Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oh Gender, Wherefore Art Thou?

Oh how I tried to not want to write this post. I did not want to be the person who commented on this issue but I keep thinking about it. I am not going to spend a time promoting this couple because frankly I feel that they are cashing in on their 15 minutes. To say that you don't want to make gender the center of your child's life but then to spread your story all over the world, well, you're making your child's genitals pretty central.

What interests me about this story is first the idea of gender as a choice. What an intriguing notion. These people say they want their child to have the freedom to choose their own gender. What a statement! Choose is such a complicated word. It plays into our notions of freedom and democracy. But choose is also a word that speaks of a kind of privilege. Coming from parents who are very concerned about social justice, I wonder if they have considered this aspect of choose. In order to have a choose one has to have a certain amount of things. Things like education, protection, comfort.

You see whenever we make a choose I think we should be aware of those who do not have the choose. I think of transgendered people who come from poverty, stricter cultures than ours, and who do not have the luxury of choosing their gender. And I wonder how much choose can we have in a world that does not offer it to all. Yes, perhaps, I should say "I'll start at home and let my child choose and then the world will turn to rainbows and be filled with unicorns and gender will be no more." But I don't think that happens. I think what it dose instead is it causes us to focus on our individual selves. There is no conversation going on about structural abuses of gender in this story. And that to me is the real problem.

I am not convinced that gender constructs in and of themselves are the problem. The problem lies in that fact that things, ideas, thoughts, discourses, become attached to genders. The problem lies in the fact that our society makes certain characteristics inherently male/female. It's not necessarily  that we name our gender, perhaps but rather that the discourses we have about gender all too often oppress a certain group of people. And perhaps the problem is that we are not allowed to choose what feels right to us on many levels. We are not just not allowed to choose to be male or female. We are sometimes not allowed to choose what those words mean.

My second problem with this secret of gender is that the assumption that we can some insulate our children from culture. Not only do I think such isolation is impossible but I think such isolation is dangerous. Perhaps the issues is not so much about not allowing our children to see and experience stereotypes but to allow them those experiences with conversation. If our children do not know how to deal with these stereotypes then one is never going to be able to disavow them. If one does not what gender is how does one pick? How does one choose? And if they do not choose what will happen? Is it a revolution? Or is it just one person in the face of great violence.

I don't think I have answers. I have my opinions. I write this as a feminist who is about to become a stay-at-home mother. I have three daughters and a son. Two of them like video games and Nerf guns. They all love to read. None of them really like to wear nail polish although one of them tried it once. One of them likes to wear dresses. I do not know if these things matter. What I do know is that I have raised a boy who when his sister cries he pulls her onto his lap and comforts her. I have a daughter who climbs trees in princess dresses.

If they are oppressed from the obnoxious choose I made from them, I do not know. But I do know that they are creatures of culture just as I am. And I feel as a parent I must raise them to be able to function in society. But I can raise them to be critical of that culture. To understand that being a woman or a man is not so cut and dry. I can raise them to think intelligently about those things. That is my hope. Not to make them genderless but rather to make them gender conscious in the best of ways.


Jennifer Welborn said...

You've raised some very good points in this post! I do not have a problem with the notion of raising a child with a lack of emphasis on gender--I think the ideal is perhaps easier than the practice.

My problem arises with the notion that you can actually keep your child from knowing their gender. I don't see how that's possible. Are they not going to tell Storm his/her medical sex? Storm has brothers. They know the difference between male and female. Eventually Storm will know that difference whether the parents will it or no.

I also think we each carry personal gender stereotypes, stereotypes we might not even be aware we hold. Therefore, it may not even be possible to raise a truly 'genderless' child. And why would one want to?

In any case, I found the idea interesting. I think you're right though--clearly gender will be central to this child's life because his/her parents chose to broadcast this choice all over the web.

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

I think they have told his brothers and I think they said somewhere they would tell Storm when he/she is old enough.

I guess that my point is that you can raise a child with a lack of emphasis on gender without going to these lengths. To me when you praise your boy for having braids and nail polish you are doing so because your boy is doing something hyper feminine.

I have a lot more to write on this and likely will over the next few weeks as my thoughts about become articulate.

Jennifer Welborn said...

I agree. I'm having the same problem articulating all of my thoughts on the issue. I'm disturbed by the user comments under the article--talk about homophobes!