Friday, May 27, 2011

Fighting gender stereotypes

For reasons I can't figre out, the normally excellent Jazz Shaw at the normally excellent blog Hot Air cites the following story out of Toronto:

When many couples have a baby, they send out an email to family and friends that fills them in on the key details: name, gender, birth weight, that sort of thing. (You know the drill: "Both Mom and little Ethan are doing great!")
But the email sent recently by Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto, Canada to announce the birth of their baby, Storm, was missing one important piece of information. "We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now--a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...)," it said.
That's right. They're not saying whether Storm is a boy or a girl.

There's nothing ambiguous about the baby's genitals. But as Stocker puts it: "If you really want to get to know someone, you don't ask what's between their legs." So only the parents, their two other children (both boys), a close friend, and the two midwives who helped deliver the now 4-month-old baby know its gender. Even the grandparents have been left in the dark.
Stocker and Witterick say the decision gives Storm the freedom to choose who he or she wants to be. "What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It's obnoxious," adds Stocker, a teacher at an alternative school.
They say that kids receive messages from society that encourage them to fit into existing boxes, including with regard to gender. "We thought that if we delayed sharing that information, in this case hopefully, we might knock off a couple million of those messages by the time that Storm decides Storm would like to share," says Witterick.
"In fact, in not telling the gender of my precious baby, I am saying to the world, 'Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s (he) wants to be?!." she wrote in an email.
How did Stocker and Witterick decide to keep Storm's gender under wraps? During Witterick's pregnancy, her son Jazz was having "intense" experiences with his own gender. "I was feeling like I needed some good parenting skills to support him through that," Witterick said.
Stocker came across a book from 1978, titled X: A Fabulous Child's Story by Lois Gould. X is raised as neither a boy or girl, and grows up to be a happy and well-adjusted child.
"It became so compelling it was almost like, How could we not?" Witterick said.
The couple's other two children, Jazz and Kio, haven't escaped their parents' unconventional approach to parenting. Though they're only 5 and 2, they're allowed to pick out their own clothes in the boys and girls sections of stores and decide whether to cut their hair or let it grow.
While I have a definite appreciation for sarcasm, the reaction at Hot Air is a reminder of why I am only a nominal Republican -- their often ridiculous and suffocating imposition on social issues. They believe in the free market of ideas so long as they agree with them.

Shaw writes, "For once I leave it to the Hot Air community to do the rest of the commentary on this story. I’d write more, but I need to go flush my eyes out with vodka."

And does the Hot Air community ever.  Some examples:
Those kids are going to be so *(&^%$ up when they get older.
What a bunch of sheets to use their children for social experimentation.

Those poor kids. Part of who you are is your sex.

These parents are getting their face on the news. The sad fact, this kid is gonna no what the heck it is. The parents are beyond selfish, are you my child a girl or boy? SICK!
Who names a girl Storm? Yeh it is a boy. (Note: I knew a girl named Storm -- ed.)

Wearing pink and have long hair ? Who dresses them or chooses to not cut their hair? I don’t believe for a second it is not mom(the freak).

Well, maybe something good will come out of this: the realization that many/most gender norms are in fact innate. Social scientists used to push the “blank slate” theory that gender was just a social norm, but more recent science has debunked that. Hopefully, this child doesn’t grow up too damaged, and the experience will help people who still believe in the blank slate understand the issues better.
And on and on and on ad nauseum.  Last time I checked, not one comment on Hot Air was in support of the parents.

Let's get a couple things straight.

First, gender is a social construct.  Sex is biological.  Gender is not.  And the social construct, or more clearly the social norms, of gender can and does change with the times. Often arbitrarily.

So wearing long hair is for women only? Tell that to the ancient Spartans.  Or the Celts.  Or most medieval Europeans, with the notable exception of the Normans.

Wearing skirts and dresses is for women only? Tell that to the ancient Greeks and Romans.  In fact, the Romans considered wearing pants a sign of femininity or barbarism.

Wearing tights or hose is for women only? Not in medieval or Renaissance Europe.

Wearing high heeled shoes is for women only?  Not in Europe between the Renaissance and the Restoration.

Wearing bright colors is for women only?  Only since the nineteenth century.

Dancing is for women only? Tell that to Louis XIV.  Or Al Toon.  Or Hines Ward.

None of the above is biological. All is a question of style, usually imposed socially, but often not making any sense.  Most don't think about it, they just go with the flow.  Those who try to buck it are made to feel as if something is wrong with them and are put under intense pressure to conform.

Throughout most of history, and, to be sure, in most of the world today, that construct has often led to restrictions on women.  Today, in the West, it is restrictions on men.

Case in point: women can wear pants, but men can't wear skirts.  Women can wear socks, but men can't wear tights or hose.

Generally, women are encouraged to do "men" things and are celebrated when they do so, but men are ridiculed when they do "women" things, often having they sexual orientation or mental health questioned.

That, I think, is the parents' point here.  The parents are giving their boys the chance to choose outside what is considered the gender norm rather than imposing one on them.  So, others seek to impose it on the boys in the parents' place. Whether the boys want it or not.

The problem is not what the parents are doing, but how others will react -- and are reacting -- to the boys choices.  That is the real problem.

1 comment:

  1. What about some of the (future) practical concerns? Last time I checked most restrooms are not multi-gendered, so what happens when the child "decides" to use a restroom that doesn't match its own sex? Everybody else just got to let that go, no matter how uncomfortable that might make them feel?

    What about schooling? I guess home schooling will be in order here, without athletics or dance.
    What about a career? Just becasue some TV law firm had a unisex restroom doesn't mean most people would care for it.
    Potentially, what about jail? Hmm.

    I really don't care what one chooses to wear, or how one styles their hair, but I imagine most people would not care to share certain spaces with another sex, just because that person chooses to appear as one gender or the other.