When Storm was born seven years ago in Toronto, he or she became the most famous baby in the city. That’s because Storm’s parents announced that they were going to raise the baby as gender neutral. “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” Storm’s father, David Stocker, told The Toronto Star. In an e-mail, Storm’s parents told their friends, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now – a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.”
Storm’s parents, it turns out, weren’t oddballs. They were pioneers. More and more progressive parents have decided to liberate their children from the chains of gender. They give their children gender-neutral names such as Zoomer or Scout. They refer to them using gender-neutral pronouns. They buy them gender-neutral toys and scrupulously avoid pink and blue. They tell people that it’s up to the child theirself to decide what gender they identify with.
These parents don’t like the term gender-neutral, explains New York magazine. They prefer gender-open, gender-creative or gender-affirming. For them, the gender binary is a trap constructed by society to imprison their children and restrict their human potential. Gender is a spectrum, not a binary, they argue. They hope that freeing our children from the shackles of arbitrarily imposed gender norms will be the first steps in a sweeping cultural change to create a better, fairer, more egalitarian society.
Progressive parents are not alone in this Utopian project. Sweden is also engaged in a deliberate experiment in social engineering. Instead of “boys” and “girls,” teachers are urged to call the children “friends.” Many Swedish preschools have dropped gendered pronouns in favour of the newly invented gender-neutral term “hen.”
As The New York Times reports, Swedish teachers encourage boys to play in the kitchen and girls to shout “no.” Some boys show up in dresses; no one cares. Sweden’s national curriculum requires preschools to “counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns” and encourage children to explore “outside the limitations of stereotyped gender roles.” In one pilot project, boys and girls were split up and coached to behave in gender-non-conforming ways. Boys were instructed to massage each other’s feet. Girls were taken on on barefoot walks in the snow.
More and more progressive parents have decided to liberate their children from the chains of gender. They give their children gender-neutral names such as Zoomer or Scout. They refer to them using gender-neutral pronouns.
Will all these efforts create a more egalitarian, less gendered world? I’m skeptical. Gender-neutral parenting is the latest example of blank-slatism run amok. The blank-slate theory is the romantic belief that environment and culture are wholly responsible for human behaviour. If only we stopped stereotyping little people as girls or boys, they’d stop behaving in stereotypical ways.
This is not to say that it’s useless to try to socialize kids. But we also need to admit that human beings are also profoundly shaped by their genes. Gender is far more influential than many people are willing to acknowledge. Men and women exhibit significant behavioural differences not (or not only) because they’re socialized differently, but because they’re wired differently. Give a girl a pot and she’ll play house. Give a boy a pot and he’ll beat it like a drum. And forget about the gender “spectrum.” Although there are lots of tender boys and lots of aggressive girls, more than 99 per cent of people identify with their birth sex.
Large-scale studies show that men and women differ not only in size and strength but also in personality traits. Across dozens of diverse cultures, women consistently rate themselves as warmer, friendlier, more anxious, and more sensitive to feelings than men. Men rate themselves as more assertive and more open to new ideas.
For most of human evolution – when the differentiation in gender roles was extreme – these differences made sense. (They also help explain the dominance of men in the corridors of power, although you’re not supposed to say that.)
I do feel a bit uneasy for children such as Storm (who, for the record, is now identifying as a girl). Most kids like a bit of structure in their lives, especially, I imagine, on the existential question of whether they’re a boy or a girl. It seems like a lot to ask them to sort it out for themselves. Is it really fair to make your kid the subject of a social experiment, no matter how righteous you think it is? And do you really think they’ll thank you for it? I have my doubts.