it lived in a vacuum is to forget what it’s like being a child.  Children need guidance and then when they are old enough to make their own decisions, they use this foundation to formulate their self image and their originality.  To just set one off to sea seems misguided and potentially harmful to a child’s development. 

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I agree that it's kind of naive of some parents to think raising a child with no gender norms would be possible. Or I guess a better word would be extreme. Change is slow. And gender norms aren't going to vanish any time soon. They may not be as contrasting anymore (in the western world at least) but they do exist.

    In my opinion, the best way to go would probably be to teach kids to be aware of the roles we acquire more as loose "guidelines" or fairytale "expectations" that can and should be ignored rather than taken as absolute truths. So in that sense I think what you write about how parents should support their children to challenge gender norms through a process of first letting them acknowledge what they are is spot on. :)