Some benefits of raising kids in a gender-neutral environment

Opinions on Debatable Issues #43

Raising kids with Gender neutrality refers to a parenting style that does not impose gender-related expectations on children and lets them explore their interests and passion free from social norms. Many European countries have adopted or at least passed policies that have given some thought to promoting gender-neutral schooling and childcare. In the US, less related policies are seen, but the benefits of gender-neutrality are worth exploring.

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Creating a gender-neutral environment at a young age can help diminish and challenge gender stereotypes that limit individuals’ potential. Darby Saxbe, professor of psychology at the USC points out that “Even at an age where babies don’t have any secondary sex characteristics and they’re all bald, we’re looking to label, sort them, and give them a lot of expectations about how they’re supposed to behave and what they’re supposed to be.” In many social norms, raising a girl usually means wearing skirts and dresses, liking colors such as pink and red. They play with dolls and draw. Boys are the opposite. They play with cars and Dinosaurs. When they perform actions or show preferences that do not conform to their gender identity, they are looked at as if they are weirdos. Parents and grandparents also actively prevent kids to do things they like only because that is a “girl” or a “ boy” only activity despite the kid genuinely enjoying it.

Logically speaking, there is nothing biological that determines any of those would be for any gender. Having female genitals does not make you less good at math or bored by robots. Similarly, having male genitals does not mean you cannot like gossip and get nail polish. Those social expectations are never natural and they shape Kid’s mind to limit what their heart truly desires and enjoy by indoctrinating those baseless gender stereotypes when they are young. Before they could decide for themselves what kind of person they want to become and what hobby to pursue, they are already brainwashed to think of either feminine or masculine.

Gender neutrality, which deemphasizes the role genders play in our life and career choices can also advance gender equality. According to Elizabeth Lombardo “Internalizing ‘Girls play with dolls, for example, may lead children to believe moms take care of the children, not dads.” When children are raised to believe that girls should play with dolls, dress them up, and learn how to cook, they accept the idea that females usually take care of domestic work and non-economic or non-political-related professions. Vice versa.

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In addition, socially constructed gender identities become especially problematic when kids reach teenage years, which is a crucial period to explore their identity. Some find themselves struggling to conform to social expectations either due to biological differences or personality nuances. If they are raised In a non- gender-neutral environment, they will see their true self as undesired, abnormal, and even hideous or sinful. They would actively resist at the cost of their mental health and sometimes physical health as well. If they are raised in a gender-neutral environment, they will not have a preformed perception of what is right to do. This way, they can feel free to be whoever they are, knowing that it is natural and acceptable rather than feeling ostracized and at fault. According to Human Rights Campaign, “43% of transgender youth have been bullied on school property. 29% of transgender youth, 21% of gay and lesbian youth, and 22% of bisexual youth have attempted suicide.” To solve those issues, we must create a world where people are welcoming and inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations. By raising kids in a gender-neutral environment, we nurture generation after generation that is less poisoned by toxic gender stereotypes. The world will be a better place for all and long-termly decrease bullying based on gender.

Practicality is a huge concern for many people, but some successful steps have been taken, and they show a pretty hopeful sign. According to Parents.com “six states and the cities of New York and Washington, D.C., allow parents the option to label gender as “X” on birth certificates.” Making changes in school can start with small things. For instance, one of Nebraska’s public schools started having children line up by whether they prefer “skateboards or bikes/milk or juice/dogs or cats rather than telling them to line up as boys or girls.” They stopped using boys and girls, nor buys, but using “you all” or other gender-neutral terms.


Regarding the use of bathrooms, there are concerns. However, the benefits outweigh the potential risks. “In 2013, California became the first state in the nation to enshrine certain rights for transgender K–12 students in state law, including the right to choose the bathroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity” rather than biological sex. As of June 2018, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, 19 jurisdictions (18 states plus Washington, D.C.) had adopted laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations. That means using the bathroom won’t be a legal issue for people who do not identify with their biological sex.

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Some critics argue that gender neutrality will make a big hit on the toy industry and thus the economy. However, according to Ken Seiter, the executive vice president of marketing communications at the Toy Association, gender-neutral toys have “really become more and more prevalent” in the past five years and are predicted to continue. He does not feel worried at all because gender-neutral toys are still toys, which means demands for toys are still there. The companies will only be producing different kinds of toys rather than reducing toy production. Also, gender-neutral does not mean you never play with things or do things that are labeled as feminine or masculine. We are saying that dolls and cars will be no longer perceived as girl-only or boy-only toys. Kids still can love them and buy them. That creates no damage to the economy.

Some people propose an alternative of raising kids in different genders by switching around so kids know what it is like to be of different genders and can determine for themselves or change gender later on. This is not practical because 1) young kids absorb whatever they experience, and it is not giving them a choice to be their true selves when they are being forced by parents to switch gender at a certain point in their life. 2) If kids are raised with a certain gender, and they grew up to realize something was weird in their teenage year, they feel shameful and wrong to change because they have already adapted to their assigned gender and built a life around that identity. Changing their gender suddenly makes them disoriented and lost. 3) It is a simple truth that very few parents would take the effort to raise their kids while switching genders occasionally.

Vogue

Lastly, there is often a misconception that gender neutrality means genderless. Yet, gender neutrality is not talking about eliminating gender, which can lead to a child getting extreme criticism in modern society. Thus, critics’ argument that kids will not be able to know how to behave and live is not true. Their concern is based on the assumption that things that we can do, what we choose as hobbies, and what personalities we form are all defined by and or at least shaped by our biological sex. Yet, one can love wearing dresses but also love violent video games. One can love poetry but also do the math. Gender neutrality means kids do not have to choose only dresses and pink, which is unnaturally constructed by social expectations.

Though raising kids in a gender-neutral environment have many benefits, the difficulties in implementing them at home, in school, and public areas are mounting. The controversy around religious rights is undoubtedly going to be one of the greatest challenges. Despite those obstacles, people can take small steps that help deemphasize gender roles and raise awareness about toxic gender stereotypes, such as purchasing gender-neutral toys and letting kids choose their preferred clothes and hobbies starting from a young age.

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