Swedish parents raising gender non-specific child

June 26, 2009

Flag of SwedenVia Sweden’s The Local comes this report (link here) about two parents who “have stirred up debate in the country by refusing to reveal whether their two-and-a-half-year-old child is a boy or a girl”.

In an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in March, the parents were quoted saying their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.

I really don’t want to go over all that constructivist/essentialist trans 101 stuff again; I think that fixating on the nature/nurture debate misses the point. Which is, this isn’t about how or why we are who we are, but how we live our lives in a world where gender is policed so heavily, particularly for anyone who’s in some way at odds with society’s default binary settings.

“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother said. “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”

The child’s parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.

Pop’s wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop’s hairstyle changes on a regular basis. And Pop usually decides how Pop is going to dress on a given morning.

Although Pop knows that there are physical differences between a boy and a girl, Pop’s parents never use personal pronouns when referring to the child – they just say Pop.

Which all sounds pretty wonderful, actually. I just wish that more parents would raise their children in a similar way. I say that, not only because I think it would be helpful for society in beginning to develop an approach to gender identity which does not marginalise, exclude and oppress those who are gender variant, but also because I fear that one child brought up in isolation like this may be having far too much responsibility placed on hir.

It’s a huge leap in the dark and only time will tell if the experiment will succeed according to the parents’ criteria. However, the child’s needs must come first and I hope that when ze does start to clearly define hir own gender identity that hir parents will be equally supportive and not insist on continuing to impose their own constructivist views on hir.

Irrespective of hir gender self-identification, I hope that Pop is able to grow up a healthy and happy human and that this social experiment, although interesting in its attempted application of an abstract academic theory, has no adverse effects on hir.

6 Responses to “Swedish parents raising gender non-specific child”

  1. Anji Says:

    I totally shouldn’t have read the comments to that article. Hateful, hateful, hateful. :(

  2. Lisa Says:

    if all children had non-gender specific start like that it would be a good thing..this experiment has me wondering how it will affect the child since it is so different from norm, as in being raised according to anatomical sex until child starts questioning and acting otherwise..i am really conflicted about this..i really have to mull this one over..

  3. Ruth Moss Says:

    I haven’t read the comments and now – ta Anji, tho sorry you had to – I’m not going to.

    Well, as I said on twitter this morning, firstly, good luck to them.

    I’ve often thought in an ideal world, children should be ze/hir until they know for themselves their own gender identity.

    I didn’t do it myself because – well, honestly? My ex would never have let me, and also for fear of ridicule from acquaintances, and having to explain myself constantly.

    But at the same time, I do realise that just because my child was born with a penis, it doesn’t for certain make him a boy.

    I do try and raise him relatively “gender neutral” – although, possibly another fail, he doesn’t wear dresses. (Obviously, if my child requested to wear dresses that’d be a totally different matter and I would never seek to stop it!) Again, for no more reason, really, than I worry about what people would think of me. I already get enough comments for full term breastfeeding and dressing the kid in a variety of colours, ffs!

    But yeah, maybe that’s a falling down on my part.

    However, I’m not convinced we can be completely “gender blind” when raising children, especially kids who are likely to be men one day. Just like we can’t be colour-blind, especially if we’re raising white children (i.e. those who will hold a position of privilege). I think Arwyn put it well (second link below) when she said the risks of her kid being a cis male were such that she had to let that inform her parenting to some extent (as in, taking steps to ensure he doesn’t turn into one of those “bloody men” types, or worse, a violent man and/or rapist).

    You might find the following links interesting and in a similar vein.

    My own Raising Boys (at Mothers for Women’s Lib) and Arwyn’s Raising a not-rapist.

    Lisa, your comment struck a chord with me because I, and quite a few of my friends (at least, online) raise our children in ways that are quite different from the “mainstream”. Something Alfie Kohn (parenting author) once pointed out was this:

    Would you raise your child to grow up with carcinogens, just because they’ll experience it in the outside world?

    Also, as an example, the “cultural norm” (where I live) is for people to be really quite xenophobic / racist. Obviously, I’m attempting to raise my child so this doesn’t happen. I’m raising him very differently from the norm. But I’d hope no one would say, “you shouldn’t be doing that, think how he’ll be affected” (not saying you are of course, but you know what I mean).

    Thing is, it’s a bloody hard slog this parenting lark. You’re hoping desperately you get it right and that you don’t fuck up somewhere along the line and create a truly unhappy adult.

    “Gender issues” in parenting are just one of many, many obstacles we have to negotiate, from whether or not to vax, how long to breastfeed for, which school (or not) to send them to, whether or not to take them to development checkups… It’s such an important thing too.

    I actually really commend these parents. I must admit when I first read it I had that knee-jerk “using your child as an experiment” reaction (and I should know better, having been accused of that myself goodness knows how many times – internalised mother-blaming?) but then I thought, no, you know what? They’re really trying to do the best they can. They’ve obviously given this a lot of thought and consideration. I don’t know whether I’d go completely down this route or not given a free choice (and with the ex breathing down my neck, no, I don’t have a free choice) as per the links above.

    But still, I wish them the very best of luck.

    My parenting “philosophy” if you could give it a name as grand as that is to follow my child’s lead and trust him within very, very loosely set boundaries, whether that’s with food, bedtime, etc… or, I guess, gender.

    Trouble is, it’s easy to say that but I don’t know how many influences from the outside world (friends, relatives, media etc) and even from inside my own head (is my own internalised misogyny for want of a better word subconsciously pushing him away from more “feminine” toys, for example) are affecting him without me realising!

    It’s a ridiculously responsible job, parenting. You can either help shape the next generation, or continue fucking it up. And there’s not even a manual, not really. And to top it off, you’re expected to carry all this stress around on your shoulders without any pay!

    Oh, and, no kyoot kid pix? :(

  4. Jessikat Says:

    WordPress ate my comment :(

  5. Ruth Moss Says:

    Oh I just saw this on the original article:

    As for Pop, they say they will only reveal the child’s sex when Pop thinks it’s time.

    Sounds fair enough to me! Let the child self-identify when ze knows.


  6. […] Gender is a social construction, so two feminist parents in Sweden are raising their child gender non-specific. […]


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