DE 4/13 Gender-neutral child rearing

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Karin Martin's article made me curious about a lot of things. She explored gender-neutral parenting well and at least skimmed each question that I've ever had about raising a child without imposing any gender structures onto them. I was particularly interested in her exploration of biological differences between male and female, and if they do in fact have any effect on gender identity. I don't have much knowledge in this area, but as far as I know there are differing hormone levels between male and female, particularly testosterone and estrogen. Science has found these hormones to affect the way in which a person acts, and things like temperament are believed to be innate and not learned...but how much do these actually affect a person's personality or gender identity? I don't think they could actually dictate whether a girl likes the color pink and a boy likes loud trucks. Martin pulled a quote from a child care book from 1996 about this:

"But while certain societal expectations relate to sex roles, there are also certain biologically based leanings, which have led some experts to suggest that the tendency to
nurture girls and boys differently actually stems (at least in part) from the fact that
girls and boys by nature behave differently. Differences in the brain and in hormones
seem to manifest themselves in differences in temperament and behavior that are visible from birth. In general, newborn boys are more physically active and more vigorous, while newborn girls are quieter, and more responsive to faces and voices. Typically, boys are more aggressive, girls more social; boys respond more to objects, girls
to people. (Eisenberg, Murkoff, and Hathaway 1996, 223)"

What about the gender roles of other animals? Do they exist? We could say that we are just like animals, and if gender roles are biologically determined for them it must be for us, too. However, there's a quote I like from Michel Foucault that makes me think otherwise: "a society's 'threshold of modernity' has been reached when the life of the species is wagered on its own political strategies. For millennia, man remained what it was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for a political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question" (Foucault 143).

I don't believe biology has much to do with it, but its an interesting perspective to struggle with.

1 Comment

I too found myself very curious about gender-neutral parenting after reading both Martin and Berstein's pieces. To me, the idea of gender-neutral parenting has always been paramount, despite never actually attaching that particular label to it. I have, for quite some time, always felt that if I had children I would not confine them to the strict gender roles that exist in our society as I certainly do not feel a female child has an inherent need for the color pink and dolls, while boys have an affinity for sports and trucks. Thus, if I were to ever be a parent, why would I want to condition them to think this way when I feel it is more hindering than helpful to your interactions in adulthood? At any rate, after reading this week's assigned readings, I had to question myself... how would I actually handle these situations? Sure, even if I had a daughter and allowed, even encouraged, her to participate in activities that are generally reserved for boys, that does not mean others would not question my parenting or make automatic assumptions about her future sexuality (as Berstein pointed out).

That being said, I do feel as though there simply are biological differences between males and females, but I feel as though most differences in gender are still learned behaviors. Like I mentioned before, even if parents are encouraging of their children to explore outside of their expected gender norms, there is still a sense of coercion they will experience from other children and adults, reminding them of their gender deviance. Therefore, I do feel like deviant gender behavior will either continue to be viewed as deviant (and perhaps turn into bullying as the child grows older, despite what we say about valuing originality in this country) or if the child will take the criticism of their gender deviance and correct it.

Therefore, although I still remain a proponent for gender-neutral parenting (at least in some form or another), I question what service it does to the child. Overall, I feel that if seen through to adulthood, a child will be better off for not having been restrained to a rigid gender role their entire life. However, I still feel as though boys that participate in dance and play with dolls and girls that play with trucks and prefer short hair, even with the approval and encouragement of their parents, will be reminded by children that have been strictly gendered (as I am willing to assume most children in the United States have been and continue to be) will be there to point out their "odd" behavior as it does match that of their parents' instruction and how the majority of other kids are doing gender.

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