One of the biggest thrills about pregnancy and childbirth is finding out if you are having a boy or a girl. For many parents, this is the time that they finally decide between crib sets with names such as "Floral Garden" or "Sports Balls In Blue." They are inundated with gifts of frilly pink dresses or onesies with appliquéd neck ties. But what if you're the kind of parent who doesn't want to put your baby in a "blue is for boys, pink is for girls" box. Is it possible to find ways to raise your kids without the gender binary?
I first heard the term "gender-neutral parenting" in college. I happened to be pregnant with my first child, and was reading an article in my psychology textbook about a child raised without gender. Frankly, I wasn't convinced that it was 100 percent healthy to avoid the concept of gender altogether. But, learning more about the concept of gender neutrality did push me to speak in less gender normative and gender binary terms around my kids.
The concept of gender-neutral parenting became more widespread and accepted once parents began to understood that raising a child without the gender binary didn't have to mean raising a gender-less child. In fact, U.S. News & World Report noted that there is no single definition of gender-neutral parenting. According to Everyday Feminism, gender-neutral parenting isn't about neutrality, at all. It is about being more diverse and removing limitations.
Here are some ways you can be a more gender-neutral parent.
1. Don't Leave Any Toy Behind
There are many different degrees of gender-neutral parenting, according to Parents. It doesn't necessarily mean that girls and boys can't play with gender normative toys. What it means is that boys aren't limited to cars and trucks, and girls aren't limited to princesses and baby dolls.
Just yesterday, I was shopping for a birthday present in the toy department at Target when I overheard a conversation in the next aisle. It was a father talking to his young son, "I've already told you, those are girl's toys. They're not for you. They're not for boys. Let's go look at the trucks." As I made my way over to the aisle where they had been standing, I expected to see Barbie dolls, dress-up sets, or any number of "pink aisle" toys that some parents find completely inappropriate for their sons. Instead, I found the Melissa & Doug section replete with puzzles, sticker books, and wooden toys. It made me so sad that any toys, but these in particular, were considered "too feminine" for a 3-year-old boy.
2. Don't Care About The Hair. . . Length
One of my biggest pet-peeves is hearing someone say that short hair is for boys and long hair is for girls. The length of a person's hair has nothing to do with his or her gender. If your son wants to grow out his hair or your daughter wants a pixie cut, it is simply an expression of style.
I remember being in a Catholic school where a boy's hair couldn't touch the top of his collar, but girls could hairspray their bangs six stories above their heads or they could cut it as short as they wanted. It made (and still makes) zero sense, especially with renderings of Jesus Christs' amazing locks in every room. Hair should not be gendered.
3. Remove Gender From Jobs
Another way I brought gender-neutral parenting into my home was to remove gender from careers. They aren't firemen, policemen, or cleaning ladies — they are firefighters, police officers, and housekeepers. Kids should know that their career goals shouldn't be limited by who they are or how they identify. According to Our Everyday Life, using language that does not reinforce traditional gender roles can help eliminate gender binaries and ideas of gender appropriateness.
4. Enroll Them In Extra-Curricular Activities
Take the gender out of sports and other extra-curricular activities. Don't pressure your kids to join certain activities or forbid them for signing up for things they are interested in. Where would we be if Ryan Gosling's dad had prevented him from joining a dance class when he was a kid, or if Danica Patrick's mom had told her race car driving was only for boys?
5. Be Colorblind
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the 1918 trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department wrote:
The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.
In the 1920s, department stores such as Filene’s, Best & Co., Halle’s, and Marshall Field told parents to dress boys in pink. It wasn't until the 1940s that the colors switched to how we know them today. But even so, gender neutral clothing was the norm. By the 1980s, however, ultrasounds made it possible for parents to find out their child's gender and designers took advantage of this by creating gender-specific baby goods and the trend hasn't ceased.
If you want to raise your child without gender binary, teach them that colors have no gender.
6. Instill The Idea That Chores Are For Everyone
Everyone in the household should take turn doing each of the chores. If Mom is the only one who ever does laundry and Dad is the only one who mows the lawn, the children may grow up believing that these are gender-specific chores. Teach each child how to do each chore so that when they grow up they are self-sufficient and well-rounded. Set a good example by sharing chores with your partner.