Gender-neutral parenting can be defined several ways depending on the perspective intended. Gender-neutral parenting may refer to a situation where children are raised without being made conscious of their sex or gender at birth, allowing them to identify their own gender at their own time.
Or, gender-neutral parenting can refer to a situation where children are left to play, socialize, dress, and express themselves without societal gender confines. It focuses on exposing children to diverse and general options for things like their toys, clothes, and colors, and lets them choose whatever works for them.
According to research that investigated the effect of the environment and genetics on gender-typed and gender-neutral values, “Gender-neutral values showed moderate [heritability] and gender-typed values showed higher heritability.”
Generally, gender-neutral parenting is the conscious decision as a parent to be mindful of how gender arrangements can be harmful and limiting to both boys’ and girls’ general growth.
Highlights of Gender-Neutral Parenting
Most of the parents’ decisions regarding their children’s growth and development are for their good. Some of the rationales behind gender-neutral parenting are:
- An act of freedom. Parents practicing gender-neutral parenting give their children the freedom to choose (i.e., what toys to play with, what colors to play with, what clothes to wear, etc. To a larger extent, the parents help their children learn decision-making skills from an early stage.
- Nurturing love. Imposing things on children can really hurt them in the long run. If parents force their children to do something they don’t want to do, the children will become rebellious, and it will shape their personalities. On the other hand, gender-neutral parents embrace their children’s desires and help them achieve their goals. They raise their children to love all people regardless of their gender.
- Acceptance and integration. Gender-neutral children, it goes without saying, are receptive and accepting of all other children and do not go out of their way to taunt others with statements like “She dresses like a boy.” or “He is playing with girls’ toys.” When children accept others, they grow up in a social setting with minimal setbacks.
- Gender stereotypes. Gender-neutral parenting helps children fit into the roles of an ever-changing society, and their gender does not directly impact what they choose to do. Today, there are male and female doctors, engineers, teachers, and nurses (just to mention a few), and both are performing equally well. Gender-neutral parents don’t let traditional gender roles limit what their children learn to do. For example, they allow the boy child to wash the dishes and the girl child to mow the lawn if they want to because it is the right thing to do.
Not every parent embraces the gender-neutral ideology, and so a lot of children still remain conscious of their gender and gender roles, which can make social interaction difficult for children of gender-neutral parents. Specifically, gender-neutral children may get teased and picked on at school more than others because their gender-neutral ideas do not conform to society at large. Such social interactions may leave the children hurt and confused.
Also, some people are less accepting of gender-neutral parenting because they believe that it makes children prone to homosexuality. In fact, a feminist study concluded that, “Children’s gender nonconformity is still viewed as problematic because it is linked implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality.”
Only time will tell if most parents will eventually embrace this parenting ideology so that the children are more accepted.
- Martin, Karin A. “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender & Society 19, no. 4 (2005): 456–479. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0891243204272968
- Knafo, Ariel, and Frank M. Spinath. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Girls’ and Boys’ Gender-Typed and Gender-Neutral Values.” Developmental Psychology 47, no. 3 (2011): 726. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21142356