I think gender neutral child rearing is about being conscious of gender roles that other people deliberately put your child in. Maybe it means encouraging your children to do unconventional activities like nail painting for boys and playing trucks for girls. Maybe it means not picking out pink or blue clothes, and allowing the children to choose what they feel comfortable wearing. Or maybe, it means reading parenting books critically and asking why and how a child's gender influences the kind of advice the book is giving. What I got from Martin's reading is that she believes that second wave feminist thinking has made its way into some of the parenting advice books, in their push for gender-neutral child rearing. She believes that social issues are culturally understood, and gender has multiple locations in "identity, interaction, social structure and discourse" (457). She mentions that there is this heteronormative presumption, that children are inherently straight, and that limits the discourse and advocacy of gender-neutral parenting. I totally agree with that. Even the most liberal books she wrote about mentioned how there is "no harm" in having a gay child but there is absolutely no mention of the benefit of being gay either. Homosexuality is tolerated if you can't find any other explanation for nonconformative behavior, but the emphasis on finding alternate reasons for children not performing traditional gender roles is part of the reason it's still so hard to grow up being gay. She notes that "in many ways, this feminist push for gender-neutral parenting has been successful but we need a revolution that will take away the stigma of homosexuality. One of the biggest challenges is to change the institutional tendency to deliberately prevent development of gay people. How do we do that? Martin suggests that we stop seeing nonconformity as problematic. From what I understand of this reading, I completely agree.
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This reading makes me curious about how I will be as a father.
Will I allow my child to cross dress at a young age?
Will I choose to play catch if my child is a boy?
How will I interact about my daughter?
Why does Jackson refer to the deviance as "gender failure?"
I will be totally honest and answer any and all questions for my child, if it is through their own curiosity that they so discover things, I will ask them. I feel it is essential for child development.
Martin says, "One might argue that it is through socialization (and the management, negotiation, and resistance of it) that children learn how to operate in gendered structures, learn the repetitive stylized performances that constitute gender, or how to do gender in interaction and how to avoid sanctions for doing wrong (457)."
Gender-neutral child rearing means offering the same opportunities to all your children, regardless of gender. While reading I became curious as to the way one, as a parent, "offers" opportunities. It seems to me that by participating in "offering" any kind of activity whether that activity is most associated with the male or female gender is participating in some kind of socialization of that child. In Free To Be You and Me, William wants a doll, and everyone seems to be against that because having a doll is a female thing. In the end it became okay for William to have said doll because his grandmother who fits into the "older and wiser" socialized stereotype justifies his wish because he will be a father someday, therefore implying that he shouldn't have a doll otherwise. His mother was largely absent in this short clip of his upbringing, which shows a hierarchy in the home because of age and gender between the father, mother, and grandmother. I'm curious as to the effects patriarchy and domestic hierarchy have on raising children in a "gender" neutral state? For instance, how are children supposed to be raised outside their "normal societal" roles if their family looks and acts like the "normal" nuclear family? And if said family tries to interest their male child in Barbies for instance, isn't that it's own kind of socializing? How can Feminists step outside this system and create a new family, instead of perpetuating the old problems?
To kind of tie this up and bring it back to Martin, I noticed that there are so many references to parenting research and advice books, and I've known many a new parent that finds out their first born is on they way and they rush out to the book store to buy a new parenting book. Who writes these? Who approves them for publishing? How could feminists use this area of book sales to spread gender-neutral parenting ideas, and feminist concepts? How might feminist principles be polluted by these books? How might the (mistakenly) interchanged definitions of sex and gender be perpetuated?
I'm sorry this is so late, I've been having major computer problems the last couple of weeks and that's really thrown a wrench in participating in a class that relies on blogging, commenting, and tweeting. Computer problems could be an accessibility issue in terms of using technology to participate in feminist debates.
Bernstein's reading stirred up many thoughts for me. It made me question parenting and the advice that parents take, which Martin helped me zoom in on. Bernstein's daughter, Nora, made me curious about what it would be like if all parents parented the way Bernstein does. The reading made me question the psychological effects on children from opening them up to the idea of exploring genders. Society is so heavily influenced by gender roles and vice versa. I wondered what Nora's gender curiosity did psychologically to her. I wondered how hard it would be to be a young child exploring genders when all of the other kids were fitting the gender normatives. I also wondered how Bernstein held up all that time since she claims "adult tolerance for transchildren is low." How sensitive the issue is altogether made me curious. The issue that both Bernstein and Martin raise, though, is that gender is tied to assumptions about sexuality which is problematic and may be associated with homophobia. This especially made me think deeper into gender identity and the difficulties that go along with it. Gender identity and sexuality have been assumed by many for a long time. With sexuality, it is now known that there are shades of gray. I feel that gender identity on the other hand has been generally black and white to many people. This is also problematic because it ties us down to gender roles without their being shades of gray. I like that Bernstein allowed her daughter to explore and although I find it to be a bit risky, I feel that she has successfully done gender neutral child rearing. I also had some curiosity about socialization being a part of children defining their gender. If there were to be more gender neutral child rearing, what , other than gender norms, could gender neutral children identify with? Something outside of male roles and female roles? Almost everything is linked to a gender, whether it be a job, a color, a type of house, a shoe design...masculine and feminine. What would it be like without those labels and stereotypes and gender normative rules and roles?
For this direct engagement I decided to go with option two and take on some of the questions Sara posed that made her curious. In particular the questions concerning gender neutral child rearing and the "William Wants a Doll" song.
I think gender neutral parenting is dependent upon the different definitions between sex and gender. In general these two terms are often used interchangeably and are seen as the same thing. It's problematic however because of how it normalizes gender stereotyping and confuses a biological state of being (a person's sex) and the ideas constructed around the differences between men and women that are socially derived (gender). Via this model a person's gender then is in many ways a performance, a way of acting out one's gender according to a normalized male/female binary with those not fitting in often being perceived as somehow different and worrisome. Gender neutral parenting then is aimed at trying not to dictate certain roles or behaviors to a particular sex. The color of a child's bedroom, the toys they play with, books they read, etc all carry certain messages that create particular norms associated with each gender, so parents seek to subvert as many of these influences as they can and instead allow children to decide for themselves what they like rather than being consigned to predetermined notions of what their tastes and behaviors should be.
In the song "William Wants a Doll" the last part of the chorus asserts that "William has a doll, William has a doll 'Cause someday he is gonna be a father, too." This line in particular is interesting because it's very telling of the underlying fears of non gender conformity in which a child like William who wants to play with a doll is somehow not normal with "normal" being implicitly tied into sexuality. Generally speaking effeminate men are often assumed to be gay. Though it's a stereotype there's enough evidence to suggest it's an underlying concern and acknowledgement. By asserting William wants a doll because he's going to be a father someday the message sent is one that tries to be gender neutral by endorsing a greater male role/understanding in parenting. While that's not inherently bad in itself what's left unsaid however is the assumption being made about fatherhood and the perception of a family. Most fathers are assumed to be heterosexuals so if William is gonna be a father someday it seems to imply he'll too eventually get married and have kids like any of his counterparts. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it but honestly I'm left asking:
"What is so problematic about not conforming to gender norms that sexuality must be questioned but in how there needs to be some justification as to why a boy like William wants a doll?
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.
For this week's direct engagement, I have chosen to discuss a question from Option Two: what does it mean to engage in gender-neutral child rearing? Martin's raises some interesting points in her article, "William Wants A Doll..." regarding child-rearing in contemporary society, namely the fact that many feminists have largely abandoned the issue of gendered child-rearing, and no longer consider it to be a problem. However, one must acknowledge that gender stereotypes still play a role in child-rearing, and that this gendered upbringing affects the ways in which a person behaves and interacts with others in his/her adult life. I have to wonder how my own upbringing might have changed if I had been a boy, and I have no real way of knowing because I don't have any brothers to compare myself to.
Engaging in gender-neutral child rearing means to offer the same opportunities to all your children, regardless of gender. Whether your children embrace or reject those opportunities is a non-issue, the important thing is to encourage your children to do what they enjoy, whether that means your son plays dress-up or your daughter climbs trees. One shouldn't assume that a boy will enjoy playing with cars and a girl with dolls, and reinforcing these gender roles so early in life will affect your child when he/she grows up. Martin states: "One might argue that it is through socialization (and the management, negotiation, and resistance of it) that children learn how to operate in gendered structures, learn the repetitive stylized performances that constitute gender, or how to do gender in interaction and how to avoid sanctions for doing wrong." (457) I agree with this statement, and believe that raising children in a gendered setting only furthers the oppressive, heteronormative, stereotypical gender roles that feminists have been trying so hard to change. The question I have to pose is this: How are we to engage in gender-neutral child-rearing when media representations of gender tend to fit within the frame of the oppressive, heteronormative, stereotypical gender roles that we are trying to avoid? How are children NOT going to be affected by these representations, even if their parents encourage behavior that is gender-deviant?
For this engagement, I am going to use the first prompt option in order to extract points from the Bernstein and Martin readings that made me personally curious during my reading. Given the limits of length for this assignment, I am going to engage only two primary sites of curiosity: (1) how failure operates in gender socialization and in determining the success of gender-neutral parenting and (2) the various ways in which Martin engages with advice/advisement in her research.
There are two distinct aspects of my first inquiry into the operation of failure. First, Martin postulates that feminists gauge the success of gender-neutral parenting by its impact (or lack thereof) on the rigidity/flexibility of gender norms in society at large. Martin says on page 457, "...attempts at gender-neutral socialization did not begin to radically transform gender." This is cited as the reasoning behind the abandonment of socialization theories by feminist scholars in the mid-1980s. However, I would like to suggest here that given the relative newness of gender-neutral parenting, "radical transformation" cannot be reasonably expected to occur in such a short amount of time. What standards for success/failure of gender-neutral socialization might be more adequate? Secondly, the failure of children to adhere to rigid gender expectations is addressed by Spock and Parker (as cited by Martin on page 470), "...they are made to feel inadequate to the degree that they fail to conform to the supposed ideal." How do failure and inadequacy affect children? Can gender-neutral parenting subvert gender failure? How does failure operate in Bernstein's account of Nora?
Martin's research addresses a substantial collection of advice material for parents. I am curious here about how parenting authority is distributed and how this might perpetuate a hierarchy of parenting knowledge (perhaps even the medicalization/pathologization of parenting). Also, Martin brings up issues of access to certain formats of advice on page 462. How does this affect gender-neutral parenting? Who is granted access to advocates for gender-neutral parenting? Also, who cares about gender-neutral parenting and why do they care?
Here are two options for the direct engagement for GROUP D. Post your entries by Monday (4.11) evening. GROUPS A and B should post comments by Wednesday at noon:
OPTION 1: How do the readings (Martin, Berstein) make you curious? You can engage with this question in any way that you wish as long as you follow these basic rules:
- Your direct engagement must address at least one of the readings
- Your direct engagement should be aimed at making us curious and demonstrate a respectful and critical engagement with the ideas/readings
- You may include your own opinions about the readings, but those opinions must be explained and supported by examples (from the readings, your experiences)
- You should include some sort of question that you pose to your readers
- What does it mean to engage in gender-neutral child rearing?
- How are gender and sexuality connected in terms of child rearing and the development of gender identities? This is a key part of Martin's argument--I am curious about what you all think she is saying with this argument and if you agree with it or not.
- We will be watching the clip from Free to be...you and me, "William Wants a Doll" in class on Monday (I couldn't find it on youtube to post it, but you can check out the lyrics here). What sorts of strategies (theories of gender, etc) are going on in this song? What do you think about how this song frames William's behavior
in terms of his role as a father?
- In her essay, Martin describes one of the critiques made against socialization theory, that it offers an "exaggerated view of children as unagentic, blank slates" (457). (How) are children active participants in their gendering process? How do they process and reflect on their own gender performances (their practices, actions, etc)? Are they just products of socialization? Or, are they both projects of socialization and agents who negotiate their gender identities/roles/expectations?