N = 1

Parents have tremendous leeway in determining how to raise their children. This prospect is terrifying to new parents, I imagine, because there is no manual on how to do it correctly and you only get one shot at it. There's no do-over if you happen to do a particularly poor job. Just therapy and lots of booze.

That's quite daunting. Even more daunting is that the child must end up being reasonably well adjusted to the society into which he or she will be thrown. So you have to account for everyone else's shitty parenting when doing your own. I've seen many staunchly anti-TV parents, for example, relax on that issue and let their kids watch a little once they realize that sending a kid to school at age five with no popular culture reference points is going to make it difficult to relate to the other children. Sure, you can raise your kid on ancient Navajo oral traditions and Rainer Werner Fassbinder films instead of Bob the Builder and Pixar if you want, but only if you're comfortable with raising a bizarre kid who's probably going to be mocked a lot. Ultimately it's your call.

At some point, though, parental choices cross a line between discretion and human experimentation. And these stories we see every few months now about parents deciding to raise "genderless" children amounts to exactly that. Nothing like a pair of knucklehead parents deciding to perform a psychological experiment – on their own child – that no IRB or human subjects committee would approve for all the tea in China. Perhaps this is an overly-academic view of the world, but if you're not legally or ethically allowed to do something to a child in a controlled research setting it probably doesn't belong in the Good Parenting Toolkit.

Look, everyone to the left of Pat Robertson recognizes that socializing children into "traditional" gender roles – toy guns for the boys, dolls for the girls – is stupid. What some people claim is the "natural" tendency for boys to be aggressive and girls to be Pink Princesses is actually a reflection of how good children are at identifying and meeting our expectations of how they will behave. I get it. It's not cool. It has the potential to be damaging to children.

What I fail to see is the logic – because there is none – in responding to that threat by performing an experiment wherein you intentionally deprive a child of something that is inevitably going to be a very basic, fundamental component of understanding and interacting with the rest of society. Would it not make more sense perhaps to wait until the child is old enough to actually understand such things and explain what's wrong with gender-based social roles? Or simply to tell little Billy that he should knock himself out playing with Barbies if he prefers?

Nah. Let's just go ahead and raise a little genderless weirdo. He'll do really well when he starts school.

No one receives perfect parenting and to some extent we all walk through life dragging behind us the questionable decisions our parents made when raising us. I think parenting requires making peace with the fact that you're going to do some things that your child will grow up and resent. It happens. It's normal. You can't lose it over every choice you make, like "Oh god, what if he grows up and hates us and ends up doing drugs because we bought Jif instead of the natural peanut butter?" All that said, I fail to see the value in or benefits of going out of the way to try some weird, trendy theory on child rearing based on some aspect of society you dislike. Maybe I'm in the wrong here and these parents actually are visionaries. And maybe the results of this little experiment will prove to be instructive and useful – after all, it's a hypothesis for which there have been no previous tests. We can assume that parents would not consent to having their child injected with some totally untested AIDS vaccine with a shrug and "Well let's see what happens!", so why is this sort of psychological scheming considered an acceptable risk? I am not sure what goes through the head of someone who decides to turn their child into a data point with the distinct possibility that he or she will emerge completely maladjusted. To say that the risks outweigh the benefits is a substantial understatement.

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68 Responses to “N = 1”

  1. Xynzee Says:

    Except for:
    "I am not sure what goes through the head of someone who decides to turn their child into a data point with the distinct possibility that he or she will emerge completely maladjusted."
    For it begs the question: maladjusted in relation to what? If a society suffers from headaches because the societal norm is to whack themselves in the heads w mallets every 30min, and raise your kid to contravene society to avoid headaches by not whacking themselves w a mallet your kid will by default be "maladjusted" to the societal norm.
    You make very excellent points.

    Perhaps though the problem is that we perceive that there's a problem with being male or female when in reality there isn't.

  2. Ben Says:

    Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuude. Normally you're righteous. But you're wrong here.

    1. The parents in the article only gave the kid "gender neutral toys" when the kid didn't himself say what he wanted, and didn't put stereotypically gendered clothes on him. How the balls is that behavior going to "deprive a child of something that is inevitably going to be a very basic, fundamental component of understanding and interacting with the rest of society"?

    2. William F. Buckley could have made the exact same argument in the 50s, like word-for-word, if he had taken all the gender stuff out and replaced it with "race", "white" and "black" in the appropriate places. In fact I think he did. That should give you pause.

    3. Would US society be better if there wasn't so much gender bullshit? Yes. Unequivocally yes. b.b. from GA would answer yes (c'mon bb don't let me down!). This is how you get there.

    4. Let's go back to the race example. You could make a case that the parents of a child of mixed race in the 50's would serve the best interests of the child by forcing it to self-identify as one race or another based on the circumstances where they live. But that decision should be made solely by the parents, and more importantly, should not be second-guessed. Both as a matter of ethics, and because of the pragmatic reality that only the parents are in a position to judge what the child's life may be like in that environment.

    Similarly, if we assume that the parents are making this decision about not forcing gender roles or whatever on their kid based on their judgment of the best interests of the kid, we should not second-guess them, because only they are in a position to judge what the kid's life is going to be like living under their parentage in that environment. When we make judgments from afar like this the only thing we do is to muddy the cultural waters and make it harder for parents to make these kinds of decisions.

    5. It's not like there isn't a cost to all this gender bullshit. We all know examples of kids and people being fucked-up because of enforcement of the kinds of gender norms that children are exposed to. Parents making the decision to try and stop that fucked-up-ness should be commended. And, again, we are not really in a position to judge what they're doing, and when we do so, all we're doing is throwing up more bullshit that people have to deal with.

    6. All that being said, it completely goes out the window if there's even a tiny undercurrent of attention-seeking or bullshit on the parents' part. I think we're completely in agreement that if parents are doing this to be part of a trend, or from peer-pressure in their social groups, or to avoid an embarrassing contradiction between their public pronouncements and their family behavior, and aren't putting the kid first in all their considerations, they should be ostracized and berated from the mountaintops.

    But, again, that's kind of hard to judge. It could be the case in the article you cite, for example, but there isn't evidence of that from what I can tell. Which is why it seems like the appropriate stance to take is "as long as it's undertaken in the best interests of the kid as the parents understand them, fine. If not, monstrous."

  3. prosopopeia Says:

    While there is considerable variability in the way that different human societies have and continue to express gender, by and larger they DO express gender differences. There is every reason to think that guns vs. Barbies is a contingent, localized and historical expression of gender, and hence completely subject to change—there is much less reason to suppose that genderlessness is a more natural state of affairs. The hammer example is not a fitting analogy for this reason—I find it unlikely that we will ever stop "performing gender," and I have my doubts that it would even be possible. Barbies are almost certainly arbitrary, but I'd bet money that some form (some form or another) of gender differentiation is innate. In any event, a child being raised in as genderless in a highly gendered society is likely to experience themselves as maladjusted, and it is certain that others will experience herm as maladjusted—even if it were society that was at fault.

  4. Ben Says:

    7. I think I should add, b/c I don't think I made the point forcefully enough, that I don't think this should be an easy or light decision on the parents' part. The reasons for it have to be clear, and the the actual tactics involved at different developmental stages should be thought through, if only to prepare the parents themselves for what they'll have to do. And if they find themselves justifying things they want to do without referring to the best interests of the child, they probably shouldn't do it. I think that would eliminate a fair amount of people who might consider doing stuff like this.

  5. nobody Says:

    Eh, I'm in agreement with you at least 90% of the time here, but in this case I think you're blowing the issue out of proportion (but, then again, so is the news media).

    We don't know all the details, but earlier articles made clear that the parents aren't raising the child to have no concept of gender whatsoever, setting the kid up to be an alien observer of a gendered world. On the contrary, it sounds like the parents are being explicit about what society's gender expectations are and explicitly giving the kid permission to do whatever the kid wants along that spectrum.

    From seeing this story blow up on the internet in its previous incarnations, it's clear that your thoughts reflect the conventional, majority opinion (even among great swathes of the childless Left, and naturally also among those invested in defending their own child-raising choices against the perceived threat of better-lefty-morals-than-you've-dared-to-implement-with-your-kids. Of course the response is similar from the Right, as well, just without any of the guilt to alleviate).

    In any case, I think the best response to this is: Who cares? Things will sort themselves out. It takes a village, but it doesn't take a Village Voice. [google confirms that I just coined that witticism].

    Apologies for the rambling. Your blog is great. A daily read for me.

  6. nobody Says:

    (Started typing before there were any other comments. All text above was meant to be directed to Ed, not to previous commentators.)

  7. Middle Seaman Says:

    Most of your worries are misplaced. Both parents and kids are way more resilient than you implicitly assume. By and large, parents love their kids; kids love their parents. Lacking major psychological problems, this relations forms the foundation for well adapted, reasonable and successful kids.

    Simple things don't count much. For instance, if you let your kids watch cartoons on TV in moderation nothing bad happens. Parking the kids in front of the TV while you screw the neighbor will cause major damage. Experimentation may be dangerous but few parents try it.

    Most damage to kids in our society is caused by parents neglect, violence, abuse and mean spiritness.

  8. Xynzee Says:

    @Middle: in regards to TV, it's also important that parents take an interest in what the kids are watching. If they see negative behaviour then they *need* to be the parent and stop it. Eg our mum wouldn't let us watch Three Stooges. She was fine w our "Woop Woop Woop-ing" a là Curly. It was when we were either doing the eye poke or trying to achieve the coconut noise by hitting each other over the head that caused her to put the kibosh on that.

  9. Natalie Says:

    Hey Ed,

    I think you're wrong here too, when you usually aren't. These parents haven't suggested that they treat the child as if they have no gender when they're alone with him/her. They are simply saying they're going to do their best to avoid putting any weird gendered BS onto their kid via toy choices, clothes choices, color choices etc.

    At least in all the reports I've read the parents are doing this because they want their kid to have the ability to choose just how they go about displaying their gender when they get to the point of wanting to choose. They're not trying to create a child that doesn't have a gender. If they kid says, I want to play with the doll, " on Tuesday then they play with the doll. And if they truck is what they want to play with on Wednesday, then that happens. It's more about letting the child develop their own sense of gender as unhindered by outside influences as possible. Which, let's face it, is only partly created by the parents. I mean, these kids are still going out places with their parents, interacting with other people, and eventually going to school. The kids will be fine, and potentially more healthy as a result. I know I would have been if I'd been raised this way. I'm transgender and geez would my life have been easier if my parents had had less rigid expectations of how I was to perform my gender as a kid.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    I'm not a parent, and I never wanted, or want, to be one.
    There are too many already unqualified people out there who are parents.

    They make you study, take a road test, and make sure you have insurance, before you get a drivers license.
    I'm sure I don't need to paint a picture of what it takes to become a parent.
    And if you do, there are many websites that will be happy to let you view demonstrations. Many without any fee!

    That being said, most children are remarkably resilient.

    One time, a little over 20+ years ago, the NY Times had a photo of a couple at a Klan rally, and were holding their infant son in their arms – and the child was dressed in a little baby Grand Dragon, or Kleagle Head Beagle, or Grand High Exalted Mystic Poobah, or whatever the dumbfuck titles the racist moronic leader(s) get.

    In my imagination, the boy grew up to support Obama, is now working for the ACLU or NAACP, and is living "in sin" with a black woman – or man!
    Or, is part of OWS.

    Hey, it DOES happen!

  11. buckyblue Says:

    We were the parents who didn't allow video games, until we realized that it's the only way that boys interact with each other. Besides, playing the old Wolfenstein on PS2 is alot of fun.

  12. Fiddlin' Bill Says:

    Fixing the world via your kid is a mistake. Getting your kid to read, and talking with her about real stuff, including the fact that gender is a concept as well as a bodily fact, is a good parental practice.

  13. Ryan Says:

    The same pattern holds true for diets. The idea that parenting is done about the same as our parents' did it has faded for several reasons, including the fact that the challenges/opportunities you and your kids face are somewhat different than those your parents had. Just the idea that "video games" are one of the key decisions means you can't just "do what my grandparents did". So, the question becomes, "Who do you trust?" Don't you think there are an awful lot of questions faced these days along those same lines? (News, Policy, Food, Parenting, Strippers, New music, etc.)

  14. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    The parenting practices loathed by the 12 year old in middle school may very well be treasured by the 22 year old who becomes thankful that their parents contributed mightily to their unusualness (or non-douchebaggery).

  15. anotherbozo Says:

    "What some people claim is the "natural" tendency for boys to be aggressive and girls to be Pink Princesses is actually a reflection of how good children are at identifying and meeting our expectations of how they will behave."

    Of course they do. The usual suspects here are taking issue all different ways with Ed's remarks, and sure, why not, but I have to admit the insight above is something that never occurred to me, and it's obviously true.

    I usually find several new insights in any of Ed's blogs. It's why I read it first thing in the a.m. (The Commentariat is usually edifying too)

  16. Ellie Says:

    To be fair, I imagine the kid will have no problem identifying with his/her gender, before s/he even starts school.

    Gender identity seems to be pretty hard-wired in the brain. From what I've read and heard, transgendered people seem to be absolutely certain that they "are" a certain gender, even though not just society, but their physical bodies, say they are the "opposite". I mean, if your body and your parents and all of society are saying you're a "boy/girl", but you absolutely know that you're really a girl/boy, and you grow up to be willing to take hormones and maybe even have surgery to get your body to conform to what you "know" you are – well, that's pretty hard-wired, isn't it? Furthermore, there is a story of a boy who was raised as a girl after a botched surgery, but who also "knew" he was a boy despite having surgically-modified genitals and being raised as a "girl" and never told by anyone that he was anything but a girl. "Switching" his gender didn't work at all.

    So I suspet that this kid will just KNOW what gender s/he is, and start performing it, no matter how "neutral" the parents try to keep his/her life.

    For the record, my personal opinion on this matter – were I ever to have kids, which is unlikely – would not be to try and raise "gender-neutral" kids, but rather, to provide kids with better and more varied examples of people performing gender. Maybe if kids grow up seeing more men doing stereotypically "feminine" things, and more women doing stereotypically "masculine" things, and get to see more gay and lesbian and transgendered people integrated into society as normal variations on a spectrum, they'll develop a better gender-performance repetoire from which to draw. Or so I like to dream.

  17. LibraryDude Says:

    The one thing that struck me is that "the infant" was forbidden to wear "combat pants". So if frilly shirts and fairy costumes are OK, why are these particular pants banned from his wardrobe ?

    My guess is that the parents, fully aware that Sasha was a boy, focussed essentially on trying to avoid male stereotypes instead of aiming for a true gender neutrality. They made choices for the child based on their own pre-conceived notions and these notion are not free from the influence of society.

    I agree with a lot of the comments about children being very resilient. But that shouldn't prevent us for passing judgement on some dubious parenting choices.

  18. ladiesbane Says:

    Ed, I agree all the way. It's healthy (preferred, in my opinion) to be open to and accepting of a child choosing his or her gender, but the younger a child is, the more certainty it needs; not in an authoritarian way, but in a "this is too complex to tackle yet" way. (If a kid asks "where do babies come from?" the answers are wildly different for a two year old, a six year old, and a nine year old, and it always depends on the individual kid.)

    But this isn't one of those silly stories about how Barbie dolls make your son gay and turn your daughter into an evil sorority girl. This is about keeping your child from developing an identity — any identity — related to gender. Forming a gender identity is a normal part of growing up and crucial to developing an idea of self. Withholding stimuli that might bias a child is also withholding stimuli the child needs to make a choice. And when you start talking about it in those terms, you are treating your child like a lab animal and not a person.

    The fact that some people, including family members and midwives and the child him or herself, know the child's sex but collude in keeping it a secret, makes this unhealthy. The Daily Mail interview I read makes the parents seem not open and accepting of whatever the child chooses, but as if they are imposing a neutrality on the child that is not felt. I don't believe any news piece is utterly correct, complete, or accurate, but the quotes from the parents themselves seemed precious and self-serving.

    Some people really are genderless. Most are not. Just as it's wrong, I feel, to impose gender to match sex when it's not felt, it's wrong to impose neutrality when gender is felt.

    But far beyond that, regardless of how one feels about the gender issue, raising children as one will is both the ultimate right of the parents (imagine someone telling you how to raise your kid! I don't think so) and the ultimate lack of rights for the child.

    Example: periodic attempts have been made to isolate infants from language in order to discover the natural language or man (or the divine language spoken by angels, or whatever the going curiosity was at the time.) Some were raised by mute parents, but others were simply isolated, causing cruel maladjustment. Infants are quivering little antennae, and not giving them sufficient stimuli dulls them forever.

    But the stimuli must be proper, too. Think of those African women who perform infibulations and clitoridectomies. Think of those FLDS women who gladly turn over their preteen daughters to old men to be part of a stable of wives. They were all girls once. What most people say amounts to, "if I like it, it's a proud cultural tradition, and if I don't like it, it's brainwashing." Where do we draw the line?

    We can teach children to be curious, logical, intellectually free, and to know the difference between facts and opinions. But how we treat children — what we reward, what we punish, especially what we approve and disapprove — shapes them before their intellects have formed. Children need structure, and freedom to rebel against that structure in healthy ways, or freedom to choose different paths. Experimenting on children is not illegal, but it's unethical as hell. Children have no rights.

    And to the people who liken this to race, I'm sorry, but it's completely inappropriate to do so. Some of us have hidden mixtures, but racial features and skin tones are almost always immediately visually perceptible, and associations will form. But it's how they are shaped that matters. Bringing up kids with no awareness of racial prejudices doesn't make them unbiased, it makes them insensitive and ignorant. Race isn't a dirty word unless we relegate it to whispers. Neither is gender.

  19. bb in GA Says:

    @ben

    yes

    gender and race

    //bb

  20. Joe Says:

    Glad to see other commenters thinking you're off-base here, and I'm wondering if you wrote this article as a "conversation starter" or what not.

    There are myriad ways to mis-raise children, but I don't think that this is one of them. Just imagine the awful social experiment of raising a child with two daddys and no mommys! The horror! Depriving children of something that will alienate them from their peers!

  21. Ed Says:

    And the award for the worst analogy goes to….

  22. mothra Says:

    I agree mostly with Ed, but after reading the article, I call bullshit on these people. They say they are trying to raise a gender-neutral kid, but he is "encouraged to wear flowery tops at weekends." Huh? Sounds very much like they are trying to influence this kid to wear what might be considered girl clothes. So they aren't letting him choose, but trying to make him do the opposite of what society might choose in terms of clothing. Which itself is completely ridiculous: clothing these days IS gender-neutral. You can dress your little girl up in little tiny jeans and a t-shirt and no one will know whether she's a girl or boy. My next-door neighbors have a little boy whose hair is quite long and who runs around in pants and a t-shirt–many people think he is a girl.

    So my question for the parents is: if your son wants to wear "male" clothes and play with "male" toys, are you going to object because he is adopting a gender position?

    Also…"The Infant?" Why couldn't they have referred to him by his, you know, NAME?

  23. Fezzik Says:

    Ben, the comparison between gender and race is EXTREMELY problematic. You're suggesting either that there are racial tendencies in behavior, or that there is no relationship between gender performance and one's sex–which is I think wishing a little too hard that human psychology is purely social.

    I'm about halfway on this. I do think Ed blew this out of proportion, and I think LibraryDude's point about the parents' overcorrection regarding combat pants vs. frilly dresses is right on the money. But some of the commenters above strike me as somewhat wishful in their thinking. I have a four year old girl, and I have gone to considerable effort to have her play with gender neutral toys (or absent that, a balance of each kind). I was thrilled when she expressed interest in Thomas and I bought her multiple components to the train sets. You know what she's obsessed with now? My Little Pony. And of all the girl toys on the market, this is by far the least harmful (and the cartoon is superb).

    (So far, my 2 year old girl is definitely influenced by her big sister, but tends to prefer cars and dinosaurs.)

    She picked up on not only me and my wife's unintentionally conveyed views on gender, but what it was her peers are doing (not to mention, I'm sure, her preschool teachers). Not only that, when she was 3 and literally friendless, we made the understandable decision that having peers and fitting in was way more important than being "corrupted" by gender norms. She is confident, happy, and still very open to so-called "boy stuff," even if she prefers the "pink stuff."

    It's really, really okay for gender to be expressed differently. The thing to focus on is how those differences are expressed, and whether those expressions are reflective of power imbalances. Reform the differences, don't remove them.

  24. Some Guy Says:

    Once again, Ed is pig-biting mad.

  25. Joe Says:

    Well, Ed, considering you used an AIDS vaccine analogy are you giving the award to yourself?

  26. Elle Says:

    The Telegraph and The Daily Mail are both radically socially conservative, and tend to report stories involving sexual orientation/gender identity and young people with bonus amounts of pearl-clutching. I'm not, therefore, terribly convinced that either paper has reported this story with any degree of accuracy.

    I am not a parent, and can't imagine the difficulty of trying to navigate between the Scylla of gender essentialism, and the chilling effect that might have on my child's gender identity (especially if that didn't align with their sex), and the Charybdis of having them hurt as a result of the gender-policing that children and (other) parents do as a matter of course.

    Based on nothing but the article, it sounds as if Sasha's mother is herself a little bit confused about the difference between biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression. Yes, other people respond to a child's biological sex/gender identity with a tidal wave of stereotyped assumptions about their interests and behaviours, and what their gender expression should look like. However, enabling your child to work out how to express their gender does not need to involve destabilising their gender identity.

    As a kind of a sidenote, I think it's also self-evident that parents do not always have their children's best interests in mind. The rights of children are traduced all over the world, and the locus of that traducement is often the family. We have competing systems of common law, which essentially treats children as chattel, and human rights instruments and frameworks, partly transposed into domestic law in some states, which attempt to give children self-determination. The responses to this situation are bound up in both: the parents in question demand privilege for their philosophy of child-rearing, and onlookers test the outputs of this against the best interests of the child, defining these according to their own values.

  27. Nick Says:

    I'm a parent of two young boys (3 and 7), and we all like to tell queef jokes. That is all.

  28. bb in GA Says:

    @elle

    Recent western societies have treated children as "incompetent" in many areas. Is that justified? Certainly

    Below defined ages, in law, we do not allow 'infants' (a legal term) or 'minors'

    * to enter into enforceable contracts
    * to enter sexual relationships with adults w/o consequence to the adult
    * to work in certain occupations or to work for wages, at all, below a certain age

    I am sure there are others

    This has nothing to do w/ whether or not they are 'chattel,' but the human rights aspect of some of the societal changes that are proposed are unsettling to those historical norms.

    //bb

  29. Chicagojon Says:

    @Ellie wrote: So I suspet that this kid will just KNOW what gender s/he is, and start performing it, no matter how "neutral" the parents try to keep his/her life.

    Ellie nailed it here. We're in a world where 'Disney Princesses' is a multi-billion dollar industry (4 billion as of a 2008 report). 4 billion dollar industry promoting consumerism and sexualized primarily white characters to little girls. The lessons that these teach about beauty, race, feminism, and consumerism are hugely impactful – and this is coming from a child of the 80's that watched terrible cartoons designed to rot my brain and make me buy transformers!

    The main issue that I have is I believe Ellie that gender identity will work itself out, but when a little girl has princess bullshit shoved down her throat the effect on the likely 10% of those girls that are homosexual and all of the girls from minority races/cultures can't be good. Raising a disney princess may still lead to a strong, independent, and/or feminist woman, but it's hardly the first logical step.

    More parents should try raising gender-neutral kids because the vast majority will inevitably fail like most parents that start out with a no-TV, only educational toys, no naps in the car, etc. mantra. In the process though, thinking about these issues and recognizing the divided sexes baby culture would be a huge step forward for the average parents.

  30. Elle Says:

    @bb

    This has nothing to do w/ whether or not they are 'chattel,' but the human rights aspect of some of the societal changes that are proposed are unsettling to those historical norms.

    I think you're setting up a bit of a false dichotomy. The principal children's rights framework, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by every UN member state except the US and Somalia), requires states to protect children from all of the things you list.

    While explicitly enjoining states to respect family life, it does challenge the absolute primacy of parents, in the sense that it considers all forms of corporal punishment to be a breach of rights.

  31. anotherbozo Says:

    URLs of tangential interest:

    a lot of cautionary notes for would-be parents here:
    http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.com/

    and for effective community child services here:
    http://widk.com/2012/02/15/severely-malnourished-girl-15-forced-to-eat-her-own-feces-was-beaten-and-starved-in-basement/

    with the latter, it occurs to me that the worst crimes are perpetrated by the clinically insane. though our politicized criminal justice system will probably try them as sane.

  32. Shane Says:

    The kid is encouraged to wear flowery tops and banned from wearing combat shorts…so the parents aren't really about gender neutrality, but actively encouraging the child to be pushed in one direction. Yeah, I'm not really buying their entire schtick, but whatever.

  33. Mark Says:

    Paraphrased:

    * people are doing something weird.
    * I have no evidence that it's harmful, but it sure does make me uncomfortable
    * these people must be stopped!

    Your logic here is quite characteristic of conservative thought.

  34. bb in GA Says:

    @mark

    I think you might want to sub 'statist' or 'totalitarian' for conservative because I'm sure Ms @elle would be upset w/ me for whuppin' my boys' asses when they required it and would try to stop me. (too late they're grown!)

    //bb

  35. Elle Says:

    @bb

    I think you might want to sub 'statist' or 'totalitarian' for conservative because I'm sure Ms @elle would be upset w/ me for whuppin' my boys' asses when they required it and would try to stop me. (too late they're grown!)

    I think that banning corporal punishment of children seems totalitarian because we conceptualise adults as having a 'right' to decide what happens within families, and curtailing that seems like an encroachment on freedom. In fact, there is no 'right' to hit other people, and the rest of our criminal codes recognise that.

    The evidence that 'spanking' children is damaging (as well as being a poor disciplinary tool) is fairly overwhelming.

  36. Mike Says:

    Doing this until 5 years old may be pushing it. But as the father of an 8-month-old, I can understand the impulse.

    If my daughter wears clothing that is either blue, green, brown, black, orange, yellow, red, or white, people automatically assume that she's a boy. I'll leave you to deduce the acceptable girl colors.

    Also, baby girls' clothing is pretty much limited to flowers, hearts, and princesses. She does have some with flowers and hearts (my wife and I have vetoed all princess-wear), but also some with dinosaurs, airplanes, and trucks. I'm sure that I'm causing horrible psychological damage in this way.

    If she grows up to be obsessed with Disney princesses, that's fine, but it won't be because we fed her a steady diet of princess videos, princess toys, princess clothing, and princess picture books. I'm sure there must be a handful of American girls out there who don't share this particular obsession.

    Of course, in our society, treating a girl like a boy is not as reprehensible as the reverse. If I had a son, I wouldn't dress him in flower prints.

  37. Mike Says:

    Also: Before having a daughter, I was vaguely aware that American consumer culture is divided along gender lines, but I didn't realize how pervasive and absolute those lines really are. Even sippy cups come in girl designs (pink with butterflies) and boy designs (blue with cars).

    Bad parent that I am, I got my daughter the blue car cup.

  38. Elle Says:

    Even sippy cups come in girl designs (pink with butterflies) and boy designs (blue with cars).

    Wait until you get to the pink science sets. I'm not sure if this is an advance on the 50s, in which girls didn't get to do science, so much as learn how to belab assistants.

  39. Another Shane Says:

    I think many of you are confusing the stated intents of the parents with the actual actions they took. I don't think Ed is taking issue with encouraging gender neutral behavior in your kids or buying little boys barbies or little girls dinosaurs. I think we can all agree that those are acceptable, and perhaps even commendable, parenting choices to combat societal influence. Those are a far cry however, from forcing your kid to be "Pat" until the age of five. The problem is not with being a boy or being a girl, both are beautiful and wonderful things to be and I am all about my daughters fully embracing their "girl-ness." The problems are with societal definitions about what it means to be a boy or a girl and there seem to be far more productive ways of addressing those issues as a parent without completely ostracizing your kid.

  40. bb in GA Says:

    @elle

    I respectfully reject the studies I have seen on 'spanking' because they conflate abuse with corporal punishment within the regime of child rearing and discipline. I contend there is a difference in concept, motive, and execution (no pun intended) and I'm sure you don't (although by all means speak!)

    Of course, I have three wonderful, successful children who would look you in the eye and say they're glad I did discipline then that way, but I probably got them brain washed to the point they no longer can be objective about such matters.

    //bb

  41. negative 1 Says:

    Yeah I tried avoiding the pink and princess stuff on my daughter who is now four. All of the toys we got her were gender neutral by way of being educational. Our friends even used to joke about her clothing and say our son looked great. We even restricted (not altogether, just time limits) TV. Guess what? Weeks go by now where she will only wear pink. Pink pink pink. Also, she loves baby dolls and playing house, where she will only be the mommy.
    The thing is, she's hardly unique. This is the problem with the news article. Call it society or anthropology, for some reason the majority of kids pick up on gender roles. Whatever the reason, in order to correct it we'd have to deny her access to the things she wanted, and for no real reason. It's not gender neutral to tell her she can't wear pink, it's just lashing out at society through your kid and forcing them to deal with the backlash. If you don't like the negative aspect of a stereotype, fight that. Tell your daughters that girls can be pipefitters too if that's where her interest lies. But pretending that they won't exist if only your kid dresses like Prince is the stupidest possible thing you can do. When their life sucks because they're constantly made fun of, you can assure them that even if you ruined their childhood by choosing for them in 20 or so years people will stop being openly hostile. Is it fair that people are closed minded? Nope. But it sure is true.
    @ Mike BTW I sympathize- I have both a daughter and a son. I even dressed my son in 'girls' clothes around the house as an infant so we could save money by reusing my daughter's clothes. Hasn't mattered one iota. He's as stereotypical 'boy' as they come and as mentioned above my daughter is a shade of pink. My mother shakes her head and just says 'it's just a phase'. Sometimes the oldest wisdom really can be the best.

  42. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood Says:

    In the immortal words of Philip Larkin:

    *

    This Be The Verse

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another

  43. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood Says:

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

  44. Elle Says:

    @bb

    I respectfully reject the studies I have seen on 'spanking' because they conflate abuse with corporal punishment within the regime of child rearing and discipline.

    The American Pediatric Association has a really good roundup of the evidence on spanking, which they separate out from other (unlawful and lawful) forms of corporal punishment. They list a range of negative outcomes for spanked children, which are obviously not evident in every person who was spanked as a child. They also observe that, because of spanking's limited efficacy, other disciplinary methods are more useful. They are categorically opposed to spanking.

    I appreciate that many well-intended people spank, but I do find it strange that people who would balk at the idea of hitting their partner or their dog to encourage good behaviour, find it completely acceptable to hit their child.

  45. Mike Says:

    negative 1: Some of her pink clothing is quite cute. Really, I just want her to have options. Pink flowers and blue dinosaurs.

    Princess stuff is the only thing we've vetoed, and that's only until she's old enough to pick out her own clothes. You have to draw the line somewhere!

    Ostracization is an interesting issue. As a child, I took some amount of grief from my peers because (a) I like to read, (b) I hate sports, (c) my family didn't own a television.

    Some parents might have tried to toughen me up by teaching me a sport, but I'm just as glad they didn't. Obviously that's not as extreme as the parents in the article.

    But as a parent, when do you compromise and submit to the Hive Mind, and when do say, "You know what, our family is a little eccentric, and that's just how it is"?

  46. JohnR Says:

    Ah, happy times. It's hard for me to get so worked up as I used to, back when I had strong opinions on child-raising. I used to tell my kids when they asked why I made certain decisions that "it's in the Daddy Manual. I don't have a choice!" Kept them off my back for a few years anyway. While it would be nice to have such a book, I doubt that any of us would agree with everything (most of the things?) that would be in it. I know I wouldn't, and that would be true even if I wrote it myself. Every kid's different, and changes every few months (sometimes every few weeks), so I figure the essence of being a parent is being flexible and trying as hard as you can to stay one step ahead of the kids. If I had to pick some rules, the first would be to make sure your kids know that fighting with Dad is a losing proposition. You pick your fights carefully, and make sure that you win every fight you get into. You're the adult; you should be able to out-think a kid. If you're careful, you should get the kid to thinking he's lost before he even starts, and that's half the battle. That's good for about 10 years if you're lucky. I love the 'forced-choice'. When you pick the options, you always win. That's good for about 4 years, but you can still sometimes get away with it for a while after that. Never punish in anger, never yell. No punishment works over and over; adjust before your kids do, and be creative; the goal is to get the kid to change behavior, not to make yourself feel better. The less often you use a particular punishment, the more effective it is. Don't rule out corporal punishment, but use it as rarely as possible; it's the nuclear bomb of punishments. You don't want the kids to think it's 'no problem'. One sharp swat is more powerful than a couple minutes of spanking, and speaking of spanking, that's far more suited to adults than to kids. You won't know the effects you have until they grow up; better to use the minimal level of force.
    It's funny – I figured years ago that one common pattern is to try hard to avoid making your parents' mistakes. That means we go through life making our grandparents' mistakes to a large extent.
    As for other people being foolish; yeah, they are. Nobody knows how to raise kids like me, and most of the time, I'm just making it up as I go along. I look at it as helping ensure the life-style of some psychiatrist(s) down the road, which seems like a worthy goal. Man, this logorrhea is killing me.

  47. ladiesbane Says:

    This seems pertinent to the gender bias issue, but I'm too busy pulling out my hair to make a pithy comment:
    http://dallasisdblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2012/02/dallas-isd-fifth-grade-boys-ar.html

    So! Not only does taking children to a George Lucas movie count as instruction about history…not only did this field trip cost $57,000 of Title I funds…but girls were excluded from the trip.

    Instead, the girls remained in the classroom and were forced to watch a video titled "Akeelah and the Bee," which, historically, was the first video ever sold at a Starbucks.

    WASF….

  48. Number Three Says:

    @ Mike & negative 1– Similar experiences!

    My wife and I are the happy parents of a beautiful 3.5 yo. Wife and I don't have a traditional gender-role marriage–we both work full-time, she makes more money, I do at least half of the child care, etc. I also do most of the cooking (largely b/c I like to cook), which (embarrassing story) led my daughter one time to tell my traditionalist mother-in-law that "Mommy doesn't know how to cook."

    We have a lot of friends with kids, and didn't want to raise a little girl obsessed with Disney princesses. In decorating, we went mostly yellow and green, early–painted her room a light sage, with a nature theme–and worked hard to avoid Princesses and associated things. Also, lots of hand-me-downs from a close friend with a boy 1.5 yrs older. (So tonight she's sleeping in dino pj's.)

    No dice. Daughter's favorite colors are "pink and purple", she often insists on being called "Princess", and so on and so forth.

    This started almost as soon as she could express herself.

    Similarly, I have friends with a little boy in daughter's class. Parents hate guns. Boy turns every toy into a gun.

    If it's not "innate" (and I think that it's really not), then that social mojo is strong, eh?

  49. brent Says:

    As a father of two year old boy/girl twins, I feel like I can actually contribute to this! Just my single-point of reference, but my wife and I didn't do anything to differentiate the two, outside of the nearly impossible to avoid pink/blue clothing (but we tried lots of oranges, greens, and earth tones.)

    All their toys were shared, basically in big piles. No separation. Animals, cars, blocks, music things just piled all around each other. My wife and I played with both of them relatively equally.

    We talked many, many times about making sure that our kids would play with whatever they wanted to play with. We deliberately avoided assigning the boy toys to my son and the girl toys to my daughter. We continually and consciously made sure that if he wanted to play with dolls and animals with overalls, great! And if she wanted to have action figures ride cars and shoot guns, awesome!

    Anyway, around 18 months, the gender bomb just exploded. My son became aggressive, physical, and obsessed with sticks, hitting things with sticks. He'd wrestle his sister to the ground, play with cars, slam toys together for no reason.

    My daughter zeroed in on animals. She would make houses for them, have them talking to each other, putting each other to 'bed', having them kiss and 'play' with each other.

    I was, honestly, shocked. I thought that gender was much more of a social construct, particularly when it came to 'play'. But in our case (and this just my kids, of course), at 18 months, my son acted in a completely 'little boy' fashion, and my daughter in a completely 'little girl' manner. All of this after consciously trying to avoid forcing them to play or act in a specific way. And yet, here they were: my son, banging things, swinging sticks, vrooming cars, and my daughter, helping animals play with each other, kissing them goodnight, even dressing and undressing them.

    I dont know how representative that is, but it actually made me a little uncomfortable how quickly and strongly they shifted into those roles. Anyway.

  50. Xynzee Says:

    @Elle: from both working in a bar that has "family areas", having done class room teaching and from simple observation I can honestly say that the absolute worst disciplined children are those where mommy and daddy try to "reason" with their brats because lil Timmy and Suzy are perfect lil snow flakes. There's a difference between a smack on the bottom as the *final* resort in the procedure and beating the child senseless. Nor should it be the first port of call in discipline.
    Someone once called it the five levels of No. No! Nien! Nyet! Knock it off! Whack!

    So you have a 3yo who is repeatedly trying to reach for something hot on the stove. Step 1: No! Hot! move child away. Step 2: I said *No!* Hot! Move child away. Step 3: No! If you do it again you'll get a smack. Move child. Step 4: I've told you No! now you get a smack. Now the child gets a whack.

    Obviously, the more physically in danger a child is, the faster you go to whack! To this day I remember my mum giving me an almighty hiding because I had gone chasing our dog down a busy road. Verbally she told me not to ever chase the dog like that again. I was also able piece together that what I'd done was dangerous.

    This is a far cry from a parent taking their frustrations with life out on a child.

  51. Sharkbabe Says:

    All this crap here, not to mention the impending self-inflicted demise of our entire conceited and endlessly opinionated babbling species project, makes me return and return again to the thought: what peace, if my parents hadn't had me. Entire problem of everything solved.

  52. Ben Says:

    Told you bb was awesome. Elle, too. Everybody. I haven't really seen an internet discussion on this topic go as well as this.

    Except, Sharkbabe. What would you call that, me-santhropy?

  53. BigHank53 Says:

    I have some fair amount of sympathy for those parents. One of the worst head-fucks I ever saw in my entire life was performed by this little girl's own mother…I was working in a bicycle shop, and this family came in to look at a new bike for the girl, who was about 5. She spots the one bike in the shop that's her size (it's blue) and runs over to it. "I want this one!" to which her mom says, "You don't want that bike. You want a pink bike." And the poor kid is standing there, puzzled as hell, trying to wrap her head around the idea that she doesn't know what she wants and that she should just settle for whatever others select for her.

    Is that gender-neutral youngster going to be fucked up? Of course he is. We all are. But I don't think he's going to be fucked up any worse than average, and there's a good chance he'll miss out on some really toxic crap.

  54. Celynne Says:

    @brent – it's representative in that it demonstrates that each and every child is a unique individual, and that will ultimately be expressed regardless of a parent's interference, or lack of it.

    As a mom of 6 (ces't fini), and a grandma of 4 (so far), I can honestly say that although I tried my damndest to instill each one of them with the same traits that I hoped would serve them well on their journey through life, each of them took away a different lesson.

    Although I applaud anyone who allows a child to develop his or her (or its) personality, preferences and identity on their own with as little interference as possible, I totally agree with Ed that this is not what the parents in this article have done. And such is the legacy we all pass on. Inasmuch as we all see life through our own filter, there is virtually no way we can avoid teaching our children our own opinions, which are inherently prejudices.

    The only question, as I see it, is when, or if, that opinion becomes a detriment to the child, and what options are available to the society the child inhabits to protect him/her/it. At the moment, in our society, parental rights are only superseded when the opinions of the parents become actions that cause the child physical harm. Is that a line we are prepared to cross? Because, of course, then we would have to decide where the line would be drawn, and by whom.

    and @Xynzee – although I say zed, I totally agree with you about "reasoning" with overindulged brats, and the five levels. In spite of administering probably thousands of physical removal from situation disicplines, the only full out "whale the daylights out of the little bugger" was gifted to a three year old who stepped off a curb onto a busy street without waiting for my say-so. She's nearly thirty now, and I can assure you, always looks both ways.

  55. Elle Says:

    This is a far cry from a parent taking their frustrations with life out on a child.

    I can see why people have this distinction in their mind, but the research the American Pediatric Association (among countless others, but theirs is easy to find on their website and they aren't an activist organisation, per se) have collated and analysed, finds that the demarcations are not that readily made.

    What you have said about corporal punishment feels truth-y, but doesn't have any evidential basis. What the research tells us, is that smacking is bad for children's wellbeing, and also that it doesn't work better than other available methods.

    We only have to look to countries that have banned smacking to observe that their societies have not collapsed as a result of a breakdown in discipline. There are 29 countries in the world that outlaw corporal punishment in the home. Even if we look only to those who enacted such a law in the 70s and 80s, we can see that children in Austria, Finland, and Norway still seem to be able to cross the road.

  56. Celynne Says:

    I'm sure I meant *wale* and yes I'm sure plenty of children learn not to play with fire without being *smacked* either, but sometimes it is in the best interest of the child to act on the immediate danger and worry about the shrink bills later. I've had enough long serious talks with small children that ended with such insights as "Mommy, your eyebrows are crooked" to know that all the evidence based studies in the world can't predict what a kid's gonna do.

  57. Xynzee Says:

    Anecdotal evidence shows that a fast moving Holden is far, far worse for a child's wellbeing than any loving smack to a child's bum. I don't have numbers but a quick visit to an emergency room will show the results of what happens when 1 tonne of metal at 60km meets up with a 40kg child.

    Something I've found curious about the majority of comments are aimed at girls not getting frilly things. It appears that frilly pink faerie princess stuff = bad. That girls should wear blue dinosaur pjs *not* pink nighties. I haven't seen any comments about parents letting their boy go out in a My Little Pony sundress if that's what he chose to wear. The inference is that female/feminine = bad. That someone cannot be "self actualised" if they want to stay home and raise kids.

  58. Elle Says:

    Anecdotal evidence shows that a fast moving Holden is far, far worse for a child's wellbeing than any loving smack to a child's bum.

    And a shotgun to the face is more unpleasant than someone leaving the pickled onion out of one's Gibson. None of which has anything to do with the discussion on smacking because research tells us:

    1) Smacking is bad for children.
    2) Smacking doesn't work.

    Observation tells us, by virtue of much of Europe being a test-bed for the proposition, that:

    3) People can easily, and straightforwardly, learn how to cross roads without being hit by i) other people, or ii) cars.

  59. ladiesbane Says:

    On smacking children: if you have a child who is too young to reason with, a smack will stop the action and get his or her attention. It is not pain that makes this work, however, it's the smacking noise. Clapping hands sharply or smacking the wall with a plastic flyswatter does the trick nicely. If you have a child too overwrought / tantruming to notice the smack, you'd have to beat the child to get through and it would do far more harm than good.

    Once the child has reached the age of reason, you must reason with it, or you teach it that reason takes second place to violence. Bad behavior is corrected, and repeat bad behavior is punished as promised. Consistency is a must. But once a child reaches the age of reason, if you hit the child, you teach him or her that "It's okay for me to hit you and you can't hit back."

    Some children are cowed, and people who don't understand why some domestic abuse victims stay with their abusers need to read a fucking book. Some children are defiant, and defiance causes physical escalation, running away, and self-destructive acting out. Hopefully that's not your goal as a parent.

    For parents whose kids were mostly well-behaved and only got spanked a few times, with no lasting damage of any kind, don't pat yourself on the back for your genius parenting. Things might have gone a lot differently.

    As for pink frills: let's be clear that this has nothing to do with "just another color." It is a shorthand way to describe girls who are taught to say "eek!" at the sight of a mouse, refer to themselves as princesses, and care more for looks than grades — exactly as they were taught by parents who constantly complimented them on their looks rather than their grades or their virtues.

    I know more than one father who showered his adored daughter with, "You're Daddy's little princess, aren't you? There's not a man in the world good enough for my little girl!" etc., — and they wondered why their darling daughters had unhappy marriages despite the $50,000 wedding.

    This has nothing to do with being a stay-at-home mom. Though sometimes it does have to do with marrying men based on their ability to indulge expensive preening, which is a full-time job.

    Boys are different, and have to deal with parental fears of emasculation as well as male peers who still play Smear the Queer. But I've seen more little boys with glitter nail polish at the grocery store, which is cool. It might be a phase, or they might grow up to be Iggy Pop. I'm still looking for little girls wearing homemade capes to go with their Superman t-shirts. But girls with tiaras and fairy wings I see all the time. I wish their future husbands all the luck in the world.

  60. Mike Says:

    Xynzee:

    That girls should wear blue dinosaur pjs *not* pink nighties. I haven't seen any comments about parents letting their boy go out in a My Little Pony sundress if that's what he chose to wear. The inference is that female/feminine = bad.

    I don't have a boy, so I can only speak to the girl side of the equation.

    One problem is how narrow the options are. It's not that pink flowers are bad. But why is it so weird if a girl wears a dinosaur outfit? Why is that even considered a "boy" outfit?

    And then the whole Disney princess thing, I really do think is evil and insidious. At least Barbie had aspirations to become a doctor or an astronaut (in heels, naturally). If female/feminine means being helpless and useless until some handsome guy sweeps you off your feet, than yes, I'm opposed to it.

    Pop-culture-wise, the girls in Miyazaki films are much better role models, IMO.

    In some ways, boys have it much worse, because a boy who likes "girl" stuff will take a lot more abuse than a girl who likes "boy" stuff.

  61. bb in GA Says:

    @ladiesbane

    "For parents whose kids were mostly well-behaved and only got spanked a few times, with no lasting damage of any kind, don't pat yourself on the back for your genius parenting. Things might have gone a lot differently"

    I think you are 100% correct (for sure about the 'ain't no genius' part.) I am old enough to have seen just about everything in child rearing.

    Parents who did it your way and my way with equally good and bad outcomes.

    We gave 'em a whole bunch of hands on, time in love. They turned out great. I've seen parents do it in a manner I consider superior to our efforts. It was a nightmare.

    To use a sports analogy – the quarterback and the coach get too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when the team loses.

    The child has a part to play in this drama.

    "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." – Prov 22:6

    That's what we held on to.

    //bb

  62. don Says:

    Late to this party, but here's my five cents: nobody gets to be "gender-neutral" and still have any sort of normal, healthy socializations into any part of human culture. It's fine, albeit laughably hopeless, that parents might try to raise a "gender-neutral" kid, but that pink ruched-sleeve blouse is Girl with a capital G. Boys wearing such emphatically girl-identified clothing isn't gender-neutral, it's genderfuck. Which I'm all for if that's what a kid wants and his/her parents and loved ones are prepared to help them through the early consequences. But these parents, who have banned "combat pants", aren't in any way making gender-neutral choices, they are assigning greater moral value to Girl clothing choice rather than Boy clothing choice. I very much suspect that this is quite obvious to their son. If that kid's got half a brain, he should be able to extort a new car out of them when he's 16 just by putting on a chiffon blouse to mow the lawn.

    In the long list of things you can do to fuck up your child, I really don't think this is in top ten; this is just two wacky parents with minimal societal weight behind them to get over, rather than, say, being raised inside the Mormon Church.

  63. ladiesbane Says:

    @bb — I agree completely. So many (most?) discipline challenges are avoidable with a relationship of respect, communication, and love. A lot of the kids I grew up with had parents who didn't establish that bedrock of trustworthy parental authority, and the endless childhood spankings never helped. But even those of us who were tight with our folks didn't have parents who really thought about the most effective form of discipline — they mostly just hoped they wouldn't have to do it too much. And we didn't push them to the point of desperate measures. Lucky for both sides.

    and @don: if you don't let the kid develop a sense of gender, there is no genderfuck in wearing anything at all; it's like putting an oyster in a wig. The plumbing doesn't matter if there is no gender identity attached to it. It's neither a boy in a dress nor a girl in a dress.

    As for assigning greater moral value to girl-clothes rather than boy-clothes, I find it to be exactly the opposite. Girls can wear boy clothes because boy-clothes are Normal clothes worn by Normal people (i.e., boys), while girl-clothes are only worn by girls — a diminished boundary that defines the set as non-normal.

    It's the same function that requires that girls identify with male main characters in fiction, but prevents boys from identifying with female main characters. Girls are less-than. It wasn't "Hermione Granger and the Sorcerer's Stone" for a reason.

    What these parents are doing to the kid is massively fucked up, not (only) because they are saying, "No, you mustn't choose toys or clothes that we think are predictable for your sex and therefore uncool," it's because they are preventing the child from making a natural choice AT ALL. It's a disruption of the foundation of identity, akin to the freaks who brought up a child to believe it was a dog. Bringing up a kid with a bizarre set of assumptions about God and society is wacky, but that sort of thing can usually be undone if desired, or lived with enjoyably if not. But it's not the same as bringing up the kid with a stunted set of assumptions about himself or herself. Preventing identity development is cruel and will follow the kid forever.

  64. Celynne Says:

    Perhaps the only parents foolish enough to think they're geniuses are those who engage in parenting styles like the one in the article in question.
    For those of us in the real world, it's a daily struggle to do the best we can for our kids, and we often suffer from self-doubt and self-recrimination. There's no formula for success, and frankly, no benchmark for it either. A progeny who's relatively happy with themself and can cope reasonably well with the crap life throws at them is possibly the most that any parent can aim for.
    While the "so the twig is bent, so the tree will grow" analogy generally holds true, every day loving, well-intention parenting goes horribly wrong and conversely, victims of truly deplorable parenting turn out to be terrific adults.
    In the end people are unique individuals who will be what they will be. Certainly parenting affects us all, fortunately as adults we get to choose the effect.

  65. don Says:

    ladiesbane – what I was trying to express through my typos was that I think this specific child's parents are assigning greater moral value to girl-identified clothing, not that this is reflective of how the culture assigns value. You're right that girls get to wear almiost anything in the way of 'boy" clothes without violating the code, and in part that might be why these specific parents, in their quest for "gender-neutrality" had to eagerly present pink blouses and flowery tops to their kid. If you're dictating your kids clothes, it's actaully pretty easy to go gender-neutral; any old white t-shirt and yellow pants will do. They'll be hell to get dressed though.

    And actually, as a homosexual raised in a conservative Xtian environment in the 1950's and '60's, "bringing up a kid with a bizarre set of assumptions about God and society…" and "bringing up the kid with a stunted set of assumptions about himself or herself" sound like exactly the same thing to me. If the bizarre set of assumptions are that my desires are disgusting and contemptible, wouldn't that contiribute to the formation of a stunted set of assumptions about myself?

  66. ladiesbane Says:

    don — I hear ya. It's all I can do not to pour out my own rural/religious testimony to the stone butch blues — not to mention speaking for the utterly straight girls I knew who were condemned to a life of vapor-lock frigidity because (a) only sluts wanted sex and (b) they knew they weren't sluts, so (c) they don't get to want it, ever. Does the weirdly narrow, ironically perverse pigeonhole we were all crammed into fit anyone? Some better than others, but not me. I packed up my t-shirts and jeans and I fled. It was a long time before I unpacked my marabou-trimmed combat boots.

    But I so see what you mean about the warped mental view forced on kids not close to that mold. But as strongly as I feel protective of gay kids and trans kids not being allowed to bloom, so do I feel protective of any kid who is inhibited by a position that seems not gender-neutral, but gender-negative. It seems to go many layers deeper in terms of identity. We may speculate on what comes first, gender or sexuality, but it's enormously better to observe kids and discuss those observations than is is to experiment on kids and see how their lives turn out. To echo Celynne's sentiment, my fervent best wishes go to any kid who breaks free and decides what to be to stay true to self.

  67. Kaleberg Says:

    When I was a kid, I had a male friend-through-family who had four sets of pink toy washers and driers. When I first saw them, I thought that was weird. I hadn't even realized that they made so many different toy washers and driers. Then we played with them, and they were pretty neat. If I remember correctly, he went into medicine, and doesn't run a laundromat.