Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!
Last week, a Toronto couple hit international news with their experiment in child-rearing. They have decided to raise their latest baby to be genderless.
That’s right: they are not announcing whether their child is a boy or a girl, so that this information doesn’t affect how people treat the baby, and the baby’s natural inclinations will be encouraged.
Pardon me while I jump off the bandwagon. Sure, it’s wonderful to accept your child no matter how they turn out, but there’s a world of difference between acceptance and denial of identity. If you don’t let your child think of himself as “a little boy” or herself as “a little girl”, then are you not saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with who they really are?
When my daughter Katie was a year and a half old, someone presented us with a summer white frilly dress. All winter it hung in her closet, out of reach. Yet several times a day she would wander into her room and try to reach for that dress, the only frilly thing she owned. She thought it was beautiful, even before her second birthday.
But let’s say she hadn’t liked frilly dresses. Let’s say instead that she had preferred to play with trucks. Would that mean that she was, by gender, a boy? Absolutely not. I have a dear friend who loves to hunt and likes household repairs, but she also looks amazing in an evening gown—and she knows it. As a child, she grew up with all brothers and she loved doing boy things. But she was also very glad that she was a girl. The urge to tackle a brother did not override her femininity.
That’s because not all gender is socially constructed. Study after study has shown that there are legitimate differences between the sexes. Women, for instance, have much more discreet hearing. A mother can identify her child’s cry when that child is with a whole bunch of other children, whereas a father often finds all the sounds overwhelming. That’s one of the reasons, for instance, that ADD boys have more trouble in school than ADD girls. Boys find all the noises distracting, whereas girls have an easier time filtering them out.
Or take risk-taking. Boys are naturally inclined to be more risk-takers than girls are. Obviously there are exceptions, but insurance adjusters will tell you that it is boys who are naturally more dangerous. We are not interchangeable. If you tell a boy who likes to play dress-up that he is naturally a girl, you’re letting one preference override the plethora of other indicators that makes him a boy. And that’s wrong.
Yet that doesn’t stop some from wanting to create a “genderless society”, which I think is often an unspoken effort to attack masculinity. In Sociology, we were taught that every parent should give little boys dolls so that they would learn to be nurturing and thus not grow up to be soldiers. And in stories where parents try such experiments, it’s typically the masculine that is discouraged. Little boys are encouraged to paint their nails, while no one minds if a little girl plays with a truck. Girls are allowed to be masculine, but boys aren’t. Even in this family, the genderless baby has an older brother, now two, whose long, braided hair gives the distinct impression that he is a she.
I have no problem with boys wrestling, or playing rough, or wanting to catapult things into their backyards. I also have no problem with a boy who would rather sit in his room and read. But I do have a problem with telling any of these boys that they’re not allowed to think of themselves as boys. We are who we are, and much of that is innate. Let’s not use children as our political experiments. Let’s let them be who they were born to be, and that includes letting them be a little girl or a little boy.
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