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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Don't play with that pink rattle!

An article in a UK based online newspaper, The Mirror, recently got me thinking about gender-neutrality and how this affects my son, Elijah.

Read article here

Web editor Beck and partner Kieran Cooper, 44, from Sawston, Cambs, UK say they want to stop their five year old child's life from being determined by the sexual stereotypes which they say divide boys and girls. Sasha Laxton, who has been brought up as “gender neutral”, has now entered school, therefore his parents have decided (after five years) to reveal his gender. Sasha is a boy, anatomically. But his parents, for those five years, avoided referring to him as a boy or girl and his gender was kept secret from all but a few close friends and family. Kieran, a software designer, said: “We wanted to challenge gender ­stereotypes. “So if Sasha wants to dress up in girls’ clothes then so be it. He has cars and Legos and he also has dolls. The girls’ clothes are fancy dress and for fun at home. We don’t make Sasha go out in girls’ clothes. We are not forcing it.” Beck – who writes a blog on feminist issues – insisted her son was a happy boy who enjoyed his life.  She said: “I wouldn’t push him in any direction. “As long as he has good relationships and good friends, nothing else matters, does it?”

Hmmmm... IS that all that matters? Or are we missing a link?

Several months ago, when Elijah was a newborn, I bought him his first rattle. It was pink. I specifically chose it because it supported breast cancer awareness and a percent of the proceeds went to the cause. So I bought it. It didn't bother me that my son was going to be shaking a pink rattle. I didn't even think much about it. Until months later when he were out and he was in public shaking his pink rattle. I felt like he had a Scarlet "P" on his forehead and I was the crazy, hippie, liberal mom who let her SON have a pink anything. The world was going to end. <insert sarcasm here> I remember a few comments being made, jokingly, about how Elijah had a pink rattle. But I didn't care, mainly because the comments were being made by people I didn't care about. But one comment did matter and therefore stood out. It was by my eldest niece, a beautiful seven year old girl. She laughed and said "Fuka (that's what she calls me), why does Eju have a PINK rattle?!?!?!" -- "Because I liked it" I replied. "But Eju is a boy and the rattle is pink!" -- She seemed a little stunned when I replied with "So? He's still a boy even if he has a pink rattle." Then we had a in-depth conversation about it. I told her exactly why I picked the pink rattle (breast cancer awareness) but that even if it wasn't for that reason, it didn't matter. It was OK for him to have a pink anything or for her to have a blue anything. It didn't change anything about him or her. It was just a color on an object and didn't define him or her as a people. She still chuckled, and probably thought I was "silly," but I hope she really heard me that day.

While reading some of the comments in the article in The Mirror, I realized some of them made a lot of sense. Especially the ones that I felt closely represented my thoughts, that our children are not monkeys to be used for our own experimentation, whether that be a medical or social experiment. You can look it at both ways: a) by cutting out gender stereotypes and not referring to their son as a boy or a girl for so many years, they may have taught their son countless lessons on being a person, an individual, instead of focusing in on being a boy for girl OR b) these parents took five years of this boy's life away from him and didn't let him live as a stereotypical "boy" -- what will be the repercussions of these parents robbing their son of his gender for five years, if any? Have they harmed him in some way?

I'm not sure.

What I do feel strongly about is that their has to be a balance. And in my humble opinion, these parents are just as extreme as those parents that refuse to let their young son's play with dolls or touch anything pink. They are just extreme on the opposite spectrum of the gender neutrality argument.

While I consider myself a feminist and I plan on teaching my son feminist values (no, you do NOT have be a woman to be a feminist), I don't want him to miss out on being a "boy" because that is in fact what he is.

Growing up with two brothers, I still maintained a pretty girlie lifestyle. I played with dolls. I wore dresses. I loved Barbies, looked up to Disney princesses, picked flowers, adored anything pink, purple or sparkly. But, I knew that playing with GI-Joes or building forts with my brothers didn't make me a boy. Collecting frogs from our garden didn't make me a boy either. It was just fun. That's it. Granted, it's far more acceptable for a girl to play with "boy toys" or wear blue then a boy to play with "girl toys" or wear pink. However, I strongly feel that as parents, we need to create that balance for our children. And oddly enough, as girlie as I was growing up, I'm actually not that girlie as an adult. I don't like pink. I actually love blues and greens. I'd prefer not caking on makeup, wearing heels or being glamorous. So the excessive reminders as a young child that I am in fact a girl didn't push me into any specific direction. I am going to be who I am meant to be.

I'm no expert. Being a mother is still a new role for me, and I'm learning as I go. Although, I do feel like I have a pretty sturdy head on my shoulders, and hope to use my sociological lens and background to help guide my son to be a productive part of society. Someone who is kind, generous, a feminist, a strong leader... none of which will nullify just because he wears something pink, loves to read, is sensitive, kind, caring, loves to cook or plays with dolls OR if he is the stereotypical boy: loves sports, playing cowboys and Native Americans (yes, Native Americans, not Indians -- I have to teach him to be historically accurate too, don't I), is strong, a leader, etc. In fact, chances are, he'll be playing with a LOT of dolls since all of his cousins, that are near by and who he sees on a regular basis, are GIRLS. Very girlie girls by choice of their parents.

Bottom line, to attain gender equality, we must have balance, a happy medium. We need to let our boys be boys and our girls be girls and at the same time, we need to let them explore their individualism without attaching negative connotations to anything pink or blue or boyish/girlie. Playing with dolls and admiring Disney princesses is not going to make your young daughter submissive and out of touch with what real love is. Trust me. It is about much more then that.
"The seeming contradiction is just one of the many conundrums — and one of the most important lessons — of parenting. You can’t “make” your children anything. You can’t really “stop” them from being anything in particular, either. But you can help them explore the fullest definition of who they are. And you can try to work it so they feel good about whoever they discover themselves to be."
I want my son to be a good person, before he is a good boy or anything else. My number one motto has always been and will always be that I refuse to breed ignorance. It's my job, as his mother, to guide him to be a good, productive person. To be kind, caring and loving to all creatures. To be an individual. To stand up for what he believes in. To have a a voice. To teach him that it's okay if he has a pink rattle, a blue rattle or one with zebra stripes and polka dots. They are all one in the same. They all make noise. They all have the same function. They just look different. And that's okay.


  1. Love! You've raised some good points, but I think one of the most important ones is that we cannot "make" our children into anything, they are born of their own free will and will become who they become regardless of parental resistence. Like you, I hope to raise sons (and a daughter), who are empathetic, justice driven, and equal in their treatment of all people regardless of gender, class, etc...But news of that family rubbed me the wrong way as well. It assumes that ALL gender differences are socially construed, and I think we both know that is just not the case...