Parenting, The Gender-Neutral Way

Pink for girls and blue for boys is passé now. Neither should colours determine the gender nor codes followed. Most of the globe now work towards (most) or has moved forward and are trying to leave behind stereotypes. Thanks to practicing gender-neutral parenting. Despite there are still people who follow stereotypes. A portion of the population still believes in gender-specific roles, professions, choices, and clothes. 

Gender-neutral parenting is defined as bringing up children in an environment minus inflicting typical norms, and gender-specific roles followed for generations. This parenting style focuses on developing characteristics and traits needed for a human without labeling them as “boy” or “girl.” It allows children to make choices without being influenced by society or norms. It allows children to make choices without being impacted by society or norms. No gender tags as well. And it does not mean not raising your kid without knowing their own body. To make it as simple as we can, ‘Gender – Neutral Parenting’ means raising your kids without gender stereotypes. 

On the other hand, in a traditional household, gender roles are instilled in young children, including choosing their professions and partners for them in the future. Children are given toys and clothes and assigned tasks based on gender. Sadly, children who grow up in this environment remain limited to norms and beliefs (followed by their family) that they carry forward as adults. Many cannot accept standards different from what they were brought up with. As a result, they become resistant to new changes and become either extraordinarily authoritarian or submissive in family roles and society. In addition, they quickly give in to and crumble under family pressures to adopt traditional choices.

A friend once told how her son was teased and made fun of while playing with his friends in their apartment playground. His friends poked fun and mocked him, calling him a girl. The reason was he was wearing a pair of pink socks. Her four-year-old son came crying and told her that he would not wear pink colour anymore because of all the teasing. My friend gently explained to her son and his friends that pink and blue are just colours and don’t belong to any gender. Yet those children stuck to their stance, saying that is what they learned at home. Finally, she told them to stop making fun of her son because he loves pink. This incident’s root cause came out – it all started at home. Upbringing matters a lot. 

It is shocking that parents still colour-code children so much! It begins from their cribs as newborn babies and continues till adulthood. After this incident, my friend pacified her son and told him to continue wearing what he loved and not be bothered by his friends’ comments. He did start wearing pink gradually but mostly restricted it when he went to play down.

As I pen this, I recall a similarly unsettling incident where a group of children teased a kid. They called him a girl. Why! He was made fun of for crying. He was just eight years old and is still learning to process his emotions and label them himself. How can he be expected to regulate or control them at this young age? The young boy was incredibly hurt and unhappy about the incident. I have come across grandparents, and more often than more, family members make fun of kids who cry, especially boys.

1. Avoiding Colour-Coded Pregnancy Announcements

In India, seeking information regarding the gender of your child is a crime. However, we do have traditional ceremonies where pregnant women are celebrated, appreciated and cared for. Gender-based announcements of pregnancies are followed as a tradition in most countries. People are increasingly using colours other than blue and pink to host baby showers. Traditionally, there are ceremonies where pink/blue is used to announce the child’s identity. A child’s room is designed according to gender, including toys, clothes, and other things. A change here could help bridge the gender bias and avoid building gender stereotypes. 

2. Gender-Neutral Toys & Clothes 

As we gender products for kids, we foster the notion that men and women are not the same and are different – for example, dolls for girls and trucks for boys. However, change can be seen in toy brands as they have presented toys that are no longer gender oriented. Let kids explore and find what they want to play with instead of choosing traditional dolls and blocks. In addition, entitling them to select their clothing style will give them a sense of identity and self-esteem.

3. Gender Neutral Pronouns

Pronouns and why? RESPECT. That’s it. Respecting and being mindful are valuable. Gender Neutral pronouns are inclusive pronouns that do not associate gender with a person – like “They, Them.” The pronouns “She/Her” and “He/Him” are associated with gender. In most personal and professional profiles, we can see individuals who specify how they associate themselves. Some parents refrain from mentioning the gender on their child’s birth certificate in some parts of the world. No labeling while addressing the child as well. The world is evolving, and society is and will embrace the change. 

4. Non-Traditional Professions & Courses

More students are veering towards lesser traditional study programs and courses for higher studies. As a result, many schools and universities should slowly break students’ expected gender “codes.” It will expand the horizons for many who want to create their own professional identities and entrepreneurial ventures at a young age. So, circumstances, situations, and gender, no bar!

5. Introducing Labels for Emotions

Start teaching children to name their feelings and emotions. Please encourage them to express themselves and give them space for it. For instance, happy, jealous, angry, sad, joyful, and excited are some expressions you can teach your child. 

6. “Be You and Do You”

Children must be encouraged to express their sentiments and allow others around them to express themselves, especially their peers. For instance, say, “It is okay to cry/laugh/smile/feel sad whenever you feel like it.” It is okay to be themselves and do what they like at that moment. This will up their self-esteem and make them emotionally stronger.

7. Beyond Fairy Tales

It is exceptional to refrain from narrating old stories about princes and princesses or kings and queens with happy endings. New-age stories are full of real emotions with open-ended plots. These will encourage and stimulate the imagination in children. 

The 2021 Musical drama ‘Cinderella’ starring Camila Cabello, portrays an ambitious young girl with entrepreneurial dreams. Of course, love has presence, but finding yourself, finding happiness within the self, and standing up for yourself, and your goals took priority in this fairy tale climax. And a Price who stood by his love and her entrepreneurial dreams broke all gender stereotypes.

8. Reels Breaking Gender Stereotypes

There are excellent children’s movies and TV shows which have gender-neutral characters. Stories are straightforward and have a natural culmination. The cast can be genderless, similar to Big Hero, and roles can switch to any gender. Fantasy and sci-fi genres are becoming more credible, where roles and characters can be reversed. You can develop a script similar to Ridley Scott’s Alien, where all parts can be interchangeable for all genders. Alien for sure transformed gender neutrality in writing and casting characters in movies.

9. Conversations Begins At Home

Home is where the hearth and heart are. Home is also where values are seeded. Make sure your family is on the same page while having discussions at home on gender. If adults are sensitive and tolerant, children also absorb the same values.

10. Re-Writing Rules & Breaking Cycles

Cycles can be broken while helping children make informed choices and life decisions. So stand by them firmly and let them know you are with them.

The current state of society, where even tears are stereotyped. It reminded me of an adage, “Boys don’t cry.” This adage has been drilled into boys for centuries, since the time they are young kids. Crying has been seen as a weakness, and boys are specifically not supposed to cry since it makes them less manly or less of a boy. So, when I saw the said child being bullied and teased, I made it a point to tell the other children that it is perfectly okay to cry, whether it is a boy or a girl. But it is wrong to make fun of anyone linking to their way of talking, mannerisms, dressing, or emotions.

If children are sensitised at home and schools, society will have lesser bullies. Unknowingly we are encouraging gender stereotypes that will result in crimes when they grow up. Children will either think it is okay to hurt people or get hurt, making them grow up to become emotionally volatile and vulnerable adults. Let’s make a calculated change for a better tomorrow for our kids and the future of mankind.

Follow Priya Rajendran

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