Would You Let Your Children Choose Their Own Gender?

Family Matters on 05.24.11
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Photo credit: Kristin_A via Flickr

Most expectant parents want to know the sex of their baby as soon as they can, and will reveal that information to pretty much anyone else who is interested. Some will keep quiet about it, and later make an event of the public announcement.  Others want the sex to be a surprise to everyone except the ultrasound technician and their obstetrician.  Very few parents, however, wait until well after the child is born to disclose the youngster's sex.

In an article from the parenting section of Toronto Star's website, Jayme Poisson explains why Kathy Witterick and David Stockton refuse to divulge whether their child, Storm, is a boy or a girl.

The parents of three have tried to raise both of their older boys (Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2) as unencumbered by gender expectations as possible; but with the third child, they took it a step further.  They don't use standard pronouns with the 4-month old, but rather refer to it as "Z" when they get tired of saying "Storm" every 5 seconds.

Witterick and Stockton want their children to make their own decisions about who they will become, and feel that gender roles severely limit children's potential.  Their oldest boy, whose education consists of an unstructured version of homeschooling they call "unschooling," wears his hair in long braids, tends to favor frilly pink clothing, and is generally assumed to be a girl by strangers.  Jazz was old enough to go to school this year, but chose not to, largely because when he went to visit schools, there was so much focus on his deviation from standard gender roles.

I have to admit that I have often spouted off about how gender roles are socially constructed and useless.  I even (sort of halfway seriously-ish) said I would dress my twin girls in unisex clothing and not allow anything frilly or pink ever besmirch the blank slate of their emerging identities.  

I caved after a week, when I realized how cute they looked in pink.  But, to my credit, the girls are almost two, and have nary a princess-themed toy or garment to their name.

I agree with Witterick and Stockton insofar as rigid gender roles are constraining and possibly damaging to children.  But to go to the opposite extreme seems like it could have its own deleterious effects.  These parents are giving their children a great deal of freedom in making small decisions, like what clothes they want to wear, and how to style their hair. But in doing so, they have made a much more serious decision for them: whether or not they want to fit in with their peers and society at large. 

It would be wonderful if kids could all dress and act however they wanted with no repercussions.  But is it fair to thrust your children into the role of the gender-bending trailblazer?

It's a tough call.  Have any thoughts on the matter?  As always, we encourage you to comment below!

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