A couple of months ago, a Canadian couple made headlines by refusing to reveal the gender of their newborn child. It was, they declared, their goal to raise a gender neutral baby. To do so, they decided to hide his/her/its gender from the world and only reveal the nondescript name: Storm. (This is preposterous since everyone that's seen X-Men knows that Storm is none other than Halle Berry who is, most definitely, a chick.) At the time, I sort of laughed off this story, chalking it up to a couple of harmless idiots who deserved an eye-roll and a shake of the head and little more. But no sooner had I dismissed this out of hand than more and more gender denial stories began to crop up.
First it was the Egalia School in Stockholm and their decision to eliminate all gender specific language from the curriculum. No more him/her, he/she, his/hers -- nothing. Instead, children will be "friends" and "they/thems" -- all in an effort to stop the menace of gender stereotyping in its tracks (despite making Old MacDonald somewhat cumbersome to sing.)
Now, it seems, even the little baby Jesus wants to get in on the action. A coalition of biblical scholars and church leaders is publishing a new "Common Language Bible" that aims not only for accessible verbiage, but...you guessed it...gender neutrality. No longer will Jesus be the Son of Man, now He'll be referred to as "the Human One." I'm dying to read the gender neutral version of Genesis..."And on the sixth day, God created Friend." Later, Friend's Friend shows up and they share "quality friendship time." Maybe, I'm speculating here.
There is, of course, a genuine problem with gender equality throughout the world and there's no doubt that everything from advertising to peer pressure push men and women into stereotyped and sometimes unhealthy roles. I aspire to be open-minded and I am usually hesitant to squash well-meaning attempts at progressive thinking. Still, well-meaning and deeply misguided are not -- in any way -- mutually exclusive and this issue seems to have buckets of misguided to spare.
Brace yourself for some shocking news: boys and girls are different. This isn't something we learn from television or movies and it's not something that even the best effort at denial can hide from kids. Even my two-year-old little girl knows that what she's got going on in her pull-up isn't the same as what her brother's packing in his Spiderman underwear. Still, my wife and I have made a concerted effort to avoid letting gender have an undue influence on how we raise our kids. I roughhouse with Pebbles like I do with her brother and we try to avoid the whole "princess" thing with her. Her first non-hand-me-down toy was a doctor playset. And yet, without any help from us, she genuinely prefers pink to blue and she'll step past all of Z's trains and trucks to get to her dolly. Not because she's been brainwashed by TV and not because we even bought her a doll (it was actually Z's at one time but he never took to it) but because she likes it. The kitchen set that we gave my son Z for his third birthday now lives in her room, not because we're training her for the day she'll be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen but because she thinks it's the coolest toy in the whole world. She's a girl and she does things traditionally associated with being "girlie."
What Pebbles hasn't yet been taught -- and hopefully never will -- is that there's something inherently better or worse about one set of anatomical gear or the other. For me, the goal isn't to keep her in the dark about her gender but to help her understand that her potential as a human being isn't defined by her sex. She knows she's a girl and, thus far, she doesn't think of that as a limiting factor in her life. On that score, she seems better adjusted to gender at two years old than the geniuses pushing this ridiculous gender neutrality agenda forward.
The worst part of these efforts at gender neutralization is that they all make the same terrible assumption: that gender, itself, is the problem and if we remove it from the equation, everything will be better. It's an approach defies all reason and logic. Saudi women aren't forbidden from driving by their gender, they are forbidden from driving by a patriarchal society with dysfunctional cultural norms. Removing the word "he" and"she" from all language wouldn't suddenly make it easier for a young man to tell his parents he's gay anymore than it would make employers pay women the same wage they pay men. Does anyone imagine that Barack Obama is president because no one ever told him he was black? Or is it more likely that he was raised in an environment that embraced all aspects of his person and that encouraged him to believe that he was capable of anything.
No, a perfectly level playing field and perfect equality don't exist in our culture (or perhaps in any culture) but denying our differences only serves to perpetuate that problem by suggesting that we can only be equal if we're all the exactly same . Creating a safe, accepting environment in which kids can explore all aspects of gender is a noble goal. But let's remember that gender is a function of biology, not sociology. He, she, his, hers -- it's not pronouns and possessives that once prevented women from voting or that now try to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. The problem isn't in our pants, it's in our hearts and minds and that's where any genuine change will have to begin.
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