Two recent examples give us all pause for thought about how to raise our children in respect to their gender.
Andrej Pejic, the male runway model, famed for being equally at ease modeling men’s or women’s clothing, has recently announced her new transgender status after reassignment from being (usually) male to definitely female.
Ruby Rose, ex-MTV presenter, model and singer, has just produced an autobiographical video exploring her struggles in breaking free from her glamorous female image to become a tattoo-covered, breast-bound street boy. The video comes shortly after the announcement of her engagement to her lesbian partner, Phoebe Dahl.
With these two beautiful people showing such “gender fluidity”, it becomes obvious that gender development is more complex than having a binary option of a pink princess girl or a sporty blue boy that is so beloved of our consumer society.
So how can a liberal parent best raise their children allowing their gender identity to develop naturally? Here are three strategies not yet advised by child psychologists.
1. Neutral gender approach
Kids don’t even realize their own gender until about 3 years old and then it is 6 before a child has sufficient self-awareness to understand their preferences and interests compared to their peers.
So why force gender identity and narrow interests on them before this age?
Let’s all bring up children as gender neutral until the age of 6. All children will wear the same clothes, say a white smock or dress. Without haircuts they will all grow the long wavy hair that is so appealing in young children.
Strangers will have difficulty in telling the boys apart from the girls and the children themselves will have little self-awareness of gender. Their interests, preferences and relationships will naturally emerge whether aligned or not with our current perspectives of their underlying gender.
Actually, this approach is not radical; it is historic. Until the 1880s, according to the Smithonian magazine, children were often brought up in this gender neutral way as a matter of practicality. The photo at the head of this post is a picture of the young (future President) Frank D Roosevelt sitting on a hay bale with white dress, long wavy hair and patent leather shoes. Boys and girls were dressed the same until about 6 years old.
According to the same article, our association of blue for boys and pink for girls only started to appear in the US in the 1940s as a random outcome of how popular culture was influenced by the retailers and marketers of the day. The ubiquitous pink princesses and the various cartoon characters that adorn clothes, toys and food for children is an even more recent development.
2. Gender alignment approach
The idea of this approach is to identify as early as possible the biological gender of the baby (preferably before birth) and then colour code that baby right from the start, so that every-one can separate the boys from the girls and thus project their gender perspectives and biases on them.
Then employ every available method to encourage the gender alignment to social norms. Media and advertising are the most powerful influencing channels and should be used mercilessly to reinforce simple caricatures of gender. Toy store assistants should be trained to always ask the gender of the child before recommending a particular toy as a suitable present for the child. Clothes and even underwear should be suitably designed not just for the child but also for the sexually mature adults that they will become.
Any deviation from expected gender behavior should be met with disapproval followed by a rush to correct the errant behaviour. This is to be done in the home, school and public places.
Wait a minute: isn’t this the approach we use today?
3. Multiple Type/ Gender approach
A third approach is based on the idea that we can’t de-emphasize gender without creating some other “type” that we can then assign to our children. After all, the need to pigeon-people into some category is part of human nature.
So each child will be expected to develop one of various interests aligned to their personalities and capabilities independent of gender. This will become their ‘type’.
The seven ‘types’ for children to explore are: 1) sporty, 2) smart, 3) creative, 4) caring, 5) techy, 6) handy and 7) quirky. All are to be celebrated as equally worthy pursuits and encouraged for both genders. Each type is assigned a colour (blue, green, pink, white, yellow, red and purple) for their clothing and accessories for easy identification. For the period they have that interest they will be known by that type and dressed in the appropriate colour. Gender becomes a secondary, less important identifier.
A conversation in this society might go like this:
Person 1: Your child is so lively and carefree. I can see from his pink clothes that he is a creative.
Person 2: Yes, he has a real talent for art and he is part of a really supportive class learning print-making with other creatives.
Multinational companies and their rampant marketing departments should be quick to hop on board once they realize the profit opportunity from this new set of brands. Imagine how much money can be made from seven different merchandise types rather than just the two gender designations as at present.