Baby Without Gender


In the last few years there have been several examples of parents wanting to raise their children outside of the domain of traditional gender stereotypes. Some choose gender neutral names, some resist the urge to buy everything in pink or in blue based on the sex on their child, some allow their children to play with what every toy they like, be it a doll or a truck....a smaller group of parents refuse to announce the gender of their child.

Recently a Toronto couple has made headlines by withholding the gender of their newest child, Storm. "'We thought if we delayed sharing that information, in this case, hopefully, we might knock off a couple million of those messages by the time Storm decides Storm would like to share [his or her gender],' Storm's mom Kathy Witterick told the Toronto Star." In 2009 a Swedish couple did the same thing with their child, nicknamed Pop.

This idea has been exciting and deeply upsetting for many, covered in a wide range of publications, each bringing in a diversity of experts trying to understand if this will damage the child or benefit the child later in life. The attraction to this conversation comes down to the old debate, are our identities formed by biology or environment? For many in the field of sex and gender today the environment debate has lost a lot of traction, particularly in the discourse surrounding sexual orientation.

This event has provided a lot of public reaction, with many concerned the child will be confused or that this is a selfish experiment on the part of the parents, dubbed "Cruel and unusual punishment" by name online posters. Many scientists believe regardless of the parent's decision, gender stereotypes are nearly impossible to escape and once the child is able to speak, their identity will take form as children typically self identify quite early.

Studies on gender and children have existed for years. In 1975, the gender of a child was withheld from 42 participants and they were given a choice of toys to offer the 3 month old: a football, a doll or a gender-neutral teething ring. If they didn't know the baby's gender, the male volunteers tended to go for the teething ring, while women offered the baby the doll. In 1991, a study was used to determine how gender impacted activities offered by parents and estimation of skills. Fathers tended to encourage activities based on sex stereotypes. Moms tended to underestimate the crawling abilities of their 11 month old daughters, but overestimate the skills of the equivalent male babies.

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