Gender Neutral Parenting
So you’re probably wondering whether this is the latest trend in parenting and exactly what it is. Gender neutral parenting is when parents focus on avoiding gender stereotyping and raise their children without the traditional gender-specific toys, clothes, and activities.They believe that if children are held back with preconceived notions of gender, they may not be able to do what they want to do as individuals.
Though this is incredibly hard to do in the real world since it is not gender-free and there is no denying that males and females do have some inherent differences. But there are important lessons to be learned from this parenting method. Mostly, the idea that our children should be given a chance to develop as individuals, regardless of their gender.
Some social scientists have put forward the idea that a gender-specific upbringing might limit a child’s imagination, and therefore his / her options. One neuro-scientist, Dr. Lise Eliot, even suggests that these kind of children grow up hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine, making it that much harder for the two genders to get along.
Often, this obsession with gender-specificity starts well before birth. Very few parents choose not to find out the gender of their baby. People want to know so they can buy the baby the “right” boy or girl stuff. Parents expecting boys have lots of blue clothes and a cars or sports theme while parents of girls will find only pink and purples, with flowers and hearts and princesses abound. This difference in expectations from their boys and girls is also reflected in the kind of toys and activities that they provide their children with. As a result, boys and girls end loving and doing things from opposite ends of the spectrum and their interests grow even further apart with age.
This divergence in interests in reflected in classrooms, too – where girls are found reading stories and doing creative work while boys are reading non-fiction and doing constructive work. On the play ground, the girls are playing house while the boys are engaging in ball games. Also, take for example, how boys are often told to play outdoors and indulge in more energetic and competitive activities while girls are asked to stay clean and pretty. This affects their developing immune systems as well – boys end up more immune to infections. This is a definite indication that the way a child is raised also affects his physical life as an adult.
Studies have also shown that boys tend to overestimate their abilities while girls have lower expectations of themselves. These are serious issues that need to be addressed. All this research, only goes to show that a strict adherence to gendered parenting, though encouraged by the media, culture and sometimes, parents themselves, is not the best way to raise children.
The best approach then would be one that expands both girls’ and boys’ horizons; girls should be able to practice competitiveness and assertiveness with activities like remote-control-car racing or rough-and-tumble play while boys should be encouraged to play with kitchen sets and dolls to hone nurturing and people skills.
Here are some other things you can do ensure that your children are brought up mostly-free from gender-stereotyping:
Toys, Books and Clothes
- Offer a variety of toys to your children. The toys should have some of both kinds toys – boy toys and girl toys. Also, respect your child’s wishes. If your child wants to play with a gender specific toy, gently argue his choice but let him.
- Encourage boys to read fiction and girls to read factual books.
- Let them dress themselves – comfort and freedom is the goal. Always dressing girls in dresses and skirts restricts their movement and boys might prefer to wear bright or ‘girly’ colors. It’s also okay to paint your son’s nails!
The World Around Them
- Share duties at home equally. Mom can change a lightbulb while dad can cook for the family. When assigning chores to your children, ensure that the boys do as much as girls do. Boys can help in the kitchen, for example, and girls can help in the tool shed.
- Talk to them about and show them people in non-traditional jobs, like the male nurse and the female cab driver. Use words that are gender-free when describing these jobs – cop or police officer, teacher, actor, firefighter etc.
- Expose children to a range of writing styles – in newspapers, magazines, comics, advertising material – and encourage them to experiment by writing in different styles.
- Read through your children’s school’s policies on equal opportunities. Teacher attitudes have a huge impact on children.
- Watch out for the media. No matter what you do, your child is going to get hit with hundreds of sex stereotyped messages–and it’ll happen right in your own living room. Watching television with your children and explaining what they’re seeing can minimize some of the negative messages they’re likely to get.
- Don’t jump in and show a child how to use/do something – let a child have her own first impressions, she is unaware of limitations.
- Encourage boys to talk about their emotions and how they feel. Do not make sexist remarks, like, don’t cry like a girl! or worse, boys don’t cry!
- Boost girls’ self esteem by praising effort, and being encouraging.
Do you think it’s important to bring up a child in as much as possible gender neutral environment? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section!