'Gender-neutral' parenting -- i.e. a posture and policy of nonintervention in a child's experiments with social roles -- is a reasonable practice, or set of practices; at the minimum it can serve as a counterweight to the pathological limitations on sex roles found in (American) adult society. I have no great problem with gender roles as such; insofar as they're social/cultural conventions which amplify sex-linked traits and behaviours, I feel I should act neutrally toward them too. And defend against any intrusion on what I see as best practices, of course -- even if I surrender in the end.
I have a replica WWII GI's map case in olive canvas with a stiff cardboard back; it's the most convenient shoulder bag I've ever had. I refer to it as my purse, and get the occasional strange look for doing so. But it's a pretty butch bag all the same. I take this as a very very very small example of acknowledging the usual boundaries, tweaking them a bit, and going about my business such that my own convenience and comfort are kept high, even if productivity remains at a minimum. I also acknowledge that I get a giggle out of calling it a purse -- but I also explain, more often than is necessary, the super-masculine origins of the bag. Perhaps this is overcompensation in two opposing directions: an unstable equilibrium. Well, I'm not perfect. You?
Sasha Laxton is a five-year-old male. His parents claim to have kept his sex secret for five years. Now he's entered school, and they've publicly revealed that 'he's a boy.'
“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?” Laxton told her local news outlet, Cambridge News. “It affects what they wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person that they become.”
I'm sure Laxton has done a lot of thinking about the nature of her/their experiment. I don't wish to engage in amateur psychology. And I do understand the progressive passion for replacement gender norms which are more just, or perhaps just differently unjust, than the ones we've got going today. So I want to point out two small things:
- This is not 'gender-free' or indeed 'gender-neutral' parenting. It is indeed explicitly interventionist in a ploddingly conventional way:
Sasha dresses in clothes he likes -- be it a hand-me-downs from his sister or his brother. The big no-no's are hyper-masculine outfits like skull-print shirts and cargo pants. In one photo, sent to friends and family, Sasha's dressed in a shiny pink girl's swimsuit. "Children like sparkly things," says Beck. "And if someone thought Sasha was a girl because he was wearing a pink swimming costume, then what effect would that have?"
Good idea, bad idea, doesn't matter: whatever her experiment was meant to accomplish in the beginning, she's cocked it up. Sasha knows what 'hyper-masculine' clothes are -- 'skull-print shirts and cargo pants.' Which of course 'affects what [he wears] and what [he] can play with, and that shapes the kind of person that [he becomes.' His parents -- by all press accounts his mom -- gave him a totally run-of-the-mill gender stereotype as a reference point and said YOU MAY NOT BE THAT. Good choice, bad choice, doesn't matter: now the kid thinks 'avoiding stereotypes' means not wearing traditional boys' clothing.
The hypocrisy is important. The kid won't be five forever, and someday he'll learn about stereotypes and gender roles and the nature of sexual difference from someone other than his mom and dad. He'll still carry big lessons about the joy of not worrying whether you're doing what everyone else is -- but he'll also carry a lesson, bigger than it may seem at first, about choosing the right stereotypes to please the grownups who made him think he could choose freely...
- Look here:
So is she hoping that dressing Sasha in pink will change anything? “Yes. If it just made one person think: ‘No, I won’t put that frilly dress on her because it’s a bit silly’ or: ‘Yeah, if he really likes that doll, then that’s OK,’ then that would be really brilliant.
“All I want to do is make people think a bit.”
And will she mind if Sasha grows up to be a butch rugby player or, indeed, a hairdresser?
“I just want him to fulfil his potential, and I wouldn’t push him in any direction,” says Beck.
“As long as he has good relationships and good friends, then nothing else matters, does it? What’s more important than being happy, and making other people happy? It’s all that matters.” [my emphasis --wa]
Whatever sentiments Beck is trying to express, these quotes make me...uneasy, to say the very least. I hope you see why: the emphasis on (other) people 'think[ing] a bit,' the weird equation of not pushing a child with 'fulfilling his potential,' the silly idea that frilly dresses are themselves inherently silly -- like cargo pants and skull shirts, presumably, only Sasha seems to be encouraged to wear the dresses and forbidden from wearing the other stuff. (I'll note too that the not-so-faintly condescending tone of the interview just pisses me off.)
The interview isn't about Sasha, it's about Beck Laxton -- just as the furor over Amy Chua's frankly abusive parenting style (like her contemptibly self-serving bestselling account of it) was all about Amy Chua. Fine, fine, that's the media for you.
But consider: if Beck Laxton had taken any other approach to gender norms, and been this self-righteous about it, and given such incoherent justification to the press, and picked such weirdly specific issues to take a stand about ('ruched sleeves and scalloped collar?' seriously?), but not in the name of 'gender stereotypes' -- how would you receive the article? Would her politics be more interesting and important than, say, her hypocrisy?
That said: why is the media covering the story? Whose side are the news media always on?
Lost some steam here, sorry.