Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Raising a Storm

More Life of Brian today; this time in response to the news (?) story about the parents who have chosen not to disclose the sex of their youngest child.

The couple believe they are releasing Storm from the constraints society imposes on males and females. They claim children can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very young age.

Leaving aside the fact that they have offered this up to the media as a story, it is a laudable aim in many ways; our society is in the grip of insidious gender-stereotyping from birth that interferes at all levels with people's ability to fulfil their real potential and is positively harmful in some of its effects.

However, the very fact of this pervasive bias means that these parents are taking a very big risk. Storm's older sibling Jazz prefers to dress in pink and has long hair and this has already led to problems:

Jazz, fortunately, was out of earshot on a recent trip to a park when a family friend overheard two little girls saying they did not want to play with a 'girl-boy'. And once Mrs Witterick was forced to rush him out of a store when a saleswoman refused to sell him a pink feather boa because 'he's a boy'.

Canada is, in general, a liberal country as far as gender choices are concerned but even there, hostility is apparent - literal xenophobia, a fear of what is different. However positive the intentions of this liberal couple, they are up against something ingrained.

I once saw a manifestation of this in a neighbour's family. The three-year-old son had been taken to a toyshop to choose his birthday present and had chosen a tea-set, which his mother bought for him; the resulting reaction from his father's family would not have been out of place in a Greek tragedy.

If Storm's parents think that society is ripe for change, they would do well to look at the comments the story has elicited at the Mail - and the level of approval for those condemning not only the parents' actions but their motives and principles. Even those professing a level of support have clearly bought into the stereotyped norm:
'I have two girls. I like to dress them girly (not too girly) as I want them to grow up to be ladies.'

Storm's parents are trying to do too much too soon. Yes, there is much wrong with our society's perception of gender and it would be wrong for those who see it to be complacent or defeatist, but to court media attention is a dangerous and ultimately counter-productive tactic, reinforcing the knee-jerk prejudiced response.

Better to keep the gender-neutral parenting quiet and low-key with the aim of producing increasing numbers of sensible well-adjusted adults - parents and teachers - who can see beyond the stereotypes and change things in their turn; technology advances by leaps and bounds but social reform is a gradual process.

To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life. ~Confucius

Gender issues have surfaced at Orphans of Liberty too, where JuliaM tackles teachers' calls for simpler reading matter for boys (and I have an embarrassingly vehement rant in the comments).

1 comment:

  1. There's something really rather creepy about that story. Most of all, I think, the parent's courting of the media. It's smacks too much of them not wanting a child for itself, but for some grand, self-publicising experiment.