THE BLOG

Raising Gender-Oblivious Children

02/26/2014 03:22 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2014

To be gender oblivious means that gender plays little or no role in decisions about, or the outcome of, anything including academics, sports, profession, household chores, wage earnings, and anything associated with the pursuit of a person's reason for existing.

I am the product of a gender-oblivious upbringing. I am grateful to my hard-working parents, who, despite the fact that they may not have deliberately intended to raise me into such gender oblivion, provided regular reinforcement of the message that gender is not a determinant of abilities, preferences, professions or status.

There isn't a single factor that contributed to my lifelong gender-oblivion, but instead, there are a number of variables that, when strewn together, communicated that a) being female was never a disadvantage, b) gender segregation was not advisable and c) success of any kind could be achieved regardless of gender. Here are those factors:

  • Brothers: I grew up with two younger brothers. I was responsible for them a lot of the time and as it is normal for older siblings, I grew to take on a leadership role in our trio. Thus, I have been leading boys since I was 3-years-old! Naturally, when the time came to lead men in the workplace, I had some previous experience, even if it came in the flavor of influencing my brothers to change their stinky socks. While most of us don't control the gender of our children, we can certainly influence positive exposure to the opposite gender.

  • Male Friends: During my formative years, I had several close male friends, and since I was really into my academics, I often got assigned to tutor a boy in my grade in math. I grew up without an expectation that academic performance depended on gender. Imagine that?! Genderization of play in America begins in preschool(!), when boys will only invite boys to their superhero themed birthday party and girls will only invite girls to their princess tea party. Let's stop that!
  • Unbiased Distribution of Chores: With three kids and a job my mom needed to enlist all three of her loyal underage workers for chores around the house, and she did so without discrimination. The boys were just as likely to help with cooking, dishwashing and laundry, as I was to help sanding wood floors or refinishing kitchen cabinets. By the time each of us left the house, we had been exposed to most "traditionally female" and "traditionally male" household jobs, without particular distinction. Are we only asking girls to vacuum floors with their pink toy vacuum cleaners, while we only ask boys to fix stuff with their black and yellow toy tool sets? Let's stop that!
  • A Working Mom: In her four decades of working motherhood, my mother showed my brothers and me that women could not only earn a living, but in times of financial difficulty, a woman could be the only reason there was food on the table. My working mom also showed us HOW to be a working mom; she showed us that it wasn't necessarily easy and that there were moments of overwhelm and exhaustion, but that the effort was not only necessary, but worth it.
  • An Emotionally Available Dad: My dad still is one of the best shoulders to cry on. I learned early on that men were capable of providing emotional support and being in touch with their feelings, and that these were not feminine qualities, but human qualities. When working, provider dads become barely available for the emotional care of children, we set the example that men don't have to deal with other human's feelings and that men are merely providers of money, not care. Let's stop that!
  • Not everything about my upbringing contributed positively to gender oblivion. Growing up in Latin America, with a somewhat hyper-sexualized image of women, I had gathered that a part of being a woman seemed to entail having significant curves, wearing fitted feminine clothes that barely covered said curves, while dancing with simultaneous grace and sensuality to the song Lambada. Although a certain feminine power comes from this view of a woman, it never ocurred to me to prioritize external beauty over the cultivation of my brain via hard work.

    So, I want my son to grow up knowing he can cook a mean, spicy chicken noodle soup, and my daughter knowing she can fix the pantry door every time it falls down.

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    I want my children to know that excelling academically or in sports, and earning wages, does not depend on gender. I want my children to be equally comfortable fostering friendships and working relationship with both genders. I want my daughter to embrace being a girl and all the beautiful gifts of feminine energy, including childbearing, but to never be held back for being a girl. I want my son to embrace being a boy and all the powerful gifts of masculine energy, but to never be pigeonholed into being less sensitive, empathetic or caring than he truly already is.

    I want my children to be completely gender-oblivious, because if they indeed are, my children would know that no opportunity in the pursuit of their personal legend is obstructed by gender, and that all doors are open for the expression of their talents, interests and passions.