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Does Gender Play a Role in Raising Children?

Is it bad to raise boys and girls according to their traditional gender roles?

A Canadian family has been making waves in parenting blogs lately because they have chosen to raise their three children without any “bias” towards gender. In the case of their third child, they aren’t telling anyone, not even the grandparents, what gender the child is. They have named the infant child Storm.

Mom Kathy Witterick said they are giving their kids the “freedom to choose” who they want to be. They allow their older sons to shop in either the boys or girls section and decide if, when and how to cut their hair. The results are five and two-year-old sons who look like princesses, complete with braids and pink dresses.

The question for our Patch moms this week is whether gender plays too much of a role in raising today’s kids. Should you let boys play with dolls and girls play with trucks? Does gender influence how you're raising your kids, like, do you have boys do housework or teach girls how to work with tools?

Tracy: In my opinion these parents have basically turned their own children into one big social experiment. Is that fair to the children? These kids did not get to choose this lifestyle for themselves. The parents did in order to "make a statement" about their feelings on society. They are using their children. What kind of parent does that?

I don't understand people who want to turn everyone into the exact same thing. Why don't we celebrate our differences?! It is what makes life interesting and fun. Society is not what has "created" the differences between males and females - NATURE HAS. Let's face it, the physiological differences between us can be and have been scientifically documented. Each gender has qualities unique unto themselves. Men and women aren't separated in sports because of prejudice. They are separated because the differences in their physical abilities are very real.

Finally, I think it is not necessary to put their children through the extremity of this experiment. It is possible to allow a child to be "free" to choose who they are while also teaching the child to embrace their natural gender. My very dear friend is a pulmonary cardiologist at Creighton University. Her husband works in law enforcement. He has arranged his schedule to be the one home with the kids. He gets them ready for school in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon. He does the cooking and the cleaning and he is very happy in this role. AND there is no doubt he is a masculine man, enjoying all the activities associated with that "label.”

Emily: I am a little concerned about our current society’s reaction to this family allowing their kids to dress differently, because this may lead to the children being abused at school and/or in the general community. I also think, if we are going to be using this article as an example, we should emphasize that it is never ok to bully.

So, if this five year old (regardless of what anyone thinks about his parents) is scared to go back to school, then school officials and the parents should be taking this matter seriously and ensure there is no tolerance for bullying. I don’t care if a child comes to school in a parrot costume, people (of any age or in any environment) should never be allowed to abuse each other. Something most all of us were taught in pre-school, church, nursery school, by our parents, etc:

“We are all different, and that’s ok.”

Society’s perception of gender roles are sometimes harmful if not more so - look at the so called MTV culture and just about any popular music video or popular films for starters. This brings to light one of my many hopes for our culture, which is to encourage media literacy, as well as literacy in general, which is for another day.

We do let our daughter help with using tools to fix things, and our son help with putting away dishes or making food. Both of them will learn how to work on their cars and take care of basic emergencies of all kinds. It is my belief that all members of the family should help with all manners in which a family lives and survives. This is part of education and part of life. Getting used to pitching in and being able to do different chores or having basic skill sets will make life a lot easier in the long run for everyone. 

Though one’s gender is a part of their identity to a point, it is my opinion that it should not determine goals, success, or one’s preferences. I was not taught to choose from only certain colors, toys, sports or instruments. I picked my own clothes from an early age. Sometimes that meant when I was five years old playing in the California desert, I wore boys’ desert boots or overalls. When I was in Junior High, this included wearing one of my Dad’s custom made suit jackets with a skirt. Having the freedom to pick what I liked and to find my own self expression (within some guidelines) made me appreciative to my parents and much more knowledgeable about myself. 

This freedom also ensured I had the time and the focus for more important things, such as my education, sports, volunteerism, music, developing my own interests and goals, and making friends.

My opinion is that so many of us are forced into needless binaries as it is. And some society established roles have been harmful for both males and females in several ways over the course of history. I don’t think men should be encouraged to suppress feelings or emotions, or that women should be encouraged to rely on their attractiveness or servicing others. For many years, child psychologists have been touting the success of allowing all children the access to an assortment of typical “boy” and “girl” toys, colors, clothes and so forth. 

I think there can be a healthy balance (like I was thankfully given) and yes, in our society we do rely too heavily on society’s notion of gender roles and sometimes it plays too much of a role in various areas of our lives. 

While many of us may think this family has taken this to an unhealthy extreme, this is a worthwhile conversation to have. 

Here is something to consider: there are girls who are great ballplayers who may dream, or want to dream of becoming professional baseball players. They won’t be able to. There are female aspiring architects who are still told that field is a “boys’” club. I know one who changed her major in college from her first love (architecture) to her second choice.

Women who are in leadership roles in various fields are still told they need to look a certain way to keep their positions.

Boys are still made fun of for wearing jewelry, wearing pink, wearing their hair in different styles or listening to certain types of music. Some people even still mock grown men or act like it is a miracle when they cook and clean or take care of children.

The loaded nature vs. nurture dilemma has yet to be “solved” and there is a lot more in the way of anthropology, psychology and physiology that I would enjoy getting into, but for time and space, this will have to suffice.

Michelle: I didn't really think about how gender played a role when raising my son. Jordan played with whatever he wanted to growing up. I admit I didn't have very many girl toys but I did have some. Granted, I never considered letting him wear girls clothes but has that really helped those kids? The older brother doesn't want to go to school and other kids don't want to play with him already. How has that helped the kid?

Jordan is not restricted on what he does. I certainly want him to be able to cook, clean and work with tools. I don't believe that is a gender only thing in this day and age. I don't believe for a second that because my Mom and Dad didn't show me how to use a power drill that I can't now. I do what I want.

Denise: I believe the family in Canada went way over the deep end by allowing their children too much choice at too young an age. A pre-schooler old is too young to make his own decisions. Sure, there’s no real harm in letting a boy decide to grow his hair out or wear pink, but by not providing the child with a little guidance on social norms they’ve let this kid “choose” his way into being bullied for being a freak.

I think this just goes to show that by not making a choice, you’re still making a choice.

And seriously, did this five-year-old really decide he wanted braids? My boys would never get a haircut—or take a bath for that matter—if I let them choose on their own. Preschoolers need a parent’s guidance to set up the foundation of their personality. There’s plenty of time for them to “express themselves” when they are teenagers.

As for my own sons, I have certainly “limited” their toy selection to “boy” toys or gender neutral toys. Is that bad? No. I know it may seem unfair to some people that girls can play with guns and trucks (I certainly did) but boys can’t play with dolls. My boys have never expressed an urge to have a doll, other than a stuffed animal, either.

My youngest did go through a phase around two where he was putting anything that looked like bracelets on his arms—rolls of tape, rubber bands, curtain rings—and he liked to carry baskets around the house. He also liked to cover himself in sparkly stickers and adores butterflies. I never told him he was being girly, but I also didn’t buy him a purse. Eventually the novelty of wearing bracelets wore off, and I got him a supply of buckets and tool boxes to carry around his toys.

I hope to teach my sons how to cook, because it’s a necessary life skill. I don’t want them to group up into cave men that need a woman to care for them, I want them to be able to live on their own someday. If I had girls they would be learning how to do small repairs and take care of their car for the exact same reason.

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