Doing Life Together

baby-752188_1920Caution: The baby is this photo is politically incorrect. Her gender is stereotyped in pink.

Stories now abound in the news about parents who” bravely” decide to raise their children gender neutral. They don’t reveal the gender of their child to anyone and they don’t teach their children to associate their body parts with either gender. One set of parents is not allowing the grandparents to bathe their child because they didn’t want to bias the grandparents toward the baby’s gender. The thinking of these parents is that if no one knows the sex, children won’t be forced into stereotypical gender roles. By some, parents of ‘theybabies’ are touted as modern day heroes in the fight against gender stereotyping.

But are they? Or are they creating gender confusion for children who will ultimately grow-up into a gendered world? And what are the long-term effects of this?

Sex is a biological reality. It is not a subjective feeling and is determined at birth with those rare exceptions of intersex babies (genitals that are not clearly male or female). Gender, on the other hand, is socially constructed and is influenced by culture. But most of the “data” on this new movement is based on,  “I think; We believe; We know; We want…” And in cases where children are experiencing discrimination or negative mental health, the assumption is made that this occurs because of gender. This is a premature conclusion as there are multiple variables that could lead to mental health problems and poor adjustment in childhood.

Gender is the new flash point to promote identity politics. You can’t say he or she, only them or they, because “someone” believes this does harm to a child. Where is the data to back this up?  Quotes by experts say kids are not feeling comfortable with their body. They assume this is related to gender issues rather than childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences which are known to influence one’s sense of self. Instead of carefully studying this, we assume and jump to the conclusion that gender neutral will obviate these problems.

One expert noted that if parents just listened to their children, they would have better success. Success at what? Children do not yet have the capacity to abstract and to understand complex constructs around decision-making. If my two-year-old wants fries at a fast food restaurant as a source of nutrition, would I listen to her and let her decide? No, I would listen and then use my mature adult brain to do what I know works best: skip the fries and go for the apple. But that decision is based on concrete science around nutrition. Asking immature child brains to make complex decisions around the abstract concept of gender just seems uninformed regarding child development.

Another “expert” declared there are no negative effects to gender neutral raising of children. What is this conclusion based on? It hasn’t been studied, and what outcomes are being evaluated? Since we have no longitudinal data on the effects of this experiment with kids, experts should not make such claims and assure parents this strategy will be beneficial to their children.

Now, here is the sad fact. When you question this information you are, of course, hostile, phobic and a lot of other negative names that are called out to stop the conversation; this is the tactic used to stop any questioning of things that are declared with no evidence. To me (yes this is my opinion), this trend seems less about what is good for kids and more about identity politics. It would be refreshing to actually follow the data before supporting someone’s ideology that goes against years of child development understanding.