Friday 1 July 2011

Sex vs Gender

You may have read in the papers recently the family in USA who choose to keep their children's gender a secret. They do so by naming their child something unusual, the first two being Jazz and Kio, both now known to be boys and their third is named Storm. 

The theory behind this is that gender is a social construct. This means that gender is something that we, as a society have created and go on enforcing without even intending to. Now, before you all go ranting and raving that this is totally ridiculous and that we obviously are different because we are genetically different I should explain the basic difference between gender and sex. Our sex is just that, our genetic, biological sex. Gender is in essence how we define our sex.

So, what this family in the States is fighting for is equality. They do not want people to coo and cuddle and protect their child because it is a girl likewise they do not want people to play rough and tumble with their child because it is a boy. What they really want is for you to do both. They also want their child to be able to wear pink or blue without people raising eyebrows or assuming a sex.

Now, this family are actually nothing new. There have been families doing similar things with their children in Sweden and Norway for some years now. But I think the real question is... is it right?! Naturally, I am not all knowing and can’t possible definitively say either way.  Equally, these children will struggle to say what they think, because they don’t know any different. My feelings are mostly that it isn’t fair to use your child as a social experiment.

Do I think that we are stuck in our gender boundaries?  Yes.

Do I think that children should have the freedom to play with whatever toys and wear whatever colours they want? Yes.

Do I think their sex should be a secret? No.

I don’t think this is the best way to go about it. When I was a child, I was what was known as a ‘tom boy’. I loved playing army men with my brother, I had no problem getting muddy and running around. I also had millions of Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets! I wore my brother’s clothes, and I wore pretty dresses. I had just as many boys for friends as girls. Interestingly as my brother got older, he had probably more female friends than male (and no, he isn’t gay!).  

Why does a child’s sex need to be a secret for them to have the freedom to play with all toys? As a nanny, I work hard on ensuring that toys of all varieties are available. Suzi*, a little girl I nannied for, found her brothers toy cars at the age of about 14 months, and that was it. They were her favourite toy. She loved to lie on the floor pushing them back and forth, or line them up neatly against the wall.

I already had a good basis of knowledge for this article because of my degree. But when doing a little more research I found an article about a playschool in Sweden that is gender neutral. This doesn’t mean that the children have to keep their gender a secret, rather that playing with all toys regardless of sex is encouraged. The teachers won’t refer to the children as boys and girls rather as ‘friends’.

Wow! What a fantastic idea. I think this is a better way forward. Surely keeping a child’s sex a secret will only be confusing and put the child at risk of being bullied for being different. Because let’s face it, we, the human race do not deal well with people being different or breaking the norm. This is quite a radical step.

Gender neutral is what all schools, in my humble opinion, should be! Schools should work towards allowing children to take part in all activities regardless of sex and I believe they are. It takes time, but boundaries are broken and change does happen.

Sometimes we just have to be a little patient.

What do you think?

Not Quite Poppins