Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gender and Social Construction, or, My Sociology Degree Allows Me To B.S. With The Best of Them

I'm a liberal person.  I have a degree in sociology--a science where you pretty much have to truly believe that gender and sexuality fall on a continuum rather than in simple categories.  Still, I was annoyed when I read this article.

A couple in Sweden is keeping their two-year old child's gender a secret from everyone.  They refer to the kid only as "Pop".  They're doing this because it's "cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

This is yet another example of a parent taking an idea and raising it to the power of crazy.

I dress my daughter in baby clothes from the Boy's section at times.  I see no reason that blue, puppies, and monsters should only be allowed on boy babies.  I don't freak out if people call her a boy, because she's just a baby.    She'll have toy cars and cranes, and if I have a baby boy he can play with baby dolls or tutus if he desires.  As she's growing up, I don't want people to only tell her she's pretty--she's also brilliant and funny and sweet and brave and strong.  No matter what she decides about her sexuality or even her gender, I'll always love her and support her. 

But do I think she's going be stunted and confused because people view her as a girl?  Um, no.

My issues/questions:

1) Why this extreme method?  It makes it seem more like a social experiment based on ideology.  The child does not live in a vacuum--he or she is going to hear about people wondering about his/her gender and going to wonder why it's such a big deal, and may result in feelings of shame and embarrassment.  I think that you can create a supportive environment for whatever preferences your child chooses without resorting to hiding gender completely.     

2) How long can this go on?  This is going to have to end before Pop goes to school.  I hope.

4) Are they reinforcing opposite gender expectations?  Are the parents going to be disappointed if Pop is a girl and loves pink dresses?  If he's a boy and loves trucks and sports?  I could totally see this kid disappointing his/her parents if he/she is a walking stereotype.  Maybe I'm not giving them enough credit.

5) Gender pronouns.  I sure hope the Swedish language is better equipped to handle a genderless person because it makes me sad to think about a child being called a dehumanizing "it".


  1. When I read this article, I wondered if maybe their child is a hermaphrodite and they don't want people to know. DH and I discussed what we'd do if we had a child that was born like that, and we decided that rather than just choose their sex (and risk being wrong and having to reverse it later), we'd do nothing until they were old enough to tell us if they were a boy or girl.

  2. That's a good point, I never considered that possibility--which would put their actions in a bit of a different context (at least to me). My husband and I have had a similar conversation. But I wonder if this were the case if the parents would be more up front about it. They come off in the article as passionate gender activists and as if they would use their child for awareness and advocacy for intersexed individuals. There's no way to know for sure, one way or the other. Thanks for the comment!