Should Children Be Raised Genderless?
If gender is a social construction, as we have argued in this text, should boys and girls be raised differently? Do gender expectations limit the free development of children and force them to conform to roles that may be contrary to their needs, talents, and potentials? Aren’t gender roles a form of oppression, as illustrated by the Narrative Portrait of Leslie Feinberg in Chapter 11?
These are not merely rhetorical questions. In 2011, a Canadian couple – Kathy Witterick and David Stocker – told their family and friends that they would not reveal the sex of Storm, their newborn baby. They wanted to raise their child “gender neutral” and avoid the classifications and expectations characteristically attached to little girls and boys.
They were already attempting to limit the power of gender expectations on their two older boys by, for example, allowing them to freely choose their activities, their hairstyles, and even their dress. They wanted to let their children choose their own gender expressions, a freedom that Feinberg would have greatly appreciated.
With their third child, Storm, they were taking another step away from gender conventions, going well beyond notions of androgyny, by not revealing the sex of their newborn to anyone, not even to the grandparents. Could this experiment in gender freedom succeed?
The selections for this debate begin with an overview of the issues and an analysis of the “end of gender” written by reporter Linton Weeks of National Public Radio. Then, we meet Storm’s parents and learn about their viewpoint in a newspaper interview published in The Toronto Star in 2011 and in an update on the story from 2013. Next we consider a
generally critical reaction to Storm’s parents from a story in The Globe and Mail and a generally supportive reaction from feminist blogger Megan Karius.
POINTS OF VIEW
DEBATE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
In her NPR article, Weeks asks “Does gender matter”? How would you respond? What are some ways in which the importance of gender may be decreasing? Are these positive or negative trends? Why?
What exactly are Wittericks’ and Stocker’s goals in raising their children as they are? What do they hope to accomplish?
What objections do the critics raise to gender neutral child-rearing techniques and what are the arguments in support of Witterick and Stocker? Are these objections based on research, social convention, logic, religion, or something else? How would you evaluate these arguments?
If gender is a social convention, does it follow that children should be free to choose their own gender expressions? Are there limits to gender freedom?
Do you suppose that Storm (and his or her older brothers) would be better adjusted and happier than other children? Why or why not?
Is this attempt to break the bonds of societal expectations fair to the children involved?
(Optional) Search the Internet for any updates on Storm. Do more recent developments tend to support or refute Witterick and Stocker? How?