“If you’re so into gender neutral everything, then why do you care if people call your children girls or boys?” Is probably what you’re thinking if you’re reading this and know my stance on gender neutral parenting (HINT: it’s a good thing).
So what does gender neutral parenting mean to me? Some wrongly assume it means forcing your child to become the opposite gender to which they were born (or do I mean sex? Gender is a social construct, sex is biological). In other words, turning my boys into girls *eye roll*. For me, it’s about not limiting my children’s experiences and opportunities by subscribing to a gender stereotype, allowing them to enjoy everything our environment has to offer children, regardless of what’s in-between their legs.
And yet, it irks me when my boys are called princesses. I know I have ‘pretty’ boys. I have often been told that W is too pretty to be a boy with his curls and green eyes – because these are sex-linked traits, right? B was referred to as my ‘proper boy’ while W was ‘dainty and delicate’, now that B has shoulder-length hair that is sometimes styled away from his face this has switched. While my gender neutral parenting approach, certainly doesn’t extend to gender identity, because it’s not something I have ever really thought about and I’m not sure if I ever will: they are both adamant that they are boys, they do get quite upset when somebody refers to them using typically female associated words ‘princess, darling, sweetheart etc.’.
The issue, I have come to realise, is that they and I are bothered by the assumptions they are little girls not only for the exaggerated double takes when corrected, but the expectation as to what a ‘proper little boy’ is supposed to look like. My boys look like boys, because they are boys. They look like themselves, why should they look the way other people expect or demand of them merely because it will determine the way they interact with my children? For example, the most common phrases heard, depending on wether they believe my children to be boys or girls:
Boys = look after your mum.
Girls = help your mum.
That difference in language is what bothers me, it’s damaging. I am striving to raise well-rounded children and a stranger undoes my hard work with a throwaway comment. W was so affected that he insisted on all his lovely curls being shaved off so that people would know he was a boy (if he’s wearing a hat, he still gets called princess which usually generates a scowl of disapproval). Fortunately, he has over time, come to realise that most people are ignorant, but that doesn’t mean that other people’s voices won’t shape his view of the world around him and his opinion of himself.