"I am all in favor of the skeptical mind. Do not believe anything unless you have experienced it. Do not believe anything - go on questioning, however long it takes." - Osho

Thursday, 18 August 2011

It's a Storm in a teacup.

The story of two Canadian parents who decided to keep the gender of their baby a secret was actually making the rounds a few months ago, but I've decided to blog about it because gender issues have been annoying me recently. The debate is still going even now about whether the parents should have chosen this for their child, and it'll be an interesting social experiment to see how it pans out... And yet I can't help feeling that it's a bit, well... wrong (read about it here).

A prime example of the over-doing of gender equality is a primary school in Sweden called Egalia. In this school, the whole idea of gender has been done away with, in order to create complete gender neutrality. There is no pink, no blue, no toy guns, no Barbie dolls. Everything has been carefully selected to ensure that gender plays no part in the personality of the children- who are not referred to as boys and girls, but rather as "friends". That is, inside the school. Because it seems to have been forgotten that outside this state-funded school, males and females do exist, and your sex is bound to make some impact on your life.

To me, gender equality and gender neutrality are not the same thing. I identify myself as a feminist, and I want women to be equally respected in society as men are. In many places nowadays, they are, and it's wonderful. However, I do not want to actually be a man- the same as a man. I'm not. I'm female, and I'm both happy and proud to be so. And I think most men feel the same way about their own sex. It's not that I feel that gender should influence how people act- if they identify more as the opposite sex, then I think it's fine too. But I feel like there is a distinction between sexes- they're not the same. So why do some people insist on acting as though they are?

I might identify as a feminist, but I also see myself as a somewhat typical "girly girl". I like dresses, shopping, makeup, ballet. But I like rugby and action movies and cars too, and I don't feel like society is telling me not to. I like it- the fact that I'm free to do as I like. I don't, however, feel as though I need to effectively not have a gender at all in order to live life happily. On the same vein, I think that if guys want to paint their nails and wear skirts, let them. But stop trying to get rid of all the things associated with men and women respectively.

I know fine well what the world is telling me I should like, and I don't think that it affects me as a person one bit. And obviously, I can think of some circumstances in which society would dictate exactly how I would be as a person, but in modern day Britain (or Canada, or Sweden) it generally really doesn't. We don't need society to be gender neutral. People would find other ways to be different anyway; it's how we are. Let's please work on making men and women equal the world-over before we attempt to fix something that, frankly, isn't broken.

Also, I know this will probably annoy some people, and I probably went a bit ranty. But it's an issue that I feel strongly about, so here you go. I'll respect the opinions of commenters if you respect my own. (:


  1. I don't think Storm's parents are trying to make men and woman "the same" as opposed to "equal". But the fact remains that your physical gender still imposes certain restrictions which our society have not yet shed. For example, it's now socially acceptable for girls to wear pants, except at the Oscars or some other dress-up event, where they must wear dresses. And boys/men can not wear dresses ever. If George Clooney showed up at the Oscars in a dress you can bet that it'd be all over the newspapers and TV around the world, but it seems like such a minor thing.

    There are countless other ways in which we restrict both genders, and there are still inequalities (such as the pay disparity for women). There are many jobs where women just don't go. My father and brother work in a construction-related field and in their entire union I don't think there's a single woman.

    It's my understanding that Storm's parents are trying to make Storm free to break out of the barriers that still exist for the genders. I doubt they are trying to make him/her androgynous. Storm should still be able to find a place in the world where he or she fits in, and if he or she wants to act like his/her typical gender stereotype, that's fine. But at least (s)he will have been given the choice.

    Or so the theory goes. I'm in the process of raising a boy and a girl and I can tell you that there are TONS of gender-role messages constantly being piled onto children. My 3 year-old daughter says she wants to be a fireman. Most people just laugh at her. One day she'll take that laughter to heart and her dream of being a fireman will crumble. She'll realize that society has already decided that she can't do that, and she'll start to wonder what else can't she do. And doors will start closing for her, because she won't have the courage to open them.

    Maybe Storm will be able to see past the barriers that society has erected. Or maybe Storm will feel an outcast because he/she is unable to fit into a society which he/she wasn't raised for. Time will tell. Personally, I think Storm's parents are really brave, and I wish them and Storm so much luck. I wish I was brave enough to do this with my kids.

  2. To be fair you wear what dresses you feel like. Formal events are cultural ideas of expressing elegance and grandeur. See, I am a british indian. My formal outfit is more glam than most women. Remember different people have different ideas on what makes formal wear formal.

    Storm's parents are just being daft. School is bad enough for a kid without you setting out to raise one confused about gender and having a stupid name.

    Gender is vital to development. Not gender roles, but gender identification. Identifying yourself as a man/woman is healthy. Stating that men should only play with GI Joes is not.

    And there are female fire fighters. The reason they aren't present in large quantities is that the physical requirements are hefty and most women don't have the brute force needed to be a fire fighter as women are smaller than men. You can be proportionally strong but proportion counts for naught in an emergency where you need actual strength.

    IF your daughter wants to be a firewoman and can cut the basic requirements then she can be one.

    Storm will either get bullied like crazy (kids are vicious) or worse get screwed up by this silly experiment. I think this is just a great way to teach your kid to be all sorts of crazy and this is really silly parenting.

    And since when have kids known what's best for themselves? I remember eating earthworms and paste. Kids are "stupid", there is a reason we adults decide meal times and bed times and the like. Else we would be eating happy meals and candy all the time and having our teeth fall out from scurvy.

    Kids don't get to decide things because no matter how smart we think our own kids are they aren't really as smart as us and are reliant on us to teach them things. They cannot figure it out on their own because that's not healthy for them.

  3. Avicenna,
    Don't make the same mistake that so many people already did when discussing this issue. Storm's parents are still setting boundaries and teaching. Storm was born "untaught", like the rest of us ("stupid" is REALLY the wrong word), but this is not about letting Storm do whatever he/she wants. This is about not holding back Storm because storm has, or lacks, a penis. This is about letting Storm play with GIJoe or Barbie, or dolls or trucks, or wear dresses or pants or makeup; this is not about letting Storm decide what time to go to bed or what to eat or whether or not to do homework.

    This is about avoiding saying things like "be a man", because that implies that being a man means something and if you are supposed to be a man, because you have a penis, but you don't ACT like a man, then you're somehow deficient, because society has already judged you to fit into a particular pigeon hole. Storm's parents are simply trying to avoid pigeonholing.

    And frankly, if anyone thinks Storm's gender won't be revealed by the time he or she is 4, they're pretty unaware about how kids act and talk. It's not as if Storm will be in public school, and 10 years old, and nobody will know if he is a boy or a girl. But maybe, he'll have the courage to wear dresses to school, because why shouldn't he, if he wants to? Or maybe he'll decide that it isn't worth the hassle.

    And as for firewomen, it doesn't matter that strength is the basic requirement. I know that, of course. It's one of the reasons that I could not be a fireman, and in fact, most of the population couldn't be. But the point is that when a 3 year old girl says she wants to be a fireman, nobody says "Oh, honey, you'll have to be really strong for that!" Instead they just LAUGH AT HER. They have already decided that she can't do that and the idea is ridiculous. If I cut her hair and dressed her in boys clothes nobody would laugh, but then maybe the whole internet would call me daft and say I'm a bad parent.

  4. Oh you mean like parents have been doing for a good 20 to 30 years? I owned a barbie as a guy. I didn't play with toy guns.

    Many people have come from families where gender wasn't an issue as much as people thought. The problem here is they are not telling people the gender of their child and not telling the child itself.

    And again... I am going to point out that idea of be yourself doesn't really work in real life. People make snap judgements ALL THE TIME. It's called being human. We all have prejudices. See, you may think a man wearing a dress at all points is a wonderful expression of free will.

    Other people will just treat him like a lunatic. And this is coming from someone who routinely shows up to formal events dressed in this (http://www.indianshaadi.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/indian-ethnic-jodhapuri-sherwani.jpg). I am an adult and can hide behind ethnicity. But I cannot show up to a job dressed in this. Common sense does prevail.

    We do like bandying individuality around as a lovely ideal but we forget that individuality is fine in a private setting rather than in a professional setting. Remember you wouldn't dream of being treated by me in a skirt wearing lipstick.

    Put it this way... If your doctor has Crazy Face Tattoos (AKA Bad Decision Tattoos) then there is a good chance you aren't going to take them seriously. Likewise him showing upto a job interview in a dress isn't going to be seen as a fundamental right, he is going to be seen as a nutjob by most people.

    It has nothing to do with gender. Yes the genders are different and have different needs. What we should encourage is equal treatment, equal opportunity and understanding.

    If you dressed your girl in boys clothes and cut her hair then you are treating her like a doll. Did you ask what she wanted? Maybe she doesn't want to be dressed up like a boy?

  5. First of all, it's basically impossible to hide a person's gender from themselves. Storm will know his or her own gender. Storm's family knows. Storm's teachers or babysitters will know. This sort of thing cannot be kept secret. The people who don't know are people who don't need to know, people who will pigeonhole Storm once they decide that she should wear dresses to look nice, or can't be a nurse or daycare worker because those are women's jobs, or can't be a fireman because that's a man's job.

    And is it really fair to say that a man is a lunatic if he wears a dress? Why is that? Just because society is collectively wrong about something doesn't mean that it isn't wrong. Society used to think it was wrong for a woman to wear pants, or vote, or work after she was married. We've managed to outgrow that one. Society has been wrong about lots of things. It's wrong about a man not being able to wear a dress and nail polish if he doesn't want to. One day it will figure that out. The doctor with the crazy tattoo might be an outlier now but that too will change, considering how many people these days have tattoos.

    Besides, just because there are norms about how you should dress for job interviews doesn't mean that those norms aren't A) arbitrary, B) unnecessary, and also it doesn't mean that Storm will be completely unable to see those norms and deal with it. LGBT people have for years been able to pretend to be "normal" to get hired by close-minded, prejudiced managers.

    Finally, the reason I mentioned dressing my daughter in boy's clothes is the I was proving a point: she looks like a girl and so when she, as a three-year-old, expresses a dream (to be a fireman), the "adults" around her do not nourish that dream, or even play along, instead they laugh in her face. I have seen this first-hand. If she didn't look like a typical girl, but rather looked like a boy, nobody would have laughed at all. This is not about me choosing her clothes. This is about society choosing her place for her, and telling her in no uncertain terms that because she doesn't have a penis, she can't do certain things.

    Screw that.

  6. I can highly recommend "Delusions of Gender" by Cordelia Fine - a look at the social and neuro science of gender identity. In one chapter, Fine discusses why gender-neutral parenting is a great idea in principle, even if practically impossible.

  7. This may be irrelevant. But I submit you are the most infrequent submitter in the entire blogosphere Ms Becky Speedy.

  8. I really wanted to read Delusions of Gender! I'll pick it up in Waterstones next time I see it.

    Yes David. Yes I know.