Parents

Gender not so neutral: I'm a sexist mother and so are you

02/09/2017 07:23am ET | Updated February 25, 2017
Maryann Koh for www.weareminimal.com Gender Neutral, Ethical, Children's fashion label

Are we all, even those Scandinavians with their gender-neutral children, just a wee bit sexist?

Pregnancy is a subtle and not-so-subtle minefield of sexist innuendos. You fall pregnant and you become the target of gender-biased comments – some flattering and innocuous, others not so much. People referred to the baby in my belly as Baby “Doe,” for example, my husband’s last name, not mine. It all adds up.

I’m also guilty of subconscious gender bias. I’d like to pride myself on being a mindful feminist, and an all around empathetic human being. But when it comes to my baby, is my brand of feminism a case of “not in my backyard’? When I look at our little boy or imagine a future little girl, I’m almost ashamed of how gender-biased my fantasies are.

My mind wanders and I envisage our son playing soccer, collecting bugs and one day taking me out on a mother-son date to somewhere expensive and chic on his high-powered salary. I envisage my daughter picking daisies and dancing in her tutu, growing up to save endangered species or playing the flute in the symphony orchestra – we go on mother-daughter dates to a philanthropic fundraiser.

I think we’re all a little guilty of biased stereotypes, some more subtle than others, and others more shamefully confronting.

What’s Not Normal

We don’t usually imagine our children with disabilities, gender dysphoria or disfigurations of any kind. Some of us don’t even imagine our child with red hair. We imagine perfect angels, better reincarnations of ourselves in some way. Perhaps we’re aware of how tough life can be and wish them the path with less resistance.

I am aware of what my subconscious thinks and I do feel ashamed. I try to imagine my lesbian daughter, my gay son or my child with disabilities, a child whom I will dote upon and cherish with the ferocity of a mother lioness, but in doing this am I guilty of stereotyping yet again? Is it condescending to assume that a child who varies from the norm needs my extra care and protection?

Tutus and Butcher Boys

I’m reassured at the local kiddie café that I am not the only one living out gender-stereotype fantasies. It seems tutus are the absolute universal go-to outfit for little girls. Tutus in hot pink, grungy grey and punk-rock black, all highly Instagramable ensembles, some paired with sneakers, some with sparkly fairy shoes.

Make no mistake, parents are driving this ultra-girly fashion stereotype and yes, little girls are loving it too. What’s not to love? The crazy fairy-floss material and the pleased reaction it garners from adults.

Little boys come with their own ideals thrust upon them. Mini hipsters dressed and styled to look like an ancient craftsman of some masculine variety. Little stone masons, butchers and men of the sea. I realize that gender-neutral is sweeping the world by storm (or is it? Gender-neutral seems suspiciously masculine to me), but so too is gender pride. Proud to be feminine, proud to be masculine, and I think it’s all great!

The Carnal Instinct of Breeding

So is it a bad thing to imagine your future child as a shining example of their gender’s stereotype? Is it inevitable? When it comes to children, nothing is more carnal and instinctive than breeding, and nothing is more subconsciously innate than our need to classify and pigeon-hole people and things into neat categories.

We categorize people by our definition of boys or girls, male and female, black and white, thin and wide, tall and short. If you’ve ever been in the presence of a child who stares and asks, “Are you a boy or a girl?” or “Why is your skin that color?” you’ll know that they have no malice. It is a primary need to classify, to categorize and to understand. They are asking as a matter of fact.

Their little brains look for patterns, similarities and differences. Like fitting square pegs into square holes and round pegs into round holes, they need to know who you are, what you are and where you fit in. We don’t ever quite grow out of this need. We do however gain the ability to reason beyond our instincts.

Prejudices and biases are learnt in our social environment. As we get older we also learn to apply reason and ethics, we learn that gender behavior is fluid and we try to recognize and challenge our own prejudices.

Be Prepared for the Lucky Draw

So, although being aware of my bias is a start, the key, of course, is to be prepared for anything and everything, to be open to whatever life holds for our child. To accept all the nuances and variances in how our child’s personality may manifest, accept our child’s abilities whatever they may be and know that our child’s differences can and may be a blessing ― obviously easier said when living with a certain degree of privilege and affluence.

Saved from a Life Lived Out on Instagram

A child’s divergence from the norm can, at the least save them from a life lived out on Instagram, and at best draw them and us, their family, closer to a community of individuals navigating the world on their own terms and beating to the rhythm of their own drum ― a truth so eloquently analyzed by award-winning author Andrew Soloman in his brilliant book, Far From The Family Tree.

We can’t protect our children from those who might mock their differences, but our love and respect can provide the resistance and confidence they need to boldly nurture their own identity.

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