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Nayely Moran

James Beatty

English 1010

6 April 2018

Gender neutral parenting

Parenting styles are changing constantly but so is society, in a world where children

struggle with identity and their self-image parents have the opportunity to guide them using a

neutral parenting strategy. But does this really work? Do parenting styles regarding gender

identity introduced to children at a young age last a lifetime or is biology more dominant?

Understanding the complexity of children and finding their orientation along with societies push

for the normal parents should be giving children the opportunity to explore. While parenting

styles often change to adapt to the needs of the children, especially when the big questions of

gender identity is at stake social pressure, peer pressure, parenting styles and standards define

gender when the choice should be the child’s. Every parent wants their child to be happy therefor

their orientation should not be guided by what parents feel is appropriate.

Theories of gender typically focus on four levels (Lippa 2002). (a) Group-level, (b)

past biological and social-environmental factors, (c) current biological and social-environmental

factors, and (d) traits residing within the individual. In other words, gender identity does not

come from a single source. At each of the levels biological and environmental processes are

present and influence an individual. Gender is complex in defining, and even more intricate with

identifying. Children must indicate which gender norms they will follow, but is it up to the

parents to decide? With gender neutral parents the children are the ones who decide, parents
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simply set the stage with neutral toys, colors, and clothing. Letting the children pick where they

feel they fit in with the most and what they gravitate towards with out limit and stigma. There are

certain roles men and women are expected to follow, throughout the years expectations have

changed but having no expectations (based on gender) would be beneficial. Growing up with no

stigma and reputation of how your gender defines you makes a happy child. Environment is

surely to impact children and try to fit them into a category with certain limitations and goals

although setting this new path of neutrality can open doors for parents and children alike.

Does biology matter? Some researchers say its futile to treat children as a blank slate

because biology does matter. Research shows that toy preference is innate not socially

constructed or shaped by parental feedback. One study showed that preferences emerged as early

as nine months of age, children typically become aware of gender at 18 months. Another piece of

evidence comes from studying girls who were exposed to high levels of testosterone prenatally,

in the case of a genetic condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, girls with CAH tend to

be gender nonconforming, and will prefer toys that are typical to boys, even when their parents

offer more praise for playing with female-typical ones. This speaks to the vital role of hormones

in developing gender preferences and sex differences in behavior, more broadly. The gender-

neutral trend capitalizes on fears that parents have of inadvertently limiting their child's potential.

Acknowledging inherent sex differences isn't harmful or sexist (Soh 2018).

A pursuit of gender equality and to promote nonconformity at a very early age is

becoming very popular (Soh 2018). Dressing children and painting their rooms in very neutral

colors as well as providing gender-neutral toys. Parents have even pressured major corporations

to help. Target has stepped in and has changed the way they advertise children’s toys and

clothing, no longer having pink back grounds for the girls and blue wallpaper for the boys rather
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they replaced it for green or yellow and other neutral color paper on the back walls of their

shelves. When Jordyn Smith became a mother, the main priority for her was making sure her

child grew up happy and healthy. However, she knew that from a very young age her son would

be surrounded by gender stereotypes enforced by society that dictate what is seen as “normal”.

Whether her son fancied wearing a tutu or enjoying playing football as his favorite pastime,

Smith didn’t care as long as he was happy.

Ashley Dean Wells began gender neutral parenting with her five-year-old son Nova, she

knew Nova being older had already experienced life as a boy but let the door open to neutrality.

When dressed in tutus people at school didn’t know what to make of him. The children would

ask “Are you a boy or a girl”, in which Nova would respond “I’m Nova”. Given this new

freedom of not having to conform was eye-opening. Wells was happy in her decision, she

realized that when Nova was in dresses and tutus people would describe him as sweet, delicate,

and kind versus when he would wear a pair of overalls and sneakers he would get comments on

how brave, strong, and smart he was. Wells just wanted her son to be happy and enjoy life for as

he had several obstacles during his first years. She wanted Nova to feel like he could be

described as all these traits not just “feminine” or “masculine” ones. Nova enjoyed this new

freedom and expressed happiness in not being labeled as a boy or a girl, in school it was

difficulty for the younger children to understand this concept but at home Nova is free to be who

ever he wants to be.

The hope is that boys and girls will not be treated differently by their peers, the media

and society. The problem is social pressures reinforce many differences between the sexes.

Children are constantly trying to understand what gender is and how they identify, because

parents as well as schools start the process of sex segregations and gender socialization so early
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it becomes the way children learn gender lessons on how girls are supposed to act compared to

boys and stereotypes are introduced. Once stereotypes come into play the children try to act in a

manner that is thought to be following the norm. There are broad factors that lead different sexes

to act in a way they should be because of status difference, restrictive gender roles, and social

structure (Lippa 2002). But where do so many differences come from? Biological theories can

argue that hormones can lead to the two different sexes choosing one specific gender but there is

also another explanation. Could it be that girls and boys are offered different toys to play with

but are given positive feedback when they choose the sex appropriate toy versus the opposite sex

toy, therefore leading the child to go back to the same type of toy that received encouragement.

Therefor in an unconscious manner parents are choosing and guiding their children into a

gender and what they see fit. Without these social standards and neutrality its possible to raise a

young girl or boy with no differences? Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research at the moment

of long term effects of neutral parenting styles. We rely on the personal experiences of mothers

like Ashley Dean Wells and Jordyn Smith, there is research about gender identity and the many

aspects that contribute but, neutral parenting is a new concept and while many parents around the

world have been brave enough to experience it and allow their children not to be tied down to

expectations and even with this new freedom that the children and parents experience there will

always be the question of is it nature or nurture?(Martin).

Gender doesn’t mean someone has to conform, neutrality provides the opportunity to

explore and identity with what ever someone seems fit. Feminine and masculinity does not

define one gender rather it’s a trait anyone can experience, gender neutral parenting can open a
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door to a new kind of self-image. Everyone wants their children to be happy so to give them the

freedom of choosing should be attainable. Society and peers will judge and try to make them

conform when they are older to make them fit into a box but why not give them the tools and

opportunity to surpass that and be who they are.


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Work Cited

Martin, Karen A. “William wants a doll. Can he have one?” Gender and Society. 2005, p 456-

479, 23p. EBSCOhost. https://libprox1.slcc.edu/login?url= http://search .ebscohost.

com/login .aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.30044612&site=eds-live.

“The futility of gender neutral parenting”. Los Angeles Times. Jan 2018. http://www.latimes.

com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-soh-gender-neutral-parenting-20170106-story.html

Lippa, Richard A. Mahwah. Gender Nature and Nurture. Psychology Press 2002. htt ps://searc

h.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=63467&authtype=cookie,cpid&custid=

s9214935&site=ehost-live&scope=site. accessed April 2018.