Breaking Open the Gender Box
The first thing that comes to my mind when anyone mentions the term “Gender Neutral Parenting”is an abstract, far away theory, born in the mind of some Scandinavian academic, with little or no place in my practical, Indian life.
Parents who have the luxury to explore concepts like gender neutrality are the ones who get weeks of paternity leave, dress their children in stereotype free colours of orange and yellow and give their little babies androgynous names like Ames, Boddie and Skkyye.
Yeah, that can’t be me. Or can it?
Let’s be clear, exploring gender neutral parenting means you risk opening up a vast pandoras box, forcing yourself to explore your own thoughts about biological sex, cultural gender norms and sexual orientation. But if we are to put a hold on the bigger, more difficult topics, I find that at the heart gender neutral parenting is a very simple idea: Raising your child to be a human being, free from the shackles of stereotype with all the choices and opportunities they deserve.
When you take away the box that gender can sometimes put people in, you open the door to allow exploration. So how can you allow a simple amount of gender neutrality to trickle in to your every day parenting?
1) It’s all about choice! It’s not about erasing the differences between genders. It’s about taking the spotlight off their gender and refocusing it on to their inherent personality. The best way to do this is to encourage choice. Give your child a plethora of options to choose from, and encourage what they naturally enjoy. There is no reason why your daughter can’t play with Barbie dolls and toy trucks. There is no reason why your boy can’t enjoy karate class after an art class.
2) Be the best mould. Leading by example is the most crucial part of encouraging freedom of thought. As we get more progressive, it is not uncommon for husbands and wives to share household and monetary responsibilities. Bring in these habits into the smaller responsibilities as well. Share the cooking duties, split the responsibilities of attending parent teacher meetings. Let your child see that their mother and father are the same parent, just different people.
3) Take away family labels! If you have multiple opposite sex kids at home, use the opportunity to teach new rules. Don’t let your family be defined by mother, father, brother, sister roles. Rotate the kind of responsibilities and activities you engage them with. Take your son on a shopping trip to encourage the habit of personal grooming. Teach your daughter how to change the car tires. Too often, we allow special bonds to form between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. Form bonds between parent and child.
4) Friendships make for great exposure. Encourage a diversity of friend circles. The more people your child interacts with, the more he or she explores different types of personalities. This automatically begins to teach your child that there are lots of ways to exist in the world and opens their minds up to different possibilities.
5) Watch your mouth! A lot of learned stereotypes come right out of the horses mouths into our kids ears. We are programmed to give compliments like “pretty” to girls and “clever” to boys. Break the habit! Compliment both your daughter and your son when they look particularly nice. Tell your daughter as often as you tell your son that she is clever.
6) Being upset matters. Pay attention to what upsets your child. Very often, young children, have their natural instincts for curiosity shut down due to gender stereotyping. Girls are shamed for playing messy games and boys are harassed for wanting to play House-House. If your child shies away from doing something they previously enjoyed, sit them down and ask why. Gently discourage them from making a choice they are forced to make because of their gender. Give them the freedom to make a choice based on their actual preference.
7) Be their rock. Remember, the world outside world is working overtime to put your child into a gender box. You are the touchstone that they must be able to turn to in order to get the encouragement they need to break out of the box!
About SP Varde
Passionate about bringing light to the sex and gender narrative in the Indian context SP has spent sometime exploring this niche space in Mumbai. With a background in psychology & gender communication, her real work involves designing holistic curriculums on sex education for kids and parents. But her really fun work is being the default, discreet Ask-The-Sexpert for her hapless group of friends. She enjoys good food, good arguments and slowly converting people to the Cult of the Menstrual Cup. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org