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Teacher and Group of Children“Is it a boy or a girl?” That’s often the first question that expecting and new parents hear when announcing their newest additions to the world. It may seem like an innocent question, but the answer has a bigger impact on children’s lives than we realize. With gender norms shaping how we think of ourselves and others from almost Day One, some parents are pushing back with non-gendered approaches to rearing their kids.

Gender, Culture, and Our Childhoods

As children, we may not realize how our societies impress upon us cultural ideas about gender. Nonetheless, those ideas take root incredibly early. Child in the City cites a 2007 study finding that kids ages three through five could tell the difference between “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys.” Moreover, these kids could guess whether their parents would approve of them playing with toys that weren’t marketed toward their gender.

There’s a lot to unpack here. What’s apparent is that parents impact the likelihood of children exploring clothing, toys, interests, or identities that don’t align with their birth genders. Siblings, other children, teachers, adult relatives, and even strangers can encourage this exploration or reinforce gender norms. As Parents contributor Alana Bracken explains, it’s especially difficult for children assigned male at birth. They may be bullied or ostracized for choosing “feminine” interests like playing with dolls or wearing dresses.

The Impact of Gender-Reveal Parties

As transgender people continue to fight for equality and civil rights, one key question arises: Should we even assign gender at birth in the first place? Outside of our societal norms, does this practice have any real importance? On Twitter, writer Verity Reynolds called it a way to “color-code infants just so we all know what general shape their genitals are.”

Meanwhile, the popularity of gender-reveal parties called even more attention to the issue. If you announce to the world that your precious baby is a boy, how do you respond when the kid walks up to you and says, “I’m really a girl”? Lindsay King-Miller discussed gender-reveal trends in a July 2019 Vox piece. The original intent may have been to celebrate pregnancies, but they’ve morphed into spectacles with themes like “Guns or Glitter” and “Pistols or Pearls.” This dichotomy can box people in, making it harder for trans individuals to accept themselves and nonbinary people to make sense of their identities.

Parents Strive for Non-Gendered Child Rearing

Taking these issues to heart, some parents have committed to raising gender-neutral children. This objective takes many different forms. There’s what NBC News’ Julie Compton calls a “gender-open” approach. It goes beyond avoiding restrictions on the types of clothing and toys they provide for their children. These parents don’t reveal gender markers and they also refer to their kids with they/them pronouns. And these aren’t isolated instances. Rearing “theybies” is gaining popularity, and the Raising Zoomer blog offers insight and advice for navigating the world.

How do others respond to “theybies”? Compton explains that their parents receive a mixture of support, pushback, and confusion. One person documented intrusive “what are they” questioning by coworkers. “They got really, really frustrated that we wouldn’t tell them what their [the children’s] genitalia was, which is kind of a weird thing when you think about it,” commented Julia Sharpe, a parent of twin toddlers.

How Gender-Neutral Parenting Could Affect Our Culture

Most parents naturally want the best possible outcomes for their children. By providing essential needs, a loving home, encouragement, and nurturing, they work to prepare kids for adulthood. With harmful biases surrounding gender and the difficulties transgender people face in affirming their genders, a neutral parenting approach could be an optimal solution. Besides mitigating possible harm, it can also offer open, supportive environments in which these children explore both their genders and how to express themselves.  

Category: Society

culture family children

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